Posted Dec 10 2009 10:28AM
The Numbers Game is a weekly notebook of the most compelling numbers that can be found in and beyond the boxscore.
With his seven blocks in Tuesday's win over the Clippers, Dwight Howard has blocked 43 shots in his first 21 games this season. Normally, you would say that's a lot of blocks (Howard ranks eighth in the league with 2.05 blocks per game), but not when you compare it to what Howard did last season. After 21 games a year ago, Howard had an incredible 88 blocks (4.19 per game and 4.46 per 40 minutes). Eighty-eight vs. 43 is a big difference.
One question that could be raised regarding Howard's numbers: Is more frequent foul trouble the cause for the fewer blocks?
This season, Howard has committed 80 fouls through 21 games (4.6 fouls per 40 minutes) and has had 11 games where he committed four or more. At this point last season, he had committed only 64 fouls (3.2 fouls per 40 minutes) and had eight games where he committed four or more.
StatsCube can tell us if Howard's production changes as he picks up fouls in a game:
|Dwight Howard Per 40 Minute Stats by Fouls Accumulated, 2009-10 (Pace adjusted)|
|Off. Rat. = Orlando points scored per 100 possessions Def. Rat. = Orlando points allowed per 100 possessions|
There does seem to be a dropoff in blocks per 48 minutes as Howard goes from one foul to four. But just 21 games into the season, we're looking at some small sample sizes here, especially when you get to the minutes with four or five fouls.
For a clearer picture, we can look at Howard's numbers from last season:
|Dwight Howard -- Per 40 Minute Stats by Fouls Accumulated, 2008-09 (Pace adjusted)|
There's no real dropoff in blocks here. The 3.52 blocks per 48 minutes with five fouls was the second-highest number.
Of course, these numbers don't tell the whole story because playing with two fouls at the start of the second quarter is much different than playing with two fouls in the middle of the fourth. So StatsCube broke down last season's numbers even further:
|Dwight Howard -- Per 40 Minute Stats by Quarter and Fouls Accumulated, 2008-09 (Pace adjusted)|
The first thing you might notice from the table above is that Stan Van Gundy is conservative with Howard in the first half, removing him immediately if he picks up a second foul in the first quarter or a third foul in the second.
The second thing you'll notice is that foul trouble didn't really affect Howard's ability to block shots last season. He blocked more shots with two fouls in the second quarter than he did with zero or one. He blocked more shots with three fouls in the third quarter than he did with two. And he blocked more shots with five fouls in the fourth quarter than he did with three.
So is Howard's decline in blocks per game due to fewer minutes overall? He's played atotal of 696 minutes this season, which is 92 minutes fewer than he played through 21 games last year. But it's the rate that Howard's blocking shots, not his minutes, that's the biggest difference.
|Dwight Howards Blocks, Career|
While it may seem like Howard isn't blocking many shots this season, he's actually blocking them at a higher rate than he ever had prior to last season. And it looks like last season was an anomaly. After the Olympics, Howard said he put extra focus on defense. And 88 blocks in 21 games is clear evidence of that.
Not coincidentally, the Magic were a better defensive team at this point last year, allowing three fewer points per 100 possessions than they are this season. Maybe those seven blocks on Tuesday (his season high) are evidence that someone's in Howard's ear about being more of a defensive presence.
In this week's Power Rankings, I noted how the standings as you see them after six weeks almost always look somewhat like the standings come April. Last season, 15 of the 16 teams who made the playoffs were in the top eight of their conference after six weeks. Only the Sixers were not in playoff position after six weeks and qualified for the postseason.
Looking at the numbers a little deeper ... Of the 160 teams who made the playoffs in the last 10 years, 133 of them (83 percent) were in playoff position after six weeks. So basically, an average of 2 ½ teams per year make the jump from lottery team to playoff team after the six-week mark.
We may be only a quarter of the way through the season, but it gets late early in this league.
The team with the worst record in the last 10 years, after six weeks, that made the playoffs: The 2004-05 Bulls, who started 4-14 (tied for 13th in the East) and finished with the third-best record in the conference, at 47-35.
The team with the best record in the last 10 years, after six weeks, that ultimately missed the playoffs: The 2005-06 Timberwolves, who started the season 12-6 (in fifth place in the West) and finished 14th, at 33-49.
The New Jersey Nets are the worst offensive team in the league, scoring just 92.4 points per 100 possessions. But they also rank last in a category that they've dominated in recent years.
The Nets have assisted on just 48.6 percent of their field goals, joining the Grizzlies (49.8 percent) and the Pistons (48.8 percent) as the only teams that record assists on less than half of their makes. Just two seasons ago, New Jersey led the league by assisting on 67.4 percent of its field goals.
Now, just because they had a high assist-to-field-goal ratio doesn't mean that they were a good team. The Nets ranked 25th in efficiency two seasons ago. But the dropoff shows how their style of play has changed. They used to run a motion offense with Jason Kidd handling the ball. Now, they rely on a lot of pick-and-rolls and isolations, with Devin Harris' one-on-one skills their best weapon.
Even with Harris hurt earlier this year, the Nets were a low-assist team. Their leading scorer this season is Brook Lopez, who is a bit of a slow operator in the low post. Their second leading scorer is Chris Douglas-Roberts, who is very much a one-on-one player.
But if you look at the Nets' assist-to-field-goal numbers since Kidd first came to New Jersey and contrast them with the numbers of the Mavericks (the team Kidd plays for now), you see how the two teams changed styles when they swapped point guards.
|Mavs and Nets Assist-to-field-goal Ratios|
The Mavs' change of style coincides with their coaching change before last season. They relied on a lot of isolations and post-ups under Don Nelson and Avery Johnson, even when Steve Nash was their point guard (through '03-04). With Rick Carlisle on the bench, there's more movement. And you can see that they've been a great offensive team no matter which style they're playing.
All numbers are through Wednesday, Dec. 9.
On Thanksgiving day NBA.com will feature a beautiful article on the one and only Craig Sager.
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