Eight-time All-NBA team selection and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard has been the league’s punching bag over the past few years. He has been called many negative names including coach-killer, immature, a clown, and a cancer in the locker room. Despite his superb combination of skill and heft, Howard has been plagued by various issues including injuries that have slowed him down.
Howard was heavily criticized in his last season with the Orlando Magic in 2012 due to reports that he wanted to fire coach Stan Van Gundy. During this period, he demanded to be traded to other teams since “the Magic were not doing enough to build a contender around him.” He was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012-2013 season where he clashed famously with resident superstar Kobe Bryant. After one season, he landed with the Houston Rockets. Despite playing with James Harden for three years, they just didn’t click on and off the court and he started expressing his frustration for not being involved in the offense. The Rockets also hired Mike D’Antoni, Dwight’s coach during his tumultuous year with the Lakers, last June. After that development, the writing was already on the wall.
Recently, Howard signed a three-year $70 million deal with the Atlanta Hawks. Howard grew up in Atlanta and it was homecoming of sorts for him. He described joining his hometown as “a new beginning.” Immediately after the signing, the Hawks were criticized for overpaying the 12-year veteran who turns 31 in December.
While Howard is already on the wrong side of his prime, the Atlanta Hawks got a steal for the price. Howard is one of the most dominant big men of all time with career average of 17.8 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks. In a time wherein teams are paying big men Timofey Mozgov $64 million (4 years) and Bismack Biyombo $72 million (4 years), Howard is definitely worth every penny.
Last season, despite taking only 8 shots per game (versus Harden’s 20 plus shots), Howard still managed to score 13.7 points per game. He shot a career-best 62% of his field goals so you can only wonder what his numbers would be if he had more opportunities to score. His real value is not scoring but rather his presence in the paint. Howard is consistently among the league’s top rebounders and shot blockers.
With a new team and system patterned after the San Antonio Spurs, Howard now has shot at redemption, erasing the past few years that I can only term as “ugly.” He can actually become Atlanta’s hometown hero and perhaps, savior. His physical decline has been much exaggerated and I believe that he can still show flashes of dominance and be aggressive. There are only a handful of centers who can match Howard’s size and athleticism.
After many years of mediocrity, Howard is home and he can be a superstar again.
SIDELINES. As a high school senior in the Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy, Dwight Howard led his team to the 2004 state title averaging 25 points, 18 rebounds, 8 blocks, and 3 assists per game. Inspired by his idol Kevin Garnett who went straight to the NBA from high school in 1995, Howard chose to forego college. He took the number 12 since it was the reverse of Garnett’s jersey number (21).