Monday, July 23, 2018

A Super Fit in DC

Howard in DC
Photo: Susan Walsh (AP Photo)

By Wally

During head coach Scott Brooks tenure in D.C., the Washington Wizards haven’t had an athletic rim protector.  In 2016, Ian Mahinmi was signed for that very purpose, but he hasn’t been an intimidator. In the offseason, the Wizards went to a more proven route and signed eight-time NBA All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard to a two-year $11 million contract. The dude formerly known as “Superman” has a lot of doubters because of his locker room reputation, but as a player Howard could be exactly what the Wizards need to contend for a spot in the NBA Finals.

Many experts will focus on Howard being a locker room disruption, but on the court, you cannot deny the tools he brings to the table.  Last year, with the Charlotte Hornets, Howard averaged about 17 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks per game.  That was on a team where Kemba Walker was the featured ball player.  In comparison, last season, former Wizards center Marcin Gortat averaged about eight points per game but most importantly he only averaged seven rebounds and a block shot per game.  Putting scoring aside, Howard brings an intimidating force on the boards and a rim protector.  This is something that the Wizards did not have last year with Gortat as the starting center.  

Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld said, “Dwight has been known throughout his career as one of the league’s best defenders, rebounders and finishers around the rim.”  He added that “[Howard’s] inside presence and athleticism will give [the Wizards] a much different look and will open up opportunities for the [Wizards] on both ends of the floor.”

Over the past two season, under coach Brooks, the Wizards have been a middle of pack defensive team.  Last season, the Wizard ranked 15th in defensive ratings.  With perennial All-Star point guard John Wall running the break, the Wizards thrive when they can get stops and be in transition. Howard should help the Wizards start their fast break offense with block shots and defensive rebounding.  At the end of the day, defense still wins championships.  The reigning NBA champions Golden State Warriors aren’t just an offensive powerhouse, they’re also a great defensive team.  As a former three-time defensive player of year, Howard should provide more of a defensive focus for his teammates.  Regardless if he has lost a step, he is still defensively educated enough to help this team become better defensively overall.  Howard doesn’t have to lead verbally but his defensive and rebounding ability can help lead the charge towards being real contender in the Eastern conference.

Howard will improve the Wizards help side defense with his ability to protect the rim.  His teammates will be able to jump passing lanes and become more aggressive when guarding the opponent man up. The addition of Howard also should make Wall a better defender.  Wall can now press his man up, knowing that if he gets beat he has the big fella there to black shots and cover his back.  Even on high screens and switches, Howard is more equipped to guard a ball handler on the switch compared to the prior starting center.  Defense is Howard’s calling card, but he still has a lot in the tank offensively.

Howard hasn’t played with a pass first point guard like Wall, since playing with Steve Nash and the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012.  Like Steve Nash, Wall has made it a living in making players around him better such as Gortat.  After averaging 11.1 points per game in the 2012-13 season with the Phoenix Suns, Gortat put up 13.2 points per game with the Wizards and Wall in the following season.  Howard comes into a situation where Wall thrives on setting up his bigs for easy baskets.  Gortat feasted on high screen rolls with Wall for layups and dunks.  Howard will also have that role, but he will add the lob dunk threat.  He flourished in that similar role with point guard Jameer Nelson while playing with the Orlando Magic— where Howard was known as the best center in the game. No one is expecting for Howard to be the Superman here in D.C., but fans should expect a player that will open up the court offensively for his teammates.  Guard Bradley Beal and forward Otto Porter will get more open threes because of Howard screening and diving to the basket.  The screens that he will be able to set for Porter and Beal will create more open jumpers and drives off the dribble.  Brooks can become very creative offensively with Howard in the lineup, screening for several players.  Missed shots is another form of offense with Howard on the boards as well.

Last season, Howard ranked 8th in offensive rebounding.  His skillset, as an offensive rebounder, will provide the Wizards with more opportunities to score.  Howard will not be asked to average 25 points per game, however he will be asked to be an offensive live body for the Wizards.  Wall believes in Howard. In an interview with NBC Sports Washington’s Chris Miller, Wall said “even though he’s older, he’s still an athletic big.  He still has respect in this league.”  For Wall and the Wizards, hopefully Howard is just what the Wizards need to save the day.

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