With John Wall and Bradley Beal combining for 73 points to send Atlanta home early, it also means Dwight Howard gets another early vacation. To be fair, no one really expected Atlanta to go deep into the playoffs and if we didn’t know when Dwight signed his 3 year 70 million dollar deal with Atlanta, we certainly know now that the days of Dwight Howard contending for an NBA championship as a key player are over. Not a very controversial statement, but it still got me thinking how we are going to remember Dwight 10, 15, 20 years from now.
Will we remember him as the smiling three-time defensive centre of the year that strapped a bunch of shooters to his shoulders and carried them all the way to the 2009 NBA finals (robbing us of our only realistic chance of a Kobe/LeBron finals matchup) or will we remember him as the guy who got his coach fired and subsequently skipped town? Will we remember him and his bowling ball shoulders as one of basketballs most dominant and efficient pick' n' roll players of all time, or the player who refused to run it with one of the greatest pick' n' roll point guards of all time in Steve Nash?
Divisive is one of a number of superlatives that you could use to describe Dwight Howard, but consistent is also one of them. Dwight in his 13th year in the NBA is averaging his career averages across the board, with only 4 fewer points per a game. In the playoffs Dwight has turned up for his team, upping all his career averages across the board. He even manages to contribute while occasionally playing through injury (In the 2015 playoffs Dwight suffered a right knee sprain in game one against the Rockets, and still averaged 14.4 PPG and 14.4 Rebounds in the series.)
So why does it feel like we are all so disappointed in Dwight Howard? Did he actually never grow into his potential, or was he just never the player we thought he was?
Well, it’s a bit of both.
Dwight Howard coming into the league had all the upside in the world. Here’s a snippet from Dwight’s draft analysis before coming into the league “At his size, he can do just a little bit of everything. He dominates in the paint but also has the ability to step out and hit shots on the perimeter. His ball handling is very good. He's murder on the fast break. He's quick off the dribble and off the floor. He's not afraid to crash the glass and is an excellent shot blocker.” Most of these things turned out to be true.
And by all accounts he kept showing why we thought he was going to be an all time great center. He was a top 3 center in the league by his third year (Yao was injured for most of that season so it’s between Dwight, Amare Stoudemire, and Shaq.) but he never took the transcendent leap we wanted him to make to be an all time great. We thought we would see him in many more finals to come after his 09’ Playoffs appearance but the further we get away from that post-season increasingly we think it had more to do with Stan Van Gundy. The head coach implemented the perfecting system for a player like Dwight, and Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu to go lights out from three against the Cavs, and less to do with Dwight Howard being an all-time great center.
What’s more interesting is what scouts thought his downsides were coming into the league.
“The biggest complaint from scouts is a perceived lack of passion. 'You hate to claim that a guy might be too nice for the NBA, but that's about the most that I can come up with,’ one scout told Insider. 'I'm not sure he really has the edge that the great ones like Garnett and [Amare] Stoudemire had.'”
That to me, turned out to be true. I can't think of a single time off the top of my head where Dwight Howard had taken over a playoff game and refused for his team to lose. He has been effective and consistent and always turns up in the playoffs, but I couldn’t think of just a monster stat-line that proves he is the dominant force at centre we so crave him to be. Whether that is because he is “too nice” or doesn’t have that “edge” is up to the NBA 'talking heads' to decide. However, I had to look it up the last time Dwight refused to lose a game and it was the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals in Game 6 to send the Cavs (and our LeBron vs. Kobe finals) packing. Dwight had 40 pts, 14 rebs, 4 ast, 14/21 FG (66%). Delicious.
Some argue Dwight Howard could have been one Courtney Lee missed layup in the 2009 finals from being up 2-1 against the Lakers. If thats converted, does that series change? Is the narrative about Dwight completely different?
Well, he didn’t. And were stuck with a frankly disappointing narrative.
As I mentioned before, Dwight has been incredibly consistent, but that’s not enough for us. We’ve always wanted more. Some of the problem stems from people comparing him to be the next Shaquille O’Neal. Another center starting in Orlando; the Superman nickname; dragging them to the finals. The narrative was there and the media ran with it.
He was never really going to live up to our lofty expectations of him. This is not an indictment on Dwight given that Shaq is arguably the most dominant center the league has ever seen. We thought he had all the tools to be the next Shaq if he just worked a little on his post game, or could put up the same numbers if he just ran the fucking pick and roll like he should. But maybe we’ve been thinking about it all wrong.
At the end of his current contract Dwight will be 32. Could I see him being a piece on a championship team like Tyson Chandler on the 2011 Mavs? Sure. And his career till now is definitely not a disappointment. 8x All-Star, 3x Defensive Player of the Year, lock for the hall of fame. Our hype for Dwight demanded him to be the next big thing after one of the greatest centers to play the game.
That's the difference, he was never a poor man's Shaq, rather he's a rich man's Tyson Chandler.
Real life Bond villain Eddie Goldsmith has a passion for photography, movies, basketball and speaking in third person. Like most other sleep deprived 20-somethings Eddie's managed to find a balance between calm and collected to being one coffee cup away from never sleeping again. Writer, Editor, Generous Lover, Photographer and part time funny man I'm always looking to try my hand at something new.