An Early Look at Dwight Howard’s Impact With the Hornets!
Dwight Howard has been one of the most maligned players in the league in recent years. When that happens you play for three different teams in three years. A lot has played into the downfall of "Superman." Back injuries, age, bad attitude by Dwight himself, and him playing in offenses that didn't fit him all had a factor. Dwight is at fault for some of the backlash, but not all of it. Now he is 31, and for him to be successful he has to come to grips with who he is now. He is not in his prime, but he can still be a very good player in this league.
That's what the Charlotte Hornets hoped when they trade for him in the offseason. Regardless of what happens, the Hornets won that trade by getting rid of garbage. Shout out to Miles Plumlee. Charlotte made the trade because they were confident, they could do what Houston and Atlanta couldn't do; get the best out of Dwight. A lot of that came from head coach Steve Clifford. Clifford was an assistant in Orlando when Dwight was at his best. There is trust and respect between the two. That is big, Dwight is sensitive and he needs a coach who he can trust. Dwight is four games in with the Hornets. It's early, but let's see how he has looked so far.
The Hornets didn't bring in Howard to be a dominant scorer. They brought him in to be an efficient one. They were hoping for 12 to 15 points per game. Howard's main role ideally is to be an above the rim threat off the pick and roll. He would get a few post ups and put backs as well. So far Howard is averaging 13.3 points per game on 61% shooting on 8.5 attempts per game. Before the season 8-11 attempts was the goal for Howard per game. He should get even more open looks once Nicolas Batum gets back from injury. Batum can be for Howard, what Hedo Turkoglu was for Howard in Orlando. Howard, as usual, is leaving points at the free throw line. For his career he is a 56% shooter, this year he is a woeful 36% including a dreadful 0-11 performance in a loss at Milwaukee. That is a concern; the bigger concern is he is averaging career-high 4.5 turnovers per game.
This is due to adjusting to a new offense, and forcing it. Again when Batum and Michael Carter-Williams get back, he will have the ball in his hands less. The turnovers and poor free throw shooting have caused his true shooting percentage and PER to dip. His true shooting percentage is 56% and his PER is 16.15. Both are career lows. Part of the problem is Dwight is spending too much time in the post. The reality is Dwight is no longer dominant in the post, even though that's where he wants to spend his time. This may be a tug of war all season. Dwight has been awful in the post ranking in the 23rd percentile among all players according to Synergy Sports. To make it worse that's where he spends 46% of his time. What's more bizarre is he is only being used as a roll man 8% of the time. Now this will surely even out a bit, its only been four games, but the bottom line is Dwight needs to be used as a roll man more and spend less time in the post. Convincing him to do that, while keeping him happy won't be easy.
Dwight's struggles in the post hurt the whole offense. Charlotte is 21st in offensive efficiency. They are also 21st in turnovers; this team was 1st in turnovers last year. When they run the offense through Dwight in the post the whole offense can get bogged down and ball movement stops. The Hornets are 29th in assists. Part of that is no Batum; he is their best passer. Charlotte as a team is 18th in true shooting percentage. One more area that could help Dwight is crashing the boards. Charlotte doesn’t usually crash the offensive glass, but Howard is so good, they made an exception for him. He is averaging four a game, and when he does he is a beast. Watch this play!
Trevon Graham shoots a three and misses. Dwight sky’s for the rebound grabs it with one hand in between two defenders. Then simply moves them away and dunks ferociously. This takes strength, athleticism and timing. It’s also Dwight at his best. More please.
To be clear this is not all on Dwight. No Batum, Carter-Williams, Cody Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are all a factor. It's clear though that Charlotte needs to adjust their offense to fit Dwight's strengths rather than run the offense through him. He is not that player anymore.
This is really where Howard is at his best. In his prime, he was the best defensive player in the game. No one blocked or altered shots like he did. For Charlotte to make the playoffs they need to be a top-five defensive team. They are off to a good start ranking 3rd in defensive efficiency. They are getting it done by controlling the defensive glass. Charlotte is fifth in defensive rebounding and Howard is a big part of that. Howard is averaging ridiculous 17.8 rebounds per game and his rebound rate is a career-high 28.9. Not only is he cleaning up the glass, he is protecting the rim. He is averaging 2.3 blocks per game, his highest mark in five years. Watch this block from the preseason against the Celtics!
Jaylen Brown drives to the lane and hits Dwight with a spin move to get some separation. It looks like the moves works and Brown will have enough room to get his shot off. Wrong! Dwight recovers and swats the ball out of bounds. He is still an elite rim protector in this league.
Plus he is contesting nine shots per game, which is 11th in the league. His rim protection gives the Hornets a new dimension they didn't have last year. The one downside is he is averaging 3.8 fouls per game, up from his career average 3.2 per game. Charlotte needs Howard to play big minutes, especially while Cody Zeller is hurt. He must cut down on his fouls. Overall though, Steve Clifford must be thrilled about Dwight's defensive impact. What the Hornets need from Dwight more than anything else is effort. They have gotten that so far and more. Rebounds and contesting shots are two stats that help measure effort. Howard is among the league leaders in both categories.
I can't emphasize enough that it has only been four games, and the injuries, especially to Batum, are a significant factor. Howard will get better on offense. Clifford will find better ways to use him. Hornets fans, should not expect the dominant Dwight to show up on offense though. That Dwight is gone. Also, don't be surprised if once Zeller gets back he starts playing more minutes, and even starts ahead of Dwight. His savvy screening and ability to hit a jumper help with spacing. Benching Howard would surely hurt his ego, so Clifford may stick with him for the season, and Zeller will be the closer. On the bright side Hornets, fans have to love the effort Howard is playing with.
His elite rebounding and rim protection make him a valuable asset. Charlotte is a better team with the addition of Howard. If he can average 13 points and 17 rebounds, and 2 blocks for the season, I think everyone would be pleased. He just needs to get his free throws up and his turnovers down, so he can at least be efficient on offense because he won't be dominant. If those two areas improve, and you combine them with his strengths then you have a very good player. I am betting on Howard to improve his offense, and despite his low offensive numbers, I think this move was a success. Guys who average a double double don't grow on trees. Be happy with what Howard is now Hornets fans don't spend the season wishing for old Dwight. You won't get it.