One of the biggest letdowns of NBA free agency so far has been the Houston Rockets. They haven’t seemed to be able to do anything right. First, they declined to get an additional year of Chandler Parsons at the best budget in the NBA. Then they cleared a bunch of cap space and went all in for a superstar, but didn’t land any. Then they decided not to match the Dallas Mavericks’ offer to Parsons, ultimately leaving them with less valuable pieces than they had in 2013-14.
But Dwight Howard thinks that they’re going to be just fine.
In typical Howard fashion, he cut down Parsons and oversold himself when talking to the AP.
“It won’t affect us at all,” Howard said Friday of Parsons signing a three-year, $45-million deal with the Dallas Mavericks.
“We have myself and James,” Howard said. “We have the best center and the best two guard in the game on the same team. It’s on us.”
You almost want to respect his confidence here, but when a player is that delusional, it makes it even harder to root for him than it previously was. He actually may be right when talking about Harden, but that’s more because the two guard position is the weakest its been in years.1 An argument can be made about Harden’s defense knocking him far away from the top spot, but that’s not nearly as glaring as the rest of Howard’s claims. When you look at the statistics from last season’s centers, it’s hard to form any argument that Dwight is really tops in the league.
In terms of points per game, he was a full 4.4 behind DeMarcus Cousins.2 Scoring per 48 minutes pushes him even further behind, as he trailed Cousins by 7.7 (and Al Jefferson by 4). But Howard is a defensive power, correct? Well in terms of rebounding, he trailed DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond. His numbers were respectable, and finishing third in the league is nothing to scoff at, but he didn’t even have the most rebounds per 48 minutes on his team (that honor belongs to Omer Asik, a superior defensive center in almost every way). His block numbers fall to fourth, with Jordan coming out on top yet again. In fact, the only major stat where Howard was ranked in the top two in the league was most turnovers per game with 3.2.
Joakim Noah won Defensive Player of the Year and was All-NBA first team.3 Howard, the defensive specialist, didn’t even make the All-Defense second team. That went to Roy Hibbert. Howard was never Player of the Month and he was never Player of the Week.
Howard is still a good center and a valuable player, but he is by no means the definitive best center in the league, despite whatever he might think. Even more delusional is to think that losing Parsons doesn’t hurt the team.
Adding Ariza is a great move in terms of players to replace Parsons, but at this point Parsons has infinitely more upside than Ariza, a guy who was really the fourth fiddle on a good, but not great, Wizards team. There’s no way that losing Parsons, a shot selection king, isn’t going to hurt their offense. Parsons averaged 16.6 points per game last year and shot over 47 percent from the field. That’s a valuable weapon, able to draw quite a bit of focus away from James Harden. Ariza will do that to a certain extent, and he did shoot better than Parsons from beyond the arc last season (41 percent vs. 37 percent), but he doesn’t have the room for growth that Parsons does, which will hurt the Rockets in the long run unless they’re able to use that extra cap space for another superstar.
In reality, the Rockets will be fine in a sense. They’re going to make the playoffs, but probably exit in the first round. If the Mavericks’ moves work out, then I think it’s very possible that the Rockets fall to the worst team in Texas (though that’s not a knock on Houston as much as a credit to San Antonio and Dallas). It’s fine for Howard to be confident. It’s fine for him to think he’s one of the best big men in the league. But it’s simply delusional to think that losing Parsons won’t hurt the team and that Howard is the best center in the league when the 2014-15 Rockets will merely be fine.