The Wizards had hoped to stay afloat at the start of the season until Dwight Howard, their most consequential offseason acquisition, was ready to make his debut. That plan hasn't exactly worked out.
Instead, the 1-5 Wizards have struggled in the very areas Howard should help most. When he does come back, he will help plug some holes, but their shortcomings in several parts of the game suggest there are larger issues at play.
With Howard out, the Wizards have been particularly bad at defense, setting screens and rebounding. We went in-depth on the defense after Sunday night's catastrophe in L.A. So, let's take a look at the other two parts of the game where Howard's vacancy has been felt.
For one, the absence of a starting-caliber center in the wake of Marcin Gortat's departure via trade has been felt particularly on the boards. The Wizards woke up Monday dead last in the NBA in both total rebounds and offensive rebounds allowed. After getting out-classed on the boards 57-45 against the Clippers, the Wizards are -13.8 in average total rebounds.
Howard should help offset that number, of course. He is one of the best rebounders in NBA history and still reels them in at an elite rate.
It's not as simple as adding his rebounds into the mix, but the basic math is worth noting. Last season, Howard averaged 12.5 rebounds for the Charlotte Hornets. Put those numbers into the equation and the Wizards could, in theory, go into the positive in the rebounding margin.
Howard will have an effect beyond the rebounds he gets. He will keep other players off the glass with a commitment to boxing out and by simply being the biggest man on the court at just about any given time. He takes up a lot of space, a lot more than Ian Mahinmi and Markieff Morris do, and has the athleticism to cover tons of ground.
Howard's ability to rebound and alter shots should eliminate some of the second-chance points the Wizards are allowing. They are last in the NBA in opponent second-chance points at 19.8 per game. That's an NBA All-Star's worth of points per game.
Gobbling up rebounds should also take away some fast break opportunities. Wizards opponents are averaging 21.2 transition points per game, second-most in the NBA.
The Wizards' rebounding woes go well beyond Howard's absence, however. The rest of their team has not been able to fill the void.
Kelly Oubre Jr., a 6-foot-7 forward who spends most of his time on the perimeter, is leading the team with 5.8 rebounds per game. Markieff Morris (5.5/g) and Otto Porter Jr. (5.2/g) are both below their usual output.
John Wall (3.0/g) and Bradley Beal (4.5/g) are falling short of head coach Scott Brooks' goal that they combine for 10 per night. Beal, however, is pulling his weight.
When it comes to setting screens, the numbers show a big hole left behind by Gortat. Last season, the Wizards were eighth in screen assists per game (10.6), while this year they are 28th in the league (5.7).
Gortat was fourth in the NBA last season in screen assists (4.5). The good news is that Howard wasn't far behind him in sixth (4.2).
The Wizards have tried to compensate for the loss of Howard with backup big men and also by playing more small-ball. Both have clearly had an effect on their ability to defend, rebound and set screens.
They should get Howard back soon, possibly as early as this weekend. Though he will patch up some of their holes, others on the roster clearly have room for improvement in those categories.
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