Dwight Howard came into the league a baby faced 18-year-old, a power forward, and an unknown. He had immense physical tools, but many Orlando Magic fans lamented the team not selecting the more sure-fire Emeka Okafor. While Okafor did win Rookie of the Year in their first campaign, it is Howard who has cemented his position as the league’s elite center.
Now a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Howard has cycled out of Orlando, to Los Angeles for a season with Kobe, and on to Kevin McHale’s Houston Rockets. Howard was able to get the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, and he hopes to have similar success this season. One could argue that this year’s Rockets are a better team than that Magic team Howard carried to the Finals, even defeating LeBron James and the Cavs in six games. But it’s premature to make those leaps of faith.
We still have to see how James Harden and Dwight Howard play together, how well Chandler Parsons complements them, and if Jeremy Lin can establish a true niche as a point who won’t handle the ball the majority of the time. Harden’s high usage rate mitigated Lin’s influence all season, and Lin ranked No. 38 among usage rate in NBA point guards. In other words, there were a number of backups in the NBA who exerted greater influence than Lin. Harden’s 27.4 percent usage ranked 9th in the NBA, and this season the ball will be shared with Dwight.
There’s a lot to figure out in terms of how the lineup will gel, but Howard’s initiatives should be clear: he needs to take the next step in learning a true arsenal of post moves. With the influence of both Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale, Howard has the tutelage to really learn some of the finer aspects of post play that have eluded him.
Too often we see Howard rely on over powering players and going to the long-shot running hook he shoots. Olajuwon will seek to impart that moves made laterally or away from the basket decrease the chance of the subsequent shot going in. Dream always sought to move towards the hoop, save his baseline fadeaways, a move that can’t be simply inculcated to Dwight without willing determination to practice these moves in games.
The line of legendary Rockets bigs is good: Moses, Dream, Ralph Sampson, Yao Ming…
Can Dwight join those annals? His physical skill set indicates he should be, but Howard has thrived as the league’s best center in a weak era for the position. In the 90s, Howard would be at best the 7th or 8th best center in the league, with an impact likely tantamount to Alonzo Mourning. But he needs to maximize his individual talents relative to what he actually is, if he’s to ever warrant a bid for the Hall of Fame. Howard has improved since coming into to the league, dramatically, but he’s still a ways away from reaching any type of legendary status.
That is where this season comes in, and his joining with a top-5 NBA shooting guard James Harden. The Rockets will have something the other elite teams like Miami and Oklahoma City don’t have, an inside-outside attack and a strong pick and roll game, as Howard has always fared well in 2-man basketball. Olajuwon already raved about the possibilities of a Lin-Howard pick and roll, and given Jeremy’s ability to react to play in the paint on-the-fly, the Rockets could indeed have a nice two-man tandem to work when Harden is out of the play or needs a break.
Post moves, pick and rolls. These are where Howard can shine. We already know he’ll be among the league leaders in rebounding and blocked shots, both areas the Rockets needed improvement vastly. With a true post anchor, this Rockets team could begin to do damage, as Dwight looks to finally find a place to win his first NBA title.