Dwight Howard's tremendous offensive improvement might be one of the underreported stories of the 2010/11 NBA season. In his seventh professional season, Howard has set career highs in usage rate (27.4 percent of the Orlando Magic's possessions end with a Howard shot attempt, trip to the foul line, or turnover) and per-game scoring (22.1, tenth in the league) without seeing a meaningful drop-off in efficiency. His 61.8 percent True Shooting mark ranks him sixth in the league, and Paul Pierce is the only one of those players who approaches Howard's scoring volume. He's also trimmed his turnover rate despite the increased offensive responsibilities. Anyone still criticizing him for lacking a refined offensive game simply isn't paying attention.
Howard has made strides in several areas, but among the most notable and prevalent is in his jump-shooting. Prior to this season, he had shot 30.6 percent on two-point jumpers. This season, that figure has moved to 39.1 percent.
Specifically, Howard has improved his facility in taking jumpers from the wings after receiving the ball with his back to the basket. In prior years, if a defender managed to leverage him a few steps out from where he'd like to catch, Howard didn't have many options; he could turn, face, and fire an iffy jumper or try to drive a longer to the basket, opening himself up to strips from help defenders. Now? He can turn, face, and fire a markedly more reliable jumper, in addition to driving the lane.
In 74 games, Howard has shot 38-of-92 (41.3 percent) on such attempts. To be clear, we're only talking about a very specific type of jumper here: ones he shoots following a post-up when he faces up.
The improved accuracy is one aspect to note here, but don't ignore his willingness to fire away: he's tied Zach Randolph for the league lead in this sort of jumper attempt this season, at 1.2 per game. Howard, Randolph, Carlos Boozer, and Al Jefferson stand as the only players averaging at least 1 such shot attempt per game. Of those four, only Jefferson (45.3 percent) tops Howard in accuracy.
Despite these improvements, opposing defenses will continue to concede the jumper to Howard, given that he connects on all other two-point shots at 58.7 percent. The issue for the rest of the league is that few players can consistently muscle Howard out of the painted area.
I believe Howard's gone about refining his jumper the right way: he's improved it to a reasonable degree without compromising his volume of higher-percentage shots closer to the goal. The jumper is simply a tool he can use when he absolutely has to.
When sharing the floor with the Magic's starters, a Howard jumper is the least efficient option for the team; of shot-types used on average at least once per game, only Jason Richardson coming off a screen (43.8 percent, adjusted for three-pointers) or Jameer Nelson going one-on-one (42.5 percent, also adjusted for three-pointers) approach Howard's low accuracy. Expanded to include Orlando's top three reserves, a Howard jumper is markedly more valuable than Gilbert Arenas isolating (30.8 percent, adjusted for three-pointers).
Still, you'd rather Howard have a bit of range than not have any at all. If he can boost his accuracy again next season, the league's top defensive player will become even more fearsome, and complete, offensively.