Here's a Howard vs. Hayes oped piece, from HOOPSWORLD.com, which is worth a look. I initially thought to post it in the 9-man rotation thread, but the text is somehat difficult to locate on the page linked above (it's embedded in another article). So I thought it better to paste it in full in a separate thread. Regular contributor Tony Moma argues that it’s time for Juwan Howard to hit the bench. <font size=""4"">Time for Howard To Ride Bench?</font> The answer to that question is a resounding yes. In fact, the only reason he has not rode bench since arriving in Houston 2 seasons ago is because the guys behind him have been that much worse. However, with the addition of Shane Battier, Bonzi Wells and the expected improvement of Chuck Hayes, this may be the year Houston finally has the pieces to finally place Howard where he fits best on this team. I know what you are probably thinking. He is a smart veteran role player, he brings consistency, he provides leadership in the lockeroom, etc. I am not going to dispute any of this, but none of those qualities make him the right guy for this team. It only makes him the right voice to have in the lockerroom. Since the end of the 2004-2005 season, Houston has gone in a positive direction by making an effort to get younger, quicker and more athletic by replacing the older veterans in David Wesley, Jon Barry, Derek Anderson, Scott Padgett and Moochie Norris with Luther Head, Keith Bogans (who left Houston to head back to Orlando), Kirk Snyder, Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes, and Bonzi Wells. Howard is the only 33+ year-old veteran still playing starter minutes for Houston, and it is a problem that needs to be addressed. This is probably the first time you have heard this, but the truth is that Juwan Howard is a cancer. Not by his personality or locker room impact, but by his impact on the court. Now, I know statistics do not always tell the whole story, but when they work this heavily against you, I would say it definitely becomes worth looking into. In 2005-2006, statistically, Houston was a better offensive and defensive team with Howard off the floor, scoring 107.6 points per-100-possesions while giving up 102.6, compared to 100.6/106.3 with Howard on the court. They also shot a higher percentage with him off the floor, (48.6% with him off compared to 46.2% with him) and held their opponents to a lower shooting percentage. (45.9% with him off compared to 48.0% with him). 2004-2005 was a little bit kinder to Howard statistically, but is that because Howard was a better player? Or is it because Houston won 51 games as opposed to 34? Houston scored 107.9 points-per-100-possesions on 48.7% shooting & gave up 101.1 on 44.6% shooting with Howard off the court. With Howard on the floor, Houston scored 106.5 points-per-100-possesions on 48.6% shooting, while giving up 104.9 on 47.8% shooting. Going by the statistics, Howard has possibly been nothing short of a team cancer, but coming to that conclusion already would be unfair. I am not one to draw conclusions solely from statistics. I do have eyes as well, which I have used to draw as many conclusions as I did from the statistics. You often hear about how superstars are supposed to make their teammates better. This is probably true, but you rarely, if ever, hear about role players having the exact same responsibility. It is a team sport. It is not a superstar’s job to simply do all the heavy lifting, while the role players sit back and watch their main guy fill up the scoreboard. “Role-players” are given roles not only to help your team win, but to make the game easier on your superstar, first and foremost. If you want to win a championship, it is everyone’s job to bring out the best in one another. Now, how does Juwan Howard do that exactly? Let’s start with his defense. He is as weak a help-side defender as they come, and his mobility and athleticism is not any more impressive. In his 2 seasons as a Rocket, he has blocked a grand total of 13 shots. How exactly is this making defense easier for Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady or anyone else? Come to think of it, do you think this could partially explain why Houston’s opponents happen to shoot better whenever Howard is on the floor? He is, at best, an average rebounder. For his career, he averages just 9.6 rebounds per-48-minutes, which is not much better than Maurice Taylor’s career average of 8.7. Remember all the talk about Houston planning to run more when Stromile Swift and Rafer Alston were added to the roster? Well, that plan hit a snag when Swift underachieved and never took Howard’s spot in the lineup like expected. As a result, Van Gundy assigns his perimeter players to crash the boards instead of leaking out onto the open-court to capitalize on 2-on-1 and 3-on-1 opportunities. Looking at it this way, would that explain Houston not only rebounding at a faster rate with Chuck Hayes, the 3rd best rebounder in the league per-48-minutes, but scoring at a faster rate as well? On the offensive side of the basketball, Howard is not nearly as destructive. To his credit, he has a very consistent mid-range jumper, solid veteran IQ, and can occasionally make for an effective 3rd scoring option. However, what makes Howard less valuable is that he gets the majority of his shots in the mid-hi post area. Is this a bad thing? Not really, but how valuable is it in comparison to the other options now on Houston? The first problem with this is that it is not far enough on the floor from the basket to keep his man from cheating in on Yao. Yao, for his career, shoots 52.4% from the field, while Howard shoots 43.2% on shots outside of the circle (where the majority of his shots come). Now, if you are the opposing defense and you were aware of this, whom would you rather want shooting the ball? Common sense says Howard. Now look at Shane Battier, a player that has range all the way out the 3pt line. Although his raw field-goal percentage is similar to Howard’s at 45.4%(compared to Howard’s 45.6% as a Rocket), his efficiency from beyond the arc gives him an effective-field goal percentage of 51.3%, meaning that it takes Battier less possessions to get his production. If you place Battier at PF next to Yao, it will likely make opposing defenses much more hesitant to collapse in on Yao in the paint because it means they will be leaving one of the most efficient shooters in the NBA wide open by doing so. Using this logic, this would explain why Houston was a better offensive team (statistically) with Scott Padgett, a long-distance shooter at the 4, on the court. Now look at Chuck Hayes. Hayes will not be able to hit the open jumper with the same consistency as Howard, but can he be more efficient? That is the question that matters. When Yao is on the floor, Hayes is good at recognizing the double-team and is quick enough to cut to the basket for the easy lay-up much better than Howard can. As a result, he shoots 57.3% on shots inside the circle. (To give you a better idea of how solid this is--Yao Ming shoots 59.4% on shots inside the area). In Howard’s 2 seasons as a Rocket, he has shot a below-average 49.9% on all his shots inside the circle, and as stated earlier, 43.2% everywhere else. This does not make Hayes a better overall offensive player than Howard, but it potentially could make him a more efficient option next to Yao, which is more important. So if Juwan Howard does not start at power forward, who does? The answer to that would be Shane Battier. I have already gone in detail on why he would be a bigger help on offense. Add that with the fact that he is a superior defender to Howard at the small forward and power forward position, and it makes Battier the much easier choice. Would starting Battier at power forward make rebounding a concern? No, it would not for two reasons. The first one being the addition of Bonzi Wells, who is coming off of a season where he averaged 7.7 rebounds per game. If he is placed in the starting lineup at SG, a lineup of Rafer Alston, Wells, McGrady, Battier and Yao is already projected to average more rebounds per game than the starting lineup did last season. Houston has been top5 in defensive rebounding each of the past 3 seasons. They've been top10 in rebounding differential in 2 of the past 3 seasons, with the one season where they were not in the top10 being where Yao missed significant time (and they still finished 13th in the NBA). Replacing Juwan Howard and David Wesley with Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells will unlikely downgrade Houston in this area, if not upgrade it. Secondly, during the offseason, Rockets GM gave a lecture at Rice University where he mentioned that Jeff Van Gundy can get above-average rebounding from bad rebounders with a good scheme, and that the valuable and rare rebounders are the guys that can get the contested balls. Statistically, Howard is a better individual rebounder than Battier, but if Houston will still be able to be above-average in rebounding in spite of it while having players in the lineup who are much better at grabbing the contested boards, then what is the reason for concern? Now if Howard is not going to start, what will be his role off the bench? Well, unless Dikembe Mutombo has nothing left in his tank and Howard proves capable of playing minutes at back-up 5, his role should be relegated to 3rd string. We saw when Howard first came to Houston that he is much more effective as a starter than he is off the bench, and we saw last season that Chuck Hayes is a very effective player off the bench with the energy and hustle he provides on the defensive end and on the glass. There will be a few nights where Van Gundy might have put some experience on the floor, but overall, Howard should not be any higher than 3rd stringer on the depth chart on opening night.