At last year’s MIT Sloan Stats and Analytics conference, there was some controversy and discussion surrounding a paper about the value of Dwight Howard’s blocks. John Huizinga studied shot blocks based on their possible outcomes — the offensive team keeping possession of the ball, the block leading to a defensive rebound and a change of possession, or a goaltend resulting in two free points for the offense.
Because of Howard’s tendency to swat shots out of bounds rather than tip them to his teammates and his high rate of goaltends, Huizinga found that Howard, on a block-by-block basis, had the least valuable blocks in the entire NBA.
Howard’s goaltending was a much bigger issue than his tendency to swat shots out of bounds in the study, and I don’t think anyone would argue that goaltending is bad, including Howard. However, the Orlando Sentinel’s Zach McCann reports that Dwight isn’t about to apologize for swatting shots into the stands rather than politely corralling them or redirecting them to a teammate:
On Wednesday night, Howard answered about his philosophy when blocking shots. Here’s what he had to say:
“They told me to grab them, but sometimes blocking a shot and sending it out of bounds shows a team it’s not going to be easy to come in the paint,” Howard said. “Grabbing it, that’s like being a showoff or something like that, even though it is kind of cool.”
So not only is Howard trying to block shots, he’s trying to make defenders shy away from him later in the game. He wants to send a message.
“Every block,” he says.
Howard might have a point, because Magic opponents have been absolutely terrified to take the ball to the rim this season. According to HoopData.com, the Magic only allow 15 shot attempts at the rim per game, which is the lowest mark in the NBA by a significant margin — the Thunder allow more than twice as many shots per game at the rim than the Magic. It’s impossible to give intimidation an exact statistical value, but there’s no question that what Dwight Howard is doing on defense is working.