Many of you were very upset by my characterization of James Harden in my last installment of this series. There, I said that in Harden, “I [saw] a player who is selfish and not as committed to the team and winning as he is to himself.” I stand by those comments and by that opinion. Dwight Howard is another matter altogether. To begin, Howard put any doubts to rest last season over whether he was worth the maximum contract to which he was signed. More than just his dominance in the playoffs, he exhibited a newfound sense of maturity that would seem to bode well for the future. But for purposes of this series, what is Dwight Howard’s summer assignment?By some measures, as was chronicled on this very blog by Richard Li, Dwight Howard post-ups were the Rockets’ most inefficient play last season. At the same time, the stretch of games where the Rockets’ center looked closer to his mentor than not was undeniable. Howard also basically ate Robin Lopez for lunch in the postseason. I’m not sure what to think.
Many have said they hope Howard carries the momentum of his playoff performance into next season. I’ve countered, asserting that predication of an overall ability assessment of Howard upon the Portland series would be flawed – they were the single best matchup for him out of the seven other playoff teams. As a representative sample of the opposite extreme, I’d point to his play against the Thunder and Clippers. The argument then usually goes that those teams’ success against Howard is more an indictment of Terrence Jones (in those teams’ strategy to shift full attention to Howard, off of Jones). I’d then counter that those two teams are the only opponents who really matter, for the long haul, and for now, it doesn’t look like a power forward upgrade is on the way.
Howard is what he is, at this point. I can’t expect him to drop 35 and 15 on those conference rivals. But as I mentioned, the development we saw last season was staggering. He looked like Olajuwon at times, and I mean that seriously. The footwork rapidly improved and the touch even softened. Can he keep molding his post-game and sustaining his dominance for longer stretches of the year? That would be miraculous, and would lengthen the team’s window. But it’s house money, and I’m not holding my breath.
What Howard gives us right now is more than enough and it puts us in the conversation. Further skill development would be great, but its not really a priority or something this team needs to win. All I hope, regarding Dwight Howard, is that he continues recovering from the back surgery and maintains a high level of health. Without him, there’s no chance.