NBA 50 Greatest Players: Dwight Howard (#48)

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In his first 9 seasons in the NBA, Dwight Howard has established himself as one of the very best (and I mean, count-on-one-hand-best) rim protectors in the history of the game. He has been named to the All-Defensive 1st team 4 times (along with a 2nd team selection) and won the Defensive Player of the Year award 3 straight seasons when in Orlando. In 2009, he led a team of role players to the NBA Finals, beating The Celtics in a decisive game 7 in Boston (the first team to do that in their long and storied history) and the heavily favoured Cleveland Cavaliers (led by Lebron James).

The following year, Orlando would make it back to the conference finals before dropping the first 3 games (including the opening 2 games at home) to Boston before winning the next two to force a game 6. They eventually lost that game, and that would be the last time we would ever see Howard in a Magic uniform in the playoffs. He would be forced to sit out the 2011 postseason with a back injury, and was then traded to The Lakers in 2012. He played one season in L.A. before leaving for Houston in the off-season. In 9 seasons, he has been selected to the ALL-NBA 1st team 5 times and the 3rd team twice. He has been chosen to play in the All-Star game 8 times (and was just recently selected by the coaches for this year’s game as well). He’s the Orlando Magic all-time leading scorer, and won a Gold Medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The case against:

Dwight Howard's rim protection is what allowed Orlando to go to the NBA finals

Dwight Howard’s rim protection is what allowed Orlando to go to the NBA finals

When constructing this list, the placement of Dwight Howard was the most disappointing. Here’s a guy that 3 years ago would have been a lock for around the 35th spot, and should have risen. What he did in his prime in Orlando was incredible. I spoke in the previous article about how Carmelo carries an offense for New York, well Dwight absolutely carried those Magic teams defensively. Their line-up that made the NBA finals was: Howard, Lewis, Turkoglu, Courtney Lee (who was just a rookie) and Rafer Alston (remember Jameer Nelson was injured the entire playoffs until halfway through the NBA Finals). Everything defensively for Orlando was funnelling penetration to Howard who was protecting the rim. Without him, there’s no conceivable way that team would win 30 games, let alone makes the playoffs and goes on a very deep run to the Finals. Then the next season, they made it all the way back to the Finals before succumbing to Boston who were suddenly hot and were playing perhaps their best basketball of the Big 3 era.

Then it all fell apart. After the loss to the Celtics, the Magic were never the same. Dwight seemed more focus with his impending free agency than his team’s success, and they limped to the 6th seed. Howard would sit out the playoffs before being traded to Los Angeles. Here, things didn’t get much better, as he would demand the ball more often than he was receiving it and seemed genuinely disinterested at times. The Lakers would suffer a barrage of injuries, but still make the playoffs as the 7th seed in the West. Down 3-0 to the Spurs, he would get ejected in the final game of the season. Dwight would leave for Houston and begin a new start for the Rockets.

Howard clashed with Kobe frequently in L.A.

Howard clashed with Kobe frequently in L.A.

As a basketball fan, it is truly depressing to see how good he was during his peak and what he has become now (and how quickly it all fell apart). In Orlando, he was the centrepiece of a legitimate contender. In L.A., he clashed with Kobe and wanted to run the offence through him despite that not being his strong point. In Houston, he has played well and distraction free, but is still limited by his offensive skills. His free throw shooting (a career 54%) has enabled teams to intentionally foul him to get back into games. He also has virtually no post game or jumpshot, so pretty much anything he gets is around the basket. You would think, in his 10th season now, he would have developed some kind of consistent post move.

 

How can he turn this around?

Winning shuts everyone up. It’s that simple. Realistically, he will never win over Laker fans for the way he left, but that’s just something he will have to live with. Before the season started, I predicted that Houston would finish with the best record in the West. That has to be the bare minimum of team success this team needs to enjoy before people start forgetting about this downward spiral we’ve seen out of Howard the prior 2 seasons. I have seen some small improvement in his offensive game this season, but it needs to continue for the Rockets to have any chance to advance. He isn’t getting any younger (or more explosive), so he can’t expect to rely on his strength or athleticism to be dominant anymore. He needs to add a jump hook with each hand, and a face-up jumper from 10 feet wouldn’t hurt either. If he can add those moves, and continue to anchor the defence for Houston, the Rockets could have a deep playoff run in them, and in turn, catapult Howard back up this list.

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Next: Rasheed Wallace (#47)