Dwight Howard became the undisputed best center in the NBA while with the Orlando Magic. His superior athleticism helped him win three Defensive Player of the Year awards. He showed a lot of confidence offensively, as though he knew he could obliterate the strongest frontcourts in the league.
In the 2011 playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks, Howard had his way with Al Horford, one of the better defenders at the 5-spot in the league. Howard had 46 points and 19 boards. His 46 points represented a playoff career high, though the Magic lost the series four games to two.
Perhaps even more perplexing, the Magic lost this game by 10 points, despite Howard going 16-of-23 from the floor and 14-of-22 from the stripe. Some of this blame could be attributed to Howard’s five turnovers, but given that he played nearly 46 minutes and had such a high usage rate, that can be negated as a factor. Moreover, his teammates contributed very little. It was by all means a one man effort, and it wasn’t enough to beat the Hawks.
It was a large contributing factor to what made Howard throw in the towel on Magic GM Otis Smith, igniting a season long slumber from the Magic in which No. 12 grumbled every step of the way. He did not even appear in the 2012 postseason obliteration at the hands of the Indiana Pacers.
The inside/outside approach worked in Orlando, but Howard was a better athlete then, prior to the herniated disc surgery. Howard went on to play a season of mediocre ball in L.A., and has since improved slightly as his body has become more healthy.
But will we ever see the Howard that amassed NBA records for 20/20 performances? He’s just 28 years old, so he still should have two to three more prime seasons. But he hasn’t, and it’s unclear whether D12 will return to that level of play.
Even with vast improvements and more opportunities, he’s never going to be the centerpiece of a franchise and No. 1 option within an offense. That role goes to James Harden. Howard did see increase in his role last season compared to in Los Angeles. He shot over 12 field goal attempts per game, which he did three consecutive seasons in Orlando. He hasn’t shot over 60 percent from the line since the 2009-10 season. His troubles there are difficult to understand, and he can’t seem to get a fluid motion from his knees to his release.
But that has to be dismissed, because lurking under the surface is a Howard that could still explode.
He’s never developed a wide array of post moves, but given the center quality in the league, that really isn’t needed to dominate. His sweeping hook across the paint and baby hooks are a solid start to a repertoire that is likely static at this point. He will likely never be a great passer out of double teams. But the Rockets would take some 20/20 games whenever Howard feels like dropping them. And oh, did they happen so often while playing in the Sunshine State.