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Dwight Howard is Key to Houston Rockets’ Improvement

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The Houston Rockets are currently riding a five-game winning streak fueled by the improved play of superstar Dwight Howard.

Howard is averaging 14 points and 12 rebounds on 62% shooting this season. For a guy who averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds during most of his career, Howard’s production hasn’t been as low as it is this season since his rookie campaign.

The good news is that over the course of the Rockets’ last ten games Howard is averaging close to his career numbers at about 18 points and 13 rebounds on 69% shooting.

Since coming to the Rockets in 2013, Howard’s production has gradually declined. In large part, Howard’s drop off is due to injury and age.

.@DwightHoward has his 7th straight double-double (14p/10r) he has 17 double-doubles overall this season. #NBAVote pic.twitter.com/oTavmDtQty

— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) January 14, 2016

For someone with the athletic giftedness of Howard, good health is paramount to long term success. Once your body starts to deteriorate, your game begins to go with it.

That being said, even after suffering a back injury during his time in Orlando and L.A., Howard managed to average 18 points and 12 rebounds during his first year with Houston.

While health has been a problem for Howard and the Rockets, an equally difficult problem for Howard and his team has been figuring out how to use him for the team’s greater good.

On defense, Dwight Howard is of course the anchor. Protecting the rim has been his primary role throughout his entire career, and he continues to find success doing so with the Rockets.

On offense, things have been a little bit tougher to navigate. For most of his career, Howard played for an Orlando Magic team whose best option on offense was to throw the ball to Howard in the post in hopes that he could out muscle his opponent.

Even with being the number one option on the Magic for most of his career, Howard was never an elite scorer. The most points he averaged in a single season was 23, which is impressive, but not elite.

Last night, James Harden became the 7th player since 1985 to join this club in under 500 career games. #NBAVote pic.twitter.com/5QaJ8L91rL

— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) January 14, 2016

In Houston, it goes without question that Howard is not the best option on offense. James Harden, who just hit the 10,000 points mark, is among the best offensive talent in the league with his ability to find a way to score from anywhere on the court.

In Howard’s first year with the Rockets, when both Harden and Howard were still trying to feel each other out, the number of touches both players expected were likely close to the same amount. After Howard missed half of last season due to injury, and with Harden emerging as an MVP-level talent, it became clear that Harden deserved to be the primary weapon on offense.

Since then, Howard has had to figure out how to score the ball at the same frequency he did most of his career without getting the same amount of touches in the post.

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In a sense, this has involved a slight reinvention of Howard’s game. Instead of getting the ball in the post as often, Howard is now finding ways to score off the ball.

A large portion of his points are coming from the pick and roll, alley oops, and offensive rebounds. Most of his teammates also manage to find him when defenses collapse on them in the paint. He’s still posting up defenders, but that part of his game is not being as heavily relied upon as it was early in his career.

That the Rockets five-game winning streak is in part due to finding ways to better utilize Howard is supported by the fact that during the Rockets’ last five games Howard has averaged 3 field goal attempts more (11) than what he is averaging on the season (8).

Finding ways to make Howard more effective has payed off as Howard recorded his 7th double-double in a row Wednesday night against Minnesota as the Rockets won their fifth straight game.

For the Rockets to climb back to the fourth or fifth spot in the Western conference, they will need to continue to make sure Dwight Howard is a vital part of their system.

Make sure to watch the Houston Rockets tonight as they take on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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