Dwight Howard has no post game.
That is what has always been said about Howard; if not that, the free throws. Rockets fans should know this better than anyone else – how many, during the Yao/Howard debates, cited Yao’s jumper, his excellent free throw shooting, and his touch as proof that Yao was superior? Never mind the fronting problem, or the pick and roll. When Dwight has been discussed, there is always the “but” coming.
Yeah, he’s good. Three-time Defensive Players of the Year. But….
It is one reason why Howard came to Houston. To learn with two of the most skilled big men to ever play in Olajuwon and McHale. A sharp contrast to the Lakers, where Kobe Bryant seemed to view Howard as only a more athletic Tyson Chandler. Many were skeptical that Howard would in fact learn better, and with good reason.
But tonight, right after the most devastating loss of the season, with injuries so bad that one began to wonder whether there would be even five Rockets on the court by the end, Dwight Howard went full Superman and completely willed the team from the beginning to the end. And this time, there was a post-game.
My latest at ESPN hit the press yesterday:
One of the more entertaining spectacles from each Rockets game involves Jones corralling the rebound and leading the break on his own. In these moments, Houston’s guards stroll the other way, confident Jones will finish the play. And with a surprisingly accurate shooting stroke, Jones can spread the floor and give Houston’s stars the space they need to operate inside. He is always moving, either in transition or in the half court, finishing the passes off cuts to the rim that Asik couldn’t handle.
Jones’ numbers have come down to earth a bit, in recent games, as was to be expected. But make no mistake, his replacement of Omer Asik in the starting lineup has been the catalyst to the Rockets’ offensive surge.
Right now, I think the 21-year-old still has a very long way to go. In fact, it scares me heading into the postseason with Jones as our second best big man. I don’t know if he’s shown anything to prove that he can rotate consistently and defend the paint. And even in the new era, you can’t expect to win in the second season without strong interior defense.
Still, the emergence of Jones has had its effects. Had he not shown he could fill the role for the time being, Daryl Morey might have been more desperate to get a deal done, opting to include a draft pick to acquire the ‘4’ of his choice. Instead, Morey stood firm by his stance and some of that has to be attributed to Jones – the sophomore’s play has allowed him to buy some more time.
The Rockets are only four and five in the month of December. After getting physically dominated by the Pacers on Friday, it will be important for the Rockets to bounce back against a surprisingly strong Pistons team. The Rockets are struggling to maintain any kind of intensity game in and game out. Van Gundy said it best about our team leader: James Harden is not an elite player until he can bring the intensity every game. The same can be said for the Rockets as a whole. They didn’t look close to being an elite team against the Pacers on Friday and all of their weaknesses were exposed. The Rockets could not get a stop in the third quarter to save their lives and the Pacers were not missing from the outside. Our three point shooting went cold and the Pacers were back on defense to stop any kind of a fast break. As Rob Dover said, “So that’s what defense looks like.” What an embarrassment and tremendous confidence killer this game was.
The Rockets definitely are working from behind the eight ball when it comes to injuries. Asik has been out and his defense, rebounding and resolve in the middle have been sorely missed. If Asik can come back and commit to being the best player possible, the Rockets may be able to stabilize the ship. Now that the trade chatter is over, maybe Asik can get healthy, and focus on earning his paycheck. The only way Asik gets out of town is to show that he is still an elite center. That’s the only way the Rockets can get back value for what the Rockets perceive as Asik’s true worth.