Washington Wizards: The Dwight Howard Experience

On July 12, the Washington Wizards officially announced the signing of eight-time All-Star Dwight Howard. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Howard’s contract is a two-year, $11 million deal that includes a player option.

In his exit interview at the end of the season, Washington Wizards point guard John Wall expressed the need for an athletic big man on the roster. For all intents and purposes, Howard not only fits that bill but will be the Wizards’ most athletic center since the days of JaVale McGee. While we can sit back and let the jokes fly, the reality of it is Howard’s pairing with the Wizards is a fascinating one. 

Joining his sixth team since 2011, Howard will be the Wizards’ starting center going into next season. While there’s no question on whether Howard can still produce at age 32, the question is how well will he fit in the Nation’s Capital next year.

Dwight Howard’s Fit

We’ll start with the positives. At age 32, Howard is still one of the more daunting figures on the hardwood on most nights. Standing at a towering 6’11” with a 7’5″ wingspan, Howard uses this to his advantage when he’s battling down low. It’s no secret why Howard has been able to average a double-double with ease every season of his career.

Subsequently, the most impactful part of Howard’s game has been his ability to rebound at such a high rate. According to Basketball-Reference, Howard finished third in the league in rebounds per game with 12.5 RPG and was fifth in the league in total offensive rebounds with 255. To put that into perspective, Marcin Gortat, the Wizards’ former starting center, averaged 7.6 rebounds a game and hauled in 181 offensive rebounds.

This should allow Washington to do two things specifically. Firstly, the Wizards will have the ability to get out and run more. The more boards Howard hauls in the more chances Wall, and company, will have to push the pace and do what they do best, score fast break buckets. Secondly, the opportunity to score second-chance points will always be a result when Howard is on the floor. This should give knockdown shooters like Bradley Beal and Otto Porter ample opportunities to make the defense pay.

The next positive, and frankly going to be the most impactful, will be Howard’s rim protection. Although most advanced stats haven’t been kind to Howard over the past couple of seasons, I believe there’s one factor to think of when talking about Howard’s rim protection. To illustrate, the one thing rim-protection stats can’t quantify is how much a player deters others from challenging them in the paint. Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, is a perfect example of this.

It’s safe to say that most players still think twice when attacking the rim if Howard has the position and is waiting for them. However, let’s say the defender does choose to challenge Howard. He was able to average 1.6 blocks per game last season. Below is a short compilation of what exactly Howard can bring to the table for Washington in the form of blocks.

On the other end of the spectrum, the negatives surrounding Howard should also be talked about. More specifically, the need for frequent post touches by Howard has been to his detriment as his career has progressed. In today’s NBA, letting your center pound the rock for most of the shot clock isn’t very practical anymore.

A lack of touches for Howard leads me to my next point, how much effort will Howard choose to show? There’s no denying all of Howard’s physical strengths as a player, but he has shown time and time again his lack of effort when things aren’t going his way. The core of the Wizards is still Wall-Beal-Porter and if all three of those guys, or even two, have it going on any given night then Howard will have to take a backseat and continue to play within his role.

All that leads into the narrative that’s followed Dwight Howard since his days with the Orlando Magic. If Howard can’t change his reputation and continues to be a locker room problem things could go south in Washington.

Q&A on Howard’s Season with Hornets

To know a bit more about Dwight Howard, I had to find someone who watched him more intimately last season. Luckily, I was able to connect with Noah Elmore. Noah is a contributor for the Charlotte Hornets’ FanSided site called Swarm and Sting. Noah was kind enough to answer a few questions I had about Howard and his time on the Hornets.

While covering the Hornets last season, what were some aspects of Howard’s game that the Hornet’s benefited from? And could you see them translating over for Washington?

Dwight Howard is a dominant rebounder, and there’s simply no other way to put it. Despite his age and the fact that he’s certainly past his prime, Dwight is still one of the best in the game at cleaning the glass. In the 16-17 season, Charlotte ranked 16th in the league in rebounding. After the addition of Dwight, the Hornets became one of the league’s best teams in that category, ranking 4th in the 17-18 season. Howard also had a 30 rebound game this year, the first in 6 years. He’s been an excellent rebounder his entire career, I’d be stunned if he wasn’t in Washington.

Past the rebounding, Dwight is still a good interior presence. He finished the season with an absolutely spectacular highlight reel, in no small part due to his ability to time lobs. Considering his injuries, Howard still has an impressive vertical, and theoretically is an almost-perfect pick and roll partner for Beal and Wall due to his ability to put away shots at the rim. Dwight has good hands, finishes well, and will make a good number of garbage buckets, which is something every NBA franchise could use. He certainly stands out as the most talented among Washington’s other fostered big men, hopefully, he can perform at that level.

Over the course of his career, the one constant in Howard’s game has been his ability to average a double-double night in and night out. While that’s always been a positive, what were some things Howard did on the floor that hindered the Hornets offensively or defensively?

The biggest downsides to Dwight Howard’s game are hard to put in numbers. Even with all his tools and talents, Dwight still doesn’t seem to be fully interested in taking basketball seriously. It’s frustrating beyond belief to watch a 6’11” broad-shouldered, athletic behemoth just jog up the court instead of a sprint. Additionally, it seems like Dwight believes he’s a better player than he actually is. Ideally, he’d play similarly to DeAndre Jordan – set good screens, roll hard to the rim, shoots only inside the restricted area, and block a lot of shots. He never does though. He’s insistent his back-to-the-basket abilities are on par with NBA greats, but they simply aren’t. Nothing will stop him from demanding post touches and pouting if he doesn’t get them.

It ties back to his belief that he’s better than he is, but Dwight also has a major turnover problem. When he pounds the ball on the low block, it’s an almost guaranteed turnover if any player brings help. He’s not a particularly gifted passer either, so watching him fumble the ball away on every double team does get exhausting. Losing all those possessions can assuredly demoralize a team quickly.

Finally, Dwight has a major problem guarding the pick and roll. In his past, he used to be able to drop back into the paint, and swat away any shot an opposing driving guard would make. He can’t do that anymore. He drops so far back that any guard can just stop and shoot uninhibited from about 8 feet out. It’s not like you can switch him either, he’s too slow. If a team really goes after him, it could be a long night for the Wizards defensively.

The perception of Howard’s locker room presence and likability hasn’t been the best over the past few years. Do you think it was more of the same during his tenure with the Hornets or has a lot of what’s been said in the media been overblown?

It’s been the same story for his entire career for a reason. Dwight Howard still believes he’s a star player, but he doesn’t give the effort of one. That gives him a rep as a bad teammate, somewhat deservedly. I really think the Hornets missed Cody Zeller’s hustle last year because that work ethic is infectious. In the 2016-2017 season, there weren’t a lot of bright spots, but the team certainly played hard. This year though, with Howard in the starting lineup, the effort just wasn’t there. Charlotte looked sloppy and lethargic all season, and while other factors were certainly to blame as well, I find Dwight’s locker room presence to be a big reason as to why. When you goof off all year off the court, it’s bound to rub off onto your teammates and yourself on the court. I hope Howard can turn around this bad streak but I find it unlikely he breaks his habits in Washington.

Final Verdict

I believe that the acquisition of Dwight Howard will ultimately pay off for the Washington Wizards. Yes, I have volunteered as tribute to at least be optimistic for Howard in Washington. The fact of the matter is that Howard will be paired with arguably the best point guard he’s ever played with in John Wall. The easy baskets Wall generates for those around him, and more importantly big men, I don’t see why Howard can’t be productive.

Another thing I’m factoring in is the Wizards being anywhere from 4th through 6th seed in the East next season. Winning cures all and if the Wizards even see a glimmer of success in the early going then I think that could work wonders for Howard. Until then, the Wizards will have to prove that their off-season moves push the needle for them in the Eastern Conference. However one thing is for certain, the Dwight Howard experience will be an interesting one to watch in Washington no matter the outcome.

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