Nov 6, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) dunks the ball during the second quarter against the San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
We’ve seen a new Dwight Howard this season. But it’s really more a case of seeing the old Howard, the Dwight that smiled and dominated en route to a trip the NBA Finals in 2010.
This season has been a renaissance for the broad shouldered beast that seems on a mission to prove that he is still the best center in the league.
Statistically, Howard is close to matching his level of play in Orlando, but this goes far beyond his 19.7 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.
It’s been the things he has done, the confidence he has exuded and his now focused effort to use moves he has long had in his arsenal but is only now having the gumption to use in plays.
Howard has unleashed the hook with both hands, better footwork and a devastating renewal to cleaning up missed shots on the glass. Three offensive rebounds per game creates extra possessions, or more to the point, Howard put back slams.
Hakeem Olajuwon said before the season that Dwight had the tools and skill to take the MVP award this season. This high praise coming from arguably the best center in NBA history does not come cheaply. Howard has had the skills for quite some time.
Working with Patrick Ewing was more instrumental than Hakeem. It was as though Ewing painted a brilliant picturesque vision of what Howard could be, and Hakeem simply touched it up and blended it together.
Nov 6, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) controls the ball during the second quarter as San Antonio Spurs forward Jeff Ayres (11) defends at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Howard’s athleticism is right back where it was in Orlando. He’s showing the power in his dunk that makes the backboard shake for a minute after each dunk.
Howard is posting the 5th highest PER among centers— behind DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Bosh, Tyler Zeller (this won’t remain the case, obviously) and Roy Hibbert.
Three of those four centers are the best scoring option on their respective teams, while Zeller is some kind of weird aberration due to playing just 12 minutes a game on a Boston Celtics team bereft of scorers.
But it isn’t the numbers, as stated. Howard is showing the elevation and comfort within the Rockets offense to fully accent James Harden’s brilliance.
The duo have been great friends all along, but that off-court chemistry is finally translating to a great commensalism on the hardwood. Harden has fed Howard on his takes to the basket.
Dwight has remained patient while Harden controls the ball. When the Rockets started going to Howard heavily in the post against Portland in the playoffs, Harden lost interest in the offense until he made a play after seven straight Howard post ups.
Nov 3, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (left) and center Dwight Howard (12) joke around on the bench as time winds down in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Rockets defeated the 76ers 104-93. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
With Beard’s renewed focus on making his teammates better, he has gained an understanding that Howard and the other four players on the court must remain involved.
While Terrence Jones, Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza don’t have many plays called for them, Howard will continue to. He’s becoming the post player he could have been all along, and though his scoring isn’t at career-high levels, his play is as good as it ever has been. He’s still in his prime; it didn’t end with the back surgeries.