Orlando Magic Camp Countdown: Are Dwight Howard's Rebounding and Shot-Blocking Titles Safe?

Orlando Magic training camp opens on September 28th. Orlando Pinstriped Post counts down key questions to consider entering camp and the 2010/11 NBA season.

Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard enters the coming season as the three-time reigning rebounding champion and the two-time reigning shot-blocking champion. In part due to those monstrous stats, he's also won the Defensive Player of the Year Award two years running. Though we're primarily concerned with team-wide issues in this series of posts, I believe these individual-focused questions are worth asking. What are Howard's chances of repeating as the league's rebounder and shot-blocker? Who are his biggest competitors for those honors?

First, we need to establish what we might reasonably expect Howard to average this year. Since Stan Van Gundy took over as head coach in 2007/08, Howard has averaged 36.0 minutes per game, 13.7 rebounds per game, and 2.6 blocks per game. For this exercise, we'll assume that Howard posts those averages this season.

In averaging 13.2 boards last year, Howard won the rebounding title by a statistical mile, finishing 2.4 rebounds ahead of runner-up Marcus Camby, which is roughly the same distance between Camby and 13th-place Brendan Haywood. Here's a look at the five players immediately following Howard on last year's leaderboard, and how many minutes per game those players would have to average this year just to equal Howard:

Current
team
Player Rebounds
per
minute
Mins needed to match 13.7 per game
Trail
Blazers
Marcus Camby 0.376 36.4
Grizzlies Zach Randolph 0.311 44.1
Warriors David
Lee
0.314 43.6
Bulls Carlos Boozer 0.327 41.9
Heat Chris Bosh 0.300 45.7

None of these players seems at all likely to meet those averages. Camby's figure is the most reasonable of any--and it's really rather amazing that he continues to board like this, even at 36--but it's hard to imagine him seeing an uptick in minutes last year with the injured Greg Oden returning to the lineup. For context, consider that Camby played 32.1 minutes per game after joining the Blazers last season, and that was with Oden already sidelined. From here, Howard's rebounding crown looks safe.

But the above chart doesn't account for players a bit further down the list whose limited minutes in turn held down their rebounding averages. Let's take a look at two players whose rebound rates--an estimate of available rebounds a given player records when on the floor--exceeded 20, but who didn't appear in the above list.

Current
team
Player Rebounds
per
minute
Mins needed to match 13.7 per game
Kings Samuel Dalembert 0.369 37.1
Timber-
-wolves
Kevin
Love
0.384 35.7

Dalembert played barely half of each game last season as the only viable center in Philadelphia, so there's no reason to believe he'll see a huge minutes increase in Sacramento, which boasts a host of more talented center options in Carl Landry, DeMarcus Cousins, and Jason Thompson. But Love? He's a serious candidate to challenge Howard here. 35.7 minutes isn't an unreasonable goal for the best player on a lottery team to garner. But he was the best player on last year's Wolves as well, and managed only 28.6 for reasons only head coach Kurt Rambis understands. It's clear, however, that Love is the most obvious threat to Howard's getting a four-peat in rebounding titles.

The block situation is a bit closer. Howard won with 2.8 per game last year, while Andrew Bogut placed second at 2.5. Again, as outlined above, we're using 2.6 blocks per game as a baseline for Hoawrd this year based on his averages over the last three seasons. As we did with rebounding, here's a look at the five players immediately after Howard on last year's leaderboard, and how much burn they'd need to reach 2.6 swats per contest:

Current
team
Player Blocks
per
minute
Mins needed to match 2.6 per game
Bucks Andrew
Bogut
0.079 32.9
Hawks Josh
Smith
0.061 42.6
Mavericks Brendan
Haywood
0.067 38.8
Trail
Blazers
Marcus Camby 0.063 41.3
Nuggets Chris Andersen 0.085 30.6

Here, Bogut emerges as a real threat. He's averaged 32.3 minutes per game for his career, and 33.5 per game since his sophomore season. He's the Bucks' best player and doesn't have a great backup who might leech minutes from him. If anything, I'd say it's likely that Bogut usurps Howard as block champ this year.

Andersen's 30.6 mark seems reasonable enough, but he's 32 years old and coming off a season in which he averaged a career-best 22.3 minutes per game. The Nuggets are thin up front, especially with Kenyon Martin out due to injury, but it's still unrealistic to expect Andersen to average starters' minutes over a full season.

But, as with rebounding, we ought to consider players with exceptional block rates whose per-game averages were limited due to their lack of overall minutes. These two players stood out at the top of the block rate list, just ahead of Andersen, Bogut, and Howard:

Current
team
Player Blocks
per
minute
Mins needed to match 2.6 per game
Wizards JaVale McGee 0.104 25.0
Heat Joel
Anthony
0.082 31.7

Assuming his sharp sophomore increase in shot-blocking wasn't a fluke, McGee looks like another strong contender to stop Howard's four-peat. Limited to 16.1 minutes per game last year behind Haywood before the trade which sent Haywood to Dallas, McGee came on strong in the season's waning months and enters this season as the Wizards' likely starter at center. In his 19 starts last year, he averaged 24.5 minutes. The only player who might really challenge him for minutes is the journeyman Hilton Armstrong, who simply is not any good. Perhaps Andray Blatche could shift from power forward to center for a few minutes per game. But it's a safe bet that McGee reaches that 25-minute threshold. If he does, Howard's block title is in serious jeopardy.

Anthony? He may start in Miami, but the Heat have far too many options at center for him to hold a 32-minute monopoly on the position. Seriously, the Heat have three other true centers in Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Jamaal Magloire, and Dexter Pittman. Bosh and Udonis Haslem can play spot minutes there if pressed.

In sum, Howard is a safe bet to finish near the top of the league in both categories again. But neither title is safe, particularly shot-blocking. Yet even without winning either category, the Defensive Player of the Year Award is his almost by default, as no other player looks likely to finish near the top in both categories. Recall how thoroughly he dominated the balloting last year if you're skeptical. It'd take monstrous showings by Bogut or Smith--both tally steals at impressive rates, in addition to blocking shots like mad--and strong seasons from their teams for either to unseat Howard.

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