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Hoops Lab: The Professor Talks Hoop

Andre' Snellings

Andre' Snellings is a Neural Engineer by day, and RotoWire's senior basketball columnist by night. He's a two-time winner of the Fantasy Basketball Writer of the Year award from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.

Is the hype around Dwight Howard's possible trade worth it?

Last year around this time, the big "Will he?/Won't he?" story was about Carmelo Anthony possibly leaving the Nuggets in free agency. At the time I led the Hoops Lab with a section called "Does Melo Matter?" in which I broke down how his raw numbers/reputation far outstripped his actual impact on games. I've since gone on to re-state that several times after Melo's trade to the Knicks, as the results just continue to emphasize that the predictive stats on that one were correct: Melo DIDN'T matter to nearly the extent the hype would have had us believe.

This year, the will he/won't he hype surrounds Dwight Howard. On the Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today show last Thursday ( XM 87, Sirius 210), host Chris Liss asked me what the "impact stats" say about Howard - is he the second best player in the game behind LeBron James? At the time on-air I went with my gut, that Howard measured out as a top 5-10 guy more than the clear-cut No. 2 guy. As it turns out, I was half-right. Howard doesn't measure out as CLEARLY the second best player in the NBA - but he DOES have a strong argument for it.

Let's start with Dr. Stephen Ilardi's (now a stats advisor for the Phoenix Suns) six-year adjusted plus-minus study for the 2004 - 2009 seasons. If you follow the link, you'll find Howard around 35th among big minute players in that study - very good, but not great. This study helped shape my initial intuition that I shared about Howard on the radio last week, but this was also the first six years of Howard's career. Young players notoriously don't have as good of an impact as you might think early on, but as they develop they can ramp up dramatically. And Howard was no exception, as by the 2008 - 2011 study conducted by Jeremias Engelmann that I often cite, Howard was checking in with an APM of +7.6 per 100 possessions that ranked him fourth overall in a virtual five-way tie for second (with Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett and Chris Paul). And when you consider that Howard plays heavy minutes and never misses games and thus had more minutes played over that stretch than those other four players (many more than all but Nowitzki), you could certainly argue that Howard had the second largest impact on games over the past four years (behind only LeBron).

So, that would suggest that in Howard's case, the hype surrounding his potential departure from Orlando is much more justified than was the Melo hype of last season. But let's go a bit deeper.

Another semi-quantified but not as rigorously developed point in Howard's favor is that he makes his impact a) with his defense and b) off the ball, which in my experience suggests that his impact on a new team should be roughly additive. I've noticed that the general trend for superstars changing teams is that defense tends to translate almost 100%. Garnett measured out as the best defensive player in the NBA (2007 RAPM) while in Minnesota, then went to Boston and continued to measure out as the best defensive player in the NBA (2008 RAPM). On offense, on the other hand, there can be diminishing returns when you combine two ball-dominant players. Dwyane Wade and LeBron James measured out as 1-2 in the NBA at +7.6 and +7.1 on offense in 2010, but when they went to the same team in 2011 they slid slightly to +5.5 and +4.1, good for third and tied for fifth. Still excellent but less so, as there was only one ball, and neither was used to having to defer.

Howard obviously makes a good chunk of his impact on defense (three-time defending Defensive Player of the year, top-5 in defensive impact in the '08 - '11 study linked above), which should translate to whatever team to which he goes. But he also doesn't have to have the ball in his hands as often in order to have a good impact there. Wade and James were also 1-2 in the NBA in usage (estimate for how many offensive possessions a player uses) in 2009-10, while Howard was 17th in the NBA in usage in 2011 and is currently 18th in 2012. Thus, no matter how ball-dominant his new teammates might be, Howard should still be able to both get his touches and anchor the defense.

Put it together, and Howard is arguably the second-most impactful player in the NBA, and he plays a style that should translate to whatever team acquires him. So yeah - it actually IS that big of a deal which team Howard is playing for come March 16. Even if the hype leading up to it is annoying.

Around the League

Curry still struggling: Stephen Curry continues to struggle with his injured foot. He played only nine minutes on Tuesday, which came after he had managed only one minute played in a decoy role over his previous four games. The story on Curry just doesn't change - top-5 roto ability, but glass ankles/feet that keep him off the court make that talent useless to his owners.

Wade's tweaked ankle: Wade left Tuesday night's game with a tweaked right ankle and did not return. On the other hand, the game was a blowout, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Wade could have come back if he were needed. Consider Wade day-to-day, though with the way he turned it over I'll be impressed if he were able to meet his Wednesday night projected return.

Bynum staying healthy: For the last several years it's been apparent that Andrew Bynum had the talent and ability to be arguably the best center in the NBA, but he just had never been able to stay healthy long enough to show it. This year he has. While it had to worry Bynum owners that he required a fancy knee procedure over the All-Star break, he hasn't missed a beat in his return. He's working on a streak of 10 straight double-doubles, including a 30-point/14-rebound explosion on Tuesday night. Bynum is still only 24 years old, and it appears he's finally reaching his potential.

Gallo working back: Danilo Gallinari (ankle) played his first game since February 6 on Monday, scoring four points with three boards in 18 minutes. Gallinari is obviously working himself back into shape, but he was in the midst of a career year before he went down, and barring setback should return to that level in the near future.

Bargnani on deck: Andrea Bargnani (calf) has been practicing with the Raptors and is expected to return to game action sometime this weekend. He hasn't played in a game since January 25, so expect him to be rusty, but this is great news for those that held onto him through the absence.

Big Movers in the Rotowire Fantasy Basketball Cheat sheet

I'm trying this out as a new section this week. Previously this type of news would have gone in "Around the League", but since the Rotowire Fantasy Basketball Cheat Sheet is essentially its own article, I figured it might be time to discuss some of the bigger movers in a given week in their own section. We'll see how it works.

Anthony, Stoudemire and Lin down: Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire have been mainstays near the top of the cheat sheet all season, but the developing dynamic in New York seems to limit their long-term upside. With the additions of Jeremy Lin, JR Smith, Steve Novak and Baron Davis to the rotation over the last few weeks there have been fewer shots for Anthony and Stoudemire whose main value is in their ability to score. Charlie Zegers discussed it in his blog this week, where he argued that he wouldn't want either on his team moving forward. I won't go that far, but I am concerned enough to move both of them down several slots in the rankings. Lin also gets a bit of a downgrade for his play of late, as he hasn't shown the ability to transfer into full-fledge assist mode as I expected.

Garnett and Pierce up: On the flip side, the Celtics are trending upward. Rajon Rondo has drawn the headlines lately with his triple-doubles, but quietly Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have been playing outstanding ball of late. Garnett has moved to center full-time, and it's reflected with an increase in rebounding and blocked shots. Pierce, on the other hand, is moving back into the primary scorer slot with good efficiency.

Anderson leaps Howard: I was slow to be convinced on Ryan Anderson, but he has consistently been a double-double threat with lots of treys and solid percentages. What's not to like? It still feels funny to move him past Howard, but Howard's free-throw shooting is just too poor on too much volume for him to be any higher.

Conley among elite: Another player I was slow to be convinced about was Mike Conley Jr., especially after his injury absence when Greivis Vasquez looked so good. But Conley just continues to go out and produce on a nightly basis. And adjusted plus-minus studies for the last couple of seasons indicate that he's been producing at a higher than intuitive level for a while now. It was time for him to make a move.

Novak monster leap with treys: Steve Novak has burst into the rankings, up near 100, despite having only one discernible skill. Novak is knocking down 3-pointers at an absurd rate, averaging 3.5 made treys over his last 14 games, and he shows no signs of letting up with 22 made treys in his last five outings.

Udoh and Biyombo on rise: Ekpe Udoh and Bismack Biyombo are both raw, athletic big men with strong defensive abilities. Both have played well of late. Both have earned starting jobs for the rest of the season. As such, both are in my "New Additions" below, and both are also on the rise in the rankings.

New Additions

Corey Maggette (51% owned in Yahoo! leagues): Maggette has quietly put it together recently after a long battle with injuries, averaging 18.2 points and 3.9 rebounds over his last 10 games. And as always, when healthy he is an outstanding source of free throws with 36 made FTs in 43 attempts over his last four games.

George Hill (27% owned): Hill has found his shooting range lately after missing 10 games with a foot injury. He has had a disappointing season, but the shooting lead guard that has been fantasy relevant over the last couple of seasons is still in there somewhere and is showing signs of coming back over the last few games.

Bismack Biyombo (23% owned): Biyombo drew attention on Tuesday when he came up only three blocks short of a triple-double against Dwight Howard. Biyombo is a very raw player, but he's also a shot-blocking machine on the order of Serge Ibaka. Plus, the Bobcats are going nowhere this year so they may as well play their young upside guys a lot down the stretch.

Epke Udoh (20% owned): Udoh has been named the starting center for the rest of the season for the Warriors, and he has responded with strong defensive numbers (no surprise) as well as double-digit scoring (a bit of a surprise). He's young, athletic, has upside, and as the named starter should get every opportunity to produce moving forward.

Metta World Peace (19% owned): The artist formerly known as Ron Artest has been solid of late after re-earning his way back into the starting lineup. His primary value is tied into his steals and 3-pointers, though he will also give you double-figure scoring on a regular basis.

Randy Foye (14% owned): Foye is a 3-point shooting role player, but there is value there. He's been knocking down almost two treys per game for a month now, a handy skill for those looking to make a move in 3-pointers.

Best Players in NBA history: Jerry West

In this section of the Lab I pick one of the top players in NBA history as voted on in this project and discuss some of his career accomplishments - in other words, what made him so great that he deserves a spot among the greatest? This week's player is Jerry West, a player so iconic that his profile is literally used as the logo for the NBA.

My impression of West is that in many ways he was the original model for Kobe Bryant, a dynamic scorer with a killer instinct that can also handle the ball and get his teammates involved. While Bryant leans more towards pure scoring at times, West actually played a lot of point guard for his teams. West was also known to have abnormally long arms, which he used to good advantage on the defensive end to earn him a reputation as a one of the original perimeter ball hawks.

In the project, West was always tied directly to Oscar Robertson. There were "West" guys or "Oscar" guys, much like there were "Wilt" or "Russell", or "Magic" or "Bird" guys. Oscar's advantages were his statistical accomplishments, and his all-history offensive impact, but West had his strengths in the match-up as well. West was known as a winner, having played in the Finals nine times and seemingly wresting the Lakers' team leader role from Elgin Baylor somewhere along the way with his higher efficiency scoring at similar volume. West was also known as Mr. Clutch for his ability to knock down huge shots, a reputation that made him one of the more feared players of his time.

To read more about West's career and weigh in with your opinions, be sure to check out this week's blog.

Keeping up with the Professor

If you're interested in my takes throughout the week, you can follow me on Twitter @ProfessorDrz. Also, don't forget that you can catch me on the radio on Rotowire Fantasy Sports Today with Chris Liss and Jeff Erickson on XM 87, Sirius 210.