Matchup Analysis: Dwight Howard vs. Rasho Nesterovic

This attitude is what the Magic need more of. From Dwight's comments after the Magic beat the Wizards on Wednesday:

"Everybody knows what LeBron did, everybody remembers," Magic center Dwight Howard said. "I want to be remembered."

[....]

"We want Toronto to feel like they're in hell."

I want Dwight to be remembered, too, and not just for the Superman dunk. He can ascend from Superstardom to, uh, Superduperstardom (?) if he can dominate in the playoffs. As much as we worry about not having anyone who can guard Chris Bosh, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that somebody on the Raptors has to guard Howard. On whom will the Raptors call? How has Dwight done against that person historically?

Enter Rasho Nesterovic, the veteran center who's having a career renaissance in April, averaging 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 60% shooting from the field. But the focus of this piece is defense, so let's get to it. 82games shows us that he held opposing centers to a PER of 13.8 this season. That's all well and good, but how did he and Dwight do against one another in the regular season? Let's take a look:

Game Shared playing-time Dwight's Stats Rasho's Stats Notes GameFlow Play-by-Play
1 0:18 -- -- With just 18 seconds together, what'd you expect? PopcornMachine ESPN
2 8:42 2-3 FGs, 3-4 FTs, 7 pts 3-5 FGs, 6 pts
  • Dwight blocked Rasho once
  • Rasho fouled Dwight on a layup, leading to a three-point play
PopcornMachine ESPN
3 17:36 2-4 FGs, 1-2 FTs, 5 pts 0-5 FGs, 0 pts
  • Rasho fouled Dwight on a layup attempt, but Dwight made just one of the free throws.
PopcornMachine ESPN

These resources can't tell us who guarded whom in these stretches, so take the results with a grain of salt. However, it's reasonable to assume that Dwight and Rasho were indeed matched-up with one another. That was most evident in the third game, when the Raptors were without Bosh. Dwight scored 19 points in 29 minutes, but the play-by-play shows he did most of that damage when Rasho was off the floor. Overall, Dwight's total of 12 points in 26:36 against Nesterovic puts him on pace for 16.2 points per 36 minutes, well below his season average of 19.8 points per 36, which suggests that the Raptors can indeed rely on Nesterovic to contain Howard.

But can they afford to play him heavy minutes? Does he negatively impact the offense? While the Raptors are nearly 6 points worse per 100 possessions when Nesterovic is on the court, they shouldn't fret; when on the floor with the Raptors' other starters (T.J. Ford, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, and Bosh), Toronto outscores its opponent 82% of the time.

But...

When Dwight's motivated, he's awesome. After Stan Van Gundy famously called him out for his lack of effort, Dwight responded with a 23-point, 24-rebound effort against the Denver Nuggets, who employ Marcus Camby, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, at center.

So, one table and several paragraphs later, we're no closer to figuring out how Dwight will do against Rasho. Considering that Chris Bosh will get his points (probably 35 a game), and that Jamario Moon's athleticism poses problems for Hedo Turkoglu, it's important that Dwight at least scores at his usual rate. He's had trouble with Nesterovic in the past, but the playoffs are a different animal.

And so is Dwight.

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