The decline of Dwight Howard is one of the NBA’s most compelling developments. The onetime self-proclaimed “Superman” was for years a physical freak, the model of how a center was built and how a center defended.
Now 30, Howard is slowing down, bothered by years of back and knee issues. He doesn’t have the offensive effectiveness of past years and his durability has waned. So, what happens when physically gifted players lose a step, are no longer able to soar as they once did or defend above the rim?
The 12-year veteran is coming off his second-lowest scoring season in his career, averaging a paltry 13.5 points per game while playing the most games in a season since the 2012-2013 campaign. Howard offered insight into why his numbers dipped as a member of the Atlanta Hawks.
“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game,” Howard told ESPN. “Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando. Teams wanted me to do different things than they promised me when I went to choose them. In Atlanta, I was going to be involved in the offense. Then, toward the end of the season, it turned into, ‘Hey, we just got you for defense and rebounds.”
Howard also revealed why his offensive production, besides his back surgery and lack of touches, has consistently gone down year by year since being traded from Orlando in 2012. His reasoning, the ball-dominant guards like James Harden and Kobe Bryant, made it hard for him to find his rhythm on offense and ended up stifling him.
“”I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando,” Howard said. “The fact that I played with Kobe [Bryant], James [Harden], and they were ball-dominant, affected me. But I’ve been in this system before, and I know how dominant I can be. I think I’m smarter now, and that is going to allow me to use my quickness and explosiveness in a better way.”
Whether or not Howard is right, and that Coach Steve Clifford and the Hornets lead by first time All Star Kemba Walker, can best utilize Howard’s abilities is yet to be determined. But if it fails this time, Howard might need to find someone else to blame, and this time it may start with the man in the mirror.
Former NBA star and current NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who was a superb athlete coming out of Michigan two decades ago and played until he was 34, offered his thoughts on Howard.
“I wouldn’t just say this for Dwight, I’d say this for all players, me personally, I learned it from Karl Malone. You cannot stay in this game without skill,” Webber said. “Because after five years in this league you will no longer be the most athletic at your position. It’s impossible. That’s including injuries. You have to have more skill, you have to create value for those times you’re on the court.”
Webber said there are ways to compensate for a decline in athleticism by using intelligence.
“You have to maybe help defensively a little bit earlier since you can’t go up and get the blocked shot,” he said. “Some guys start taking charges or some guys just get out [farther] on the floor since they can’t move laterally anymore, maybe develop an 8-foot jump shot. You can learn how to make a move without dribbling because now you can’t just dribble by everybody anymore.
“You have to think the game through and just be that much more efficient. You won’t get the number of looks you have anymore. Mentally, you have to change and hopefully your skill set will allow that. If not, the game will pass you by.”
|Field goals attempted||4.9||7||6.4|
|Field goals attempted||8.3||11.7||11.0|
|Field goal percentage||.589||.596||.584|
Perhaps the biggest adjustment for any NBA player is the deterioration of physical skills. For some it’s sudden, for others it’s gradual. The result is never easy to digest.
“It’s especially tough, for me going to Philly, a place that had a different [playing] style, that means you have to learn all over again,” Webber said. “If you’re Tim [Duncan], he’s one of the greatest players to have ever played this game, but because he’s allowed to age in a system.
“Let’s say with a Dwight Howard, his numbers are still incredible but you need a system around him that allows him to do that and those not just be wasted numbers. That can be wasted numbers on a team that doesn’t suit his system.”
“If I’m [Howard], I’m trying to offensive rebound a little bit more. If I’m him, I’m running right down the middle of the lane on a secondary break, posting up in the middle, and turning for a jump hook because you’re going to foul me. I’m going to put myself in positions where you have to get me the ball, and when I get the ball I’d be stupid to pass it back out. There’s ways, and he’s one of the best big men in the game still. He should be the second-most-targeted player on that team.
Recently over the years, I have seen a trend of him allowing players way smaller than him in weight and height beating him for rebounds and position in the paint, which doesn’t bode well for a man of his stature. At times, he can show flashes of what he once was, but mostly he is now considered to be a good run of the mill center.
Before wincing when your favorite team comes up as a potential landing spot for Howard in free agency, though, consider that circumstances may have contributed far more to his perceived decline than a withering skill set. In the right situation—a team with decent wing defenders and a pick-and-roll-heavy guard who isn’t reluctant to dump the ball into the post—there’s a strong chance that Howard can still be a difference-maker on both ends of the court.