The tutelage of Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon in Houston has had as much impact on Dwight Howard’s post game as that of Patrick Ewing in Orlando and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Los Angeles: none.
Howard is getting roughly the same number of post touches than he did in Los Angeles, and is still just as feckless at taking advantage of them. His go-to move, if you can call it such a thing, remains an awkward sweeping hook that sometimes goes in and sometimes careens straight off the backboard to the other side of the rim:
For all the optimism on the part of Dwight apologists that he will firmly re-establish himself as the most dominant big man in the game on a team that values him more, here are some eye-opening numbers through the first 11 games:
- This season, he is averaging 17.8 PPG – just 0.7 PPG more than he averaged last season.
- This season, he is shooting 52.9% from the field – his lowest percentage since his rookie season.
- This season, he is shooting 11.0 field goal attempts per game – a whopping 0.3 more attempts than last season, and down from 13.4 attempts his last two years in Orlando.
- This season, he is scoring 0.56 points per post-up attempt – down from 0.74 last season, and 0.93 in 2010/11.
Howard’s post game, never his strongest suit, may actually be getting worse rather than better. His athleticism is still not back to where it was, and perhaps never will be. Prior to his back surgery Dwight’s explosiveness made up for some of what he lacked in refined footwork, fluid moves and soft touch around the rim. But he is now struggling to get above or around the likes of Spencer Hawes on the block.
Compiled here is every Howard post-up during the 4th quarter and overtime of the Rockets’ 123-117 loss sans James Harden in Philly last week:
Those six post-ups produced 2 points and a costly turnover with 25 seconds left in OT that sealed the loss. Running a post-up for Howard in that situation is A) exactly what he wants, and B) extremely stupid.
In New York the next night, Howard was busy being thwarted in the paint by Andrea Bargnani. Dwight’s inability to take advantage of the Italian non-stopper caused him visible frustration:
The Rockets did not run a single post-up for Dwight in the 4th quarter, and coach Kevin McHale was forced to bench him with 3:16 remaining in the game to put an end to the Hack-a-Howard tactics that were letting the Knicks back into the game. Howard was nonplussed.
These early regular season games may not mean anything in the grand scheme of things, but the signs are bad for Houston’s chances of being a legitimate contender, and the honeymoon period is already over for Howard there (see threads such as this and this on leading Rockets fan site, clutchfans.net).
One Rockets fan reacted particularly cogently to concerns over Howard’s inability to stamp his impact on games offensively: “You want him to step up offensively? Using which go-to moves and skills exactly? He has none.”
Some perspective: among players with at least 25 post touches this season, only Josh Smith and Jermaine O’Neal produce fewer points per post-up (per Synergy Sports via Sporting News). And yet Dwight wants the ball more on the block.
His continued refusal to embrace the pick-and-roll (where he and teammate James Harden are at their most dangerous) as his bread and butter greatly reduces Houston’s chance to create a free-flowing offense that maximises the strengths of its players. Despite being top 5 in pace, the Rockets are just 20th in assists as a team – down from 6th last season.
Their offense, much like the Lakers’ last year, has become self-stymied by a commitment to force feeding the rock to the ball-stopping Howard down low, team rhythm and watchability be damned.
For all the talk of Howard being in a bad situation playing in L.A., he led the league in post touches last season (8.5 per game, per NBA.com), and he will average a similar number this season.
And just like in L.A., there are already unconfirmed rumblings in Houston that he is unhappy, with Jeremy Lin reportedly the latest target of his ire. This is completely believable given how often Dwight can be seen expressing disgust at Lin for failing to get him the ball in the right place at the right time. His body language and communication with teammates is unbecoming of someone supposedly in a happy place and with intentions of leading a team to a title. He somehow manages to combine a laugh-it-up lack of seriousness with a passive aggressiveness that has teammates and coaches on edge – the worst of both worlds, and a horrible approach to leadership on a basketball court.
Lakers fans know this story all too well. Friend of the blog nonplayerzealot (of YouTube fame) neatly summarises: “Kevin Duckworth had a better post game than Dwight. He’s been completely uncloaked for how weak his mind and game are. His attitude is disgusting to me. You can tell just by looking at him that his only goal is self-comfort.”
If he wins a title in Houston it will be a major surprise to me, and it will certainly not be thanks to his post game.