Yes, NBA fans care about the preseason about as much as UPN’s latest comedy–surprise, you didn’t even remember UPN was shut down ten years ago–but the games can be somewhat beneficial helping install new players and/or systems against opponents.
As the preseason comes to a close in a few days (pause for celebration), Dwight Howard has played four preseason games in a Hawks uniform. During the four games, we have seen number 8 making an impact on the boards and scoring. Yet, Howard is fouling at a somewhat startling rate. Besides my eyes adjusting to “D12” wearing number 8 for the Hawks, Howard will have to adjust to fouling at a rate lower than 4.5 PF (personal fouls per game).
Howard’s 4.5 PF average seems alarming at first look, but earlier preseason stats help temper any overreactions. From 2010-2015, Dwight has averaged 3.33 PF during the preseason. The 2016 preseason’s 4.5 PF average is significantly higher than the last six years, but Dwight averaged 4.5 PF in the preseason as a Laker in 2012-2013. Howard’s fouling did not maintain that high rate as he averaged 3.8 PF that regular season.
A shortened offseason recovering from back surgery and a nagging shoulder injury limited his athleticism that 2012-2013 season. Those injuries must be considered with the above averages rates during his one year in Los Angeles. Now four years older than his Laker self, Dwight has lost some athleticism due to age but has enjoyed a healthy offseason.
Although having about the same preseason average those six years as his career PF average–3.33 to 3.3, respectively– from 2010-2015, regular season PF averages had a much smaller range, 2.9 to 3.8, than preseason PF averages, 1 to 4.5. The preseason’s vastly smaller sample size resulted in higher variance and a wider range than the regular season.
So, a raised PF average during the preseason proves not the most accurate predictor of fouling during the regular season.
Additionally, Howard’s fouling average from his first years with Orlando, Los Angeles, and Houston does not deviate from his career average. Although running different defensive systems with each team, Howard’s average equates to 3.34 PF which, again, aligns with his career PF. This revelation might be most encouraging sign for the Hawks.
Needing to adjust to new teammates and different defensive concepts in the first year with a team, Dwight’s consistent foul rate should translate to Atlanta, assuming he is not asked to replace Horford’s defensive versatility.
Speaking of versatile defense, the final and most glaring reason to not bemoan Dwight’s penchant for fouling is Paul Millsap. The two All Stars just played their first game together on Tuesday night against New Orleans. Even with Howard receiving three first half fouls, the pair dominated on both sides of the court against a Pelicans squad missing their superstar forward Anthony Davis.
Millsap’s defensive versatility rivals any big man in the league. That kind of elastic defending will greatly aid Dwight by keeping him closer to the rim and further away from the three point line where cheap fouls occur. With Millsap’s active hands and lateral quickness, Dwight will be able to anchor the defense in a more traditional role as a rim protector/shot blocker like last night.
It's Dwight's paint...you best not live in it: https://t.co/9F7ntLu1zi— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) October 18, 2016
Dwight Howard will build chemistry throughout the season with his new teammates. He will adjust over time to Bud’s offensive and defensive systems. He will continue to mesh Paul Millsap on both sides of the floor. The preseason is not the time to panic.