May 8, 2008
Assuming Chauncey Billups is able to return in the next game or two the Detroit Pistons will likely end Orlando’s season in the next three games. Even with this big win the Magic aren’t legit NBA title contenders just yet, but that doesn’t mean this season shouldn’t be considered a success. As a team they’ve gone from a 40-42 record, an eighth seed and a first-round sweep in 2006-07 to a 52-30 record, a Southeast Division title and third seed, and a first-round playoff victory. But perhaps more importantly, this year the Orlando faithful have seen Dwight Howard take a massive leap in his individual development that has put the 22-year-old on track to be one of the most dominant big men in NBA history.
He could be the best center in the NBA right now, and it’s gotten to the point where he can drop 20 points, 12 boards, 6 blocks and 3 steals on the Pistons in a playoff victory and nobody bats an eye. Then again, that’s been an off night for Howard in this postseason. He entered Wednesday’s victory averaging 3.4 blocks, 16.7 total rebounds, and 6.7 offensive rebounds — all easily tops in the playoffs. Offensively, he’s been putting up 21 points an night on 62.6% FGs in the second season.
Dwight Howard Photo Credit: Icon SMI
Howard’s teammate Hedo Turkoglu won the Most Improved Player award, but Hedo’s strong season was enabled by all the attention Dwight has been drawing underneath. And perhaps Howard himself should have been in the conversation for MIP as he improved dramatically in nearly all intangible facets of the game and made a big statistical jump in points, blocks, rebounds and getting to the line while playing more disciplined defense and turning the ball over less. His 14.2 boards per game led the league, making him the youngest player with a rebounding title. He also managed to score 20.7 points a game on just 11.9 shots a game, the fewest field-goal attempts of any of the NBA’s top 45 scorers. That led to a 26.8 Efficiency Rating, just behind Chris Paul and ahead of MVP Kobe Bryant. His 69 double-doubles led the league by a wide margin (Paul was second with 56) and the 2.2 blocks per were also the top five.
The most scary thing about these gaudy stats is just how much better this young man can get.
How Dwight Howard can conquer the world after the jump…
Right now Dwight is getting most of it done on pure physical gifts and instincts. His footwork on both ends of the floor has been much improved this season (thanks, Patrick), but Howard still has enormous room for improvement in the polish department. When he isn’t able to throw it down he still lacks a go-to post move, though he’s working on a nice hook that will be nearly unstoppable if perfected. His left hand is improving and looked good on Wednesday and he will continue to integrate that more. After shooting 67.1% FTs as a rookie he’s been below 60% from the line each year, but he has the touch and form to get back in the high 60s.
Howard appears to have a good head on his shoulders and a strong work ethic, so the mental aspect of his game should catch up with his freakish body in time. As it does Dwight will also improve his decision making. He consistently draws double-teams in the post and is surrounded by quality shooters and yet he’s averaged just 1.3 assists per game this season. Look for that number to inch towards 3 or 4 per game as his recognition, patience and reads improve. He should also be able to limit the turnovers, which have been too high each year.
At times Dwight still appears hesitant and uncomfortable making decisions with the ball each possession. He isn’t consistently assertive on the offensive end and disappears there for long stretches. At other times he forces the play regardless of defense and situation. That should slowly change as he becomes comfortable with the offense running through him and gains confidence in his improving post moves and teammates.
But did I mention this kid is just a 22-year-old?
As a young and massive physical specimen in an Orlando Magic jersey Dwight Howard is often compared to Shaquille O’Neal. Those comparisons are apt in terms of the pure physicality of their games, but at this point I don’t think it’s out of line to suggest Howard has the capacity to transcend Shaq given the opportunity to play with some elite perimeter players. His physical gifts are at least on par with Shaq’s, he has a better head on his shoulders and I fully expect Howard to take better care of his body and work on his weaknesses. In fact, after the strides he’s taken this season I expect Dwight Howard to be every bit as good as Shaq, if not better.