On Wednesday night, Dwight Howard joined the NBA’s 30-30 club by posting 32 points and 30 rebounds in Charlotte’s 105-111 win over the Brooklyn Nets. In doing so, he became the first NBA player to record such a stat line since Kevin Love grabbed 31 points and 31 rebounds against the New York Knicks in 2010. Dwight also became just the 10th player to do it all time, joining the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain.
In what’s looking like a lost season for the Hornets, this isn’t a particularly big deal. Although, it is good to see Howard playing like his former self again. After all, many felt that his career was in jeopardy when the Atlanta Hawks ditched him ahead of last season’s draft. By way of a response, he’s averaged 16.6 points and 12.2 rebounds in 30.5 minutes per game this season – not a million miles away from the stat lines he put up during his heyday in Orlando.
As a Magic fan, I have mixed feelings about Howard. Part of me recalls a dynamic, athletic center who led a ragtag group of role players to the NBA Finals in 2009, while the other half thinks of the loathsome coward who couldn’t decide whether he wanted to stay with the team or move on. My feelings are largely clouded by the “Dwightmare” that ensued, although on reflection, the Magic were equally culpable in that whole mess. At first, I wanted to see Howard fail and he did, remarkably, in L.A., Houston and Atlanta. But this year’s been a little different for Dwight, in part perhaps because he’s no longer a focal point of the NBA.
The Lee Jenkins article published in Sports Illustrated last September went a long way towards changing my perception though. The parallels between peak-Howard and the version we have today still boggle the mind. For instance, as Jenkins points out:
“In 2008, Dwight Howard had more endorsement deals than LeBron James. He appeared in seven nationally televised commercials. He disproved the long-held notion that big men beyond Shaq can’t move product. A year later he racked up 3.1 million All-Star votes, still the most ever. In piggybacking the Magic to the ’09 Finals, Howard led the NBA in blocks and rebounds and was fourth in field goal percentage. He was the best defensive player in the league and one of the most efficient scorers. When general managers responded to a 2009 NBA.com poll about which player they would sign to start a franchise, they picked James first, Howard second.”
While today, the story is very different:
“Superman is 31, on the back end of what was supposed to be his prime. Never married, he has five children by five women. He has lost millions of dollars to friends and family. He has at times been estranged from his parents and spurned by his costars. His endorsement portfolio, once brimming with Gatorade and Vitamin Water, McDonald’s and Adidas, Kia and T-Mobile, is down to a sneaker deal with the Chinese sportswear company Peak. He checked in last winter with 151,000 All-Star votes—11,000 fewer than Ersan Ilyasova.”
Very few NBA players have experienced a fall from grace as rapid as Howard’s has been, as he really has gone from being one of the game’s biggest stars to a relative nobody in the league. This is due in part to the personality traits Jenkins focuses on in his article. But it’s also due to the fact that the modern game is so different to that which Howard dominated in the late noughties. Players who can’t shoot free throws let alone threes are of limited use to teams and it’s unlikely that another big-man revolution is just around the corner. But let’s not forget that Howard is an 8-time All-Star, a 5-time All-NBA First Team selection, and a 3-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Nowadays, Howard’s legacy can be felt through the likes of Rudy Gobert and Andre Drummond, both of whom are athletic rim protectors who grab boards for fun, while impacting the game offensively without possessing much of a shot.
It is interesting to think that Gobert is considered one of the most important big men in the modern game and yet he’s averaging just 14.1 points and 10.8 rebounds per game this season, thanks in part, perhaps, to a spell on the sidelines. This makes him the 17th highest scoring center in the NBA right now, while Drummond, on the other hand, is putting up 14.8 points and 15.7 rebounds for the Pistons, which is good enough for 12th. Howard sits, somewhat surprisingly, at 10th on the list, the top ten of which is littered with young, athletic, hybrid big-men, like Anthony Davis (1st) and Kristaps Porzingis (4th). More traditional bigs like Marc Gasol and Nikola Vucevic occupy the two spots ahead of Dwight, but otherwise the list is indicative of a league that emphasizes the importance of long, rangy big-men like Joel Embiid (3rd) and Karl Anthony-Towns (5th).
Diving into other numbers reveals just how effective Howard still is though, as he’s 7th in offensive rebounding amongst centers (3.2 per game), 4th in overall rebounding and 8th in blocks (1.7 per game). Additionally, he’s 11th in field goals attempted (11.3), 8th in field goals made (6.2) and 13th in minutes played, logging 72 starts this season. On the flip side, his field goal percentage is currently low for a center at 55.4 (42nd best), while his free throw percentage (56.9, 92nd best) remains his Achilles heel.
Given that he’s the twelfth oldest center in the NBA right now at 32-years of age, Dwight Howard is having a solid season on a sub-par team. His effectiveness is there for all to see, even if it is easy to forget just how dominant he once was. Unfortunately for him, the league has moved on though and his best shot at success might be via next season’s buyout market. He is, after all, set to receive just under $24 million next year before hitting the open market in the summer of 2019. If indeed he does, he’d better hope that one or two of those GMs who wanted to start a franchise with him come sniffing around!
Featured photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images