What can the Timberwolves expect from Josh Howard?
Well, first of all, the Josh Howard the Wolves signed on Thursday to a one-year contract for the veteran minimum is not the Howard who was an All-Star for the Dallas Mavericks in 2007. And this 32-year-old Howard is not the ACC Player of the Year that the Wolves passed over in the 2003 draft for Ndudi Ebi. But with Timberwolf bodies hitting the floor more often than they do for a Drowning Pool cover band, the hope is only that Howard can fill a need for scoring and experience on a team that went from deep and experienced to considerably thinner and greener.
Howard played last year for the Utah Jazz and had a respectable season. Coming off the bench for most of the 43 games he played, his per 36 minute numbers look mostly good: 13.5 pts, 5.7 rebs, 1.8 asts, 40% from the field, 77% from the line. His 24% shooting from distance is troubling, though, on a team already starved for 3-point shooting. Asked last night before the game about who has the green light from long range, Adelman winced and said, “The way we’re shooting 3s? Luke? Maybe?” So Howard won’t be much help there.
So where could he succeed on offense for a Wolves team that doesn’t have many options? With an overall .8 points per possession last season according to MySynergy Sports, Howard is not an offensive machine, but he did manage to notch 1.23 ppp on cuts, 1.01 in transition, and .95 off screens. The good news is that these types of plays are what the Timberwolves are largely relying upon right now, with Kirilenko doing great work both cutting and finding cutters and Shved pushing the ball in transition.
On the downside, he scored only .67 points per possession on spot-ups, .73 as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls, and .79 on isolations. Although Adelman’s system has managed to hold together in places so far, we saw last night against the Bobcats what happens when it breaks down. In his postgame conference, Adelman admitted, “Down the stretch, it was like, ‘What are we going to run? Who are we going to go to?’” When plays aren’t getting executed crisply, teams often break down into drive-and-kicks, pick-and-rolls, or isos, and in those situations Howard is not efficient.
Some of it comes down to size for him, both on offense and defense. At 6’7”, he’s undersized for the small forward position and although he was once quick, at 32, it’s doubtful whether he can keep up with smaller, quicker guards at the 2. Watching video of him, he seems to have trouble shaking his man on pick-and-rolls, regardless of whether or not he gets the switch. And on defense, he allowed almost a point-per-possession on 61% shooting last year when defending the ball handler in pick-and-rolls.
The Wolves will almost certainly announce this move by saying they’ve signed “former All-Star” Josh Howard, but make no mistake: that’s not who they’re getting. But of course, with so many players out of pocket and the end of the bench coming into play, there was every reason to make some kind of move. If Howard can do what he does best and minimize his weaknesses, there’s reason to hope he can be an effective stopgap solution for now and a help off the bench later in the season.