We’re four weeks into the NBA season and several things are already clear. To name a few: LeBron James is still the best player in the NBA, the Indiana Pacers are legit title contenders, the San Antonio Spurs will fly under the radar like they always do and Stephen Curry will break every shooting record if he stays healthy. But then there are some things that are, let’s say, blurry. For example: When will Derrick Rose shake off all his rust? How good are the Portland Trailblazers? Can Kevin Love keep his MVP-form for the entire season?
Also firmly entrenched in the blurry category: Dwight Howard.
This off-season, the Rockets bent over backwards to sign Dwight, who is considered by many as the best big man in the game today. But through 12 games, he has struggled offensively and is yet to find his groove. We’ve seen glimpses of his old self, like when he scored 29 points on 10-for-13 shooting against the Portland Trailblazers. But unfortunately, we’ve also seen the bad, like when Andrea Bargnani single handedly shut him down, limiting him to a season-low seven points on 1-for-5 shooting.
What puzzles me the most is that, after reportedly working with Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale before the season, it doesn’t appear as though Dwight has added anything to his post-game. But that’s what annoys Olajuwon the most: He knows Dwight is capable of more.
The truth is that I can’t wait to get back to Houston to do more work with Dwight. I wish he was doing a better job. Dwight has always been athletic and aggressive and he still is. But when I watch him, what I see are opportunities that he is missing. When he gets the ball, he seems to be taking his time to decide what move to make, where he should go…I thought we were doing a good job with this when we were working together over the summer and at the start of training camp. But what I see now is that when Dwight gets in competition, he has a tendency to go back to all of his old habits. He’s just doing all of the things that he did before. He needs a reminder.
Dwight Howard has never had an aesthetically pleasing post-game, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t always been effective. For example, when he was with the Orlando Magic between 2010 and 2012, Dwight attempted over 1,100 shots on post-ups and made 50.3 percent of them, per Synergy Sports. However, his production dropped off significantly as a Laker, when he had his most disappointing season as a pro. While many initially pinned it on the back surgery he received in the off-season, he hasn’t looked any better in his first 12 games as a Houston Rocket, as he’s only shooting 33.9 percent on 62 post-ups.
So, where does it go from here? Well, Hakeem Olajuwon is right, Dwight has reverted back to his old ways. Even at the age of 28, Dwight still has the speed, athleticism and strength that can’t be matched by any other big man in the league. Nevertheless, as you’ll see in the video below, he uses the same move we’ve seen time and time again in his 10-year NBA career: Post-up on the left block, face-up to the rim, jab step to the baseline and finish with a sweeping hook with his right hand.
Predictable, slow and rigid. That’s Dwight’s post-game right now.
One of the main reasons Dwight chose Houston was because of the rare opportunity he had to learn from two of the best post-players in NBA history in Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon. However, there are a couple of issues with that: 1) McHale can’t spend all his time with Dwight because, well, he’s the head coach and 2) Olajuwon isn’t even in Houston right now. He’s at his home in Jordan, watching the Houston Rockets on TV, sighing every time Dwight throws up one of his patented hook shots. Even though the two spent hours together in the off-season, trying to refine his post-game, it’s easy for Dwight to go back to what he’s comfortable with because he’s been doing it for nine straight years.
The thing is, in the midst of all these issues, Dwight is still averaging 17.2 points on 10.4 field goal attempts per game with the Rockets. It may not be the numbers we grew accustomed to seeing when he was in Orlando, but it’s still incredible efficient and makes him the fourth highest scoring center in the NBA, behind DeMarcus Cousins, Brook Lopez and Al Horford. But that is exactly why guys like Olajuwon have felt the need to work with Dwight because he can be so much better. With a few more moves, a few more counters, some fakes, Dwight could be the post-player we’ve always dreamed of.
It’s highly unlikely that Dwight will shoot 33.9 percent on post-ups for the entire season. But as Olajuwon told Sports Illustrated: “You can’t have one move. It’s like having one outfit. Moves, like clothes, must be selected according to occasion.” While Dwight knows that, he needs someone in his ear; reminding him to mix it up; encouraging him. And that’s where Olajuwon comes in. He’s said before that he can’t help but wonder how much he could help a big man like Dwight if he had more than one week a year to work together. And maybe that’s why he should come back to Houston before the all-star break.