Saturday, November 08, 2008

Ask Sports Sturm: Josh Howard = Not Clutch

This episode’s “Ask Sports Me” features a long standing sports theory that I have thrown out; with a emailer wanting to challenge me on my oft-used sports point, that “Josh Howard doesn’t want the ball in the 4th Quarter”.

The emailer writes:

Bob, I hear you always say that Howard doesn’t want the ball in the 4th Quarter, but do you have evidence of this or is this just your observation?

Both. I used to just watch the games and notice how Howard always seemed to have 16 or 18 points at the half and then end the game with 23. Of course, that is an exaggeration, but it is what sent me on this theory.

I did notice, though, that he has virtually no role in the Mavericks 4th Quarter half-court offense. And now I needed to either prove or disprove this theory to see if we have a full fledged fact-based sports truth.

A couple of qualifiers as usual:

1) – It is possible that Rick Carlisle will feel differently about Josh’s role in the 4th Quarter than Avery Johnson. Not likely, but possible. Almost all of my data being used is from the Avery Johnson era.

2) – It is impossible to prove with statistics whether the source of Josh’s 4th Quarter production is a product of his reluctance to shoot or “take over” a game, or whether the coach purposely does not include him in the offensive sets. All we have are the numbers that tell us what does and doesn’t happen from a results standpoint.

But we do know a few things:

• In the NBA, what you do in the early part of the game still matters. But, only in the late stages of regular season games do you see true defense being played with the fullest intensity possible.

• Josh Howard is a very talented player who has been to an All-Star Game. All-Star caliber players with a few rare exceptions (guys like Ben Wallace who were only there strictly because of defensive skills) are expected to assist in closing out games. To have a player who is consistently your 2nd leading scorer being a virtual passenger in the final 6-8 minutes of NBA games is a major liability. I am sure upon reading this people will suggest that he doesn’t have 4th Quarter numbers because the Mavs turn strictly to Dirk. Of course, Dirk gets his number called because he can deliver, but Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, and even Jason Kidd are all capable of producing at about their quarterly average in the 4th. Josh Howard has always had his weakest quarter in the 4th. Always.

Let’s look at the evidence:

Below, is Josh Howard’s Scoring by Quarter for his career, where he averages 15.2 points per game:

QuarterPoint Average

Now, here he is in the last 3 seasons since he has developed (18.3 ppg):

QuarterPoint Average

Next, the 2006-07 season (18.9 ppg):

QuarterPoint Average

And, the 2007-08 season (19.9 ppg):

QuarterPoint Average

Aren't the numbers all shockingly consistent? He has a huge 1st Quarter, ok 2nd and 3rd Quarters, and then to me a 4th Quarter that falls off the table.

Is it because he doesn't make his shots? No. It is because he doesn't shoot. Look at the following table to see the number of times he shoots each Quarter, first in 2006-7:

QuarterShoots every x Minutes

And in 2007-08:

QuarterShoots every x Minutes

See, as the game goes on, he shoots less and less.

To see what these numbers mean, I thought we should also run the numbers of a player who is sometimes treated critically for not being "clutch", Dirk Nowitzki. I think he will go down as an amazingly underappreciated star in these parts if he doesn't help lead a Championship run here in Dallas. For sure, those 2006 NBA Finals shall forever hang over the heads of Mr. Howard and Mr. Nowitzki.

Dirk's Career Numbers (22.4 ppg):

QuarterPoint Average

Dirk's last three seasons (24.9 ppg):

QuarterPoint Average

Dirk in 2006-07 (24.6 ppg):

QuarterPoint Average

And, Dirk in 2007-08 (23.6 ppg):

QuarterPoint Average

And Dirk's Shot rates for the last two seasons - 2006-07:

QuarterShoots Every X Minutes

And in 2007-08:

QuarterShoots Every X Minutes

From the Dirk Numbers, you can see his consistency. His numbers are either flat for all 4 quarters, or his 4th Quarter numbers are actually his best.

Meanwhile, across the boards, Josh's production for years in a row has been at his best in the early part of the game, and at his worst when the game is on the line.

Check out this final table to demonstrate the difference in the two players. It will measure the percentage of their points that they score in each Quarter over the last 3 seasons.

Josh Howard scored 3,757 points in 3 seasons. Here are the percentage of his points in each Quarter:

QuarterPercentage of Points

He scores 36% of his points in the 1st Quarter, and 16% in the 4th! What more evidence is needed?

Dirk Nowitzki scored 5,884 in 3 seasons. The percentage of his points per Quarter:

QuarterPercentage of Points

If Dirk underperforms it is in the 2nd Quarter. His 4th Quarter numbers are 24.9% of his total numbers. Spot on.

Again, this exercise is not to see if Dirk is better than Josh. That is as clear as day to anyone who has ever seen one game. The point of this study is to definitively answer the question of "Is Josh Howard invisible at crunch time".

And the answer has to be, Yes. He drastically underperforms in the 4th Quarter. As he plays in his 6th season, he will need to change this if he is to ever be considered as a Top Player.


bevo said...

This just proves what we have always thought..Darn I love these type of stats..Just don't know where to find them..

danny n dallas said...

as much as i hate to admit it we need s.marberry.....we need someone whos not scared to drive the ball..especially in the 4th period..we can play him at sg alla iverson..then we'll have a big three like these other good we cant do any trade without blowing this team up...i'll gladly take this guy in on this team if he'll help us return to glory regardless of his baggage...look at artest in houston

jbrady said...

great analysis ... do you have any idea how this stacks up against other players in the league? it would be interesting to see how often the most clutch players shoot in the fourth quarter (for example kobe). thanks.

jbrady said...

great analysis ... do you have any idea how this stacks up against other players in the league? it would be interesting to see how often the most clutch players shoot in the fourth quarter (for example kobe). thanks.

Juggo said...

I know Norm had the stat a few days ago that Howard isn't 2nd in the NBA to LeBron James in 1st quarter PPG. Amazing.