Why Kevin McHale's Houston Rockets Would Be Perfect for Dwight Howard's Legacy

Luke Petkac@@LukePetkacFeatured ColumnistJune 20, 2013

It might be time for Dwight to get out of Los Angeles.
It might be time for Dwight to get out of Los Angeles.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Some might say that Dwight Howard has a difficult decision facing him this summer, but actually, it's not that tough at all. Because the Houston Rockets would be absolutely perfect for Howard and his legacy. It's a no-brainer.

Talking about Howard's legacy has been popular lately because of the drama he brought to both the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers, but that talk's a little silly. Howard's young and has a good eight or nine years of basketball ahead of him. We have no idea what his legacy will look like at the end of his career.

Still, there's no question that Howard's public image and legacy have taken a hit over the past few years, and he'll be looking to repair that damage in the present.

Some, like ESPN's Chris Broussard (Insider only), have suggested that Howard's image will be even more damaged if he leaves the Lakers, but that's simply not true.

If LeBron James has taught us anything over the past few years, it's that winning cures all ills. If Howard plays fantastic basketball and wins a ring or two in his new city, we'll forgive him. That's just the way it works.

And that makes Houston the obvious choice for Howard. He could be incredible there.

Howard is very different from almost every other franchise center in history in the sense that he's never developed a great back-to-the-basket game (see Dikembe Mutombo and Moses Malone as comparables).

Even at his peak in Orlando, Howard's scoring efficiency on post opportunities was ranked around 50th in the league, and his go-to post move (a running hook with either hand) has always looked awkward and clunky.

Howard's primary value on the offensive end lies not in his low-post game, but in his outstanding pick-and-roll ability. And that makes James Harden—far and away the league's best young pick-and-roll ball-handler—the ideal partner for him.

In his Orlando stint, Howard destroyed defenses in the pick-and-roll. He was ranked as the league's first- or second-most efficient scorer as a roll man in each of his last three years with the Magic. And if he can do that well playing primarily with a good—but not great—pick-and-roll guard like Jameer Nelson, then just imagine the things he could do with Harden—a Manu Ginobili-esque passing genius.

Harden's patient, probing style in the pick-and-roll often forces defenses to send help or over-commit to preventing a drive to the basket, something that Howard could take advantage of in a way that Omer Asik simply can't. Howard's quick and explosive enough to get a dunk or a high-percentage shot any time the defense overplays a ball-handler, and with all due respect to Asik, he can't do stuff like this:

To be honest, Houston's also a great landing spot if Howard ever does want to become a dominant back-to-the-basket center.

Don't get me wrong, there's a good chance that Howard is who he is offensively at this point (and that's still enough to make him a top-five player when healthy). But he's an incredible athlete and still relatively young at 27 years old. There's no reason he couldn't be a dominant post presence. Players older than him have reinvented themselves late in their careers.

And if that is something that interests Howard, then what better teacher could he have than Kevin McHale?

To put it simply, McHale had the greatest set of moves on the low block ever. Period. Guys like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon had more unstoppable signature moves, but no one had a bigger arsenal of fakes, turnarounds and up-and-unders than McHale. No one.

He had 30-odd moves, a counter for every one of them and sometimes even a counter for the counter move. If anyone could serve as a mentor for Howard, it's him.

Funnily enough though, even if Howard wasn't able to pick up any moves from McHale, he'd still probably have better scoring opportunities down low with the Rockets than he has in his previous stops. Few teams in the league play more small ball than the Rockets do. They love to throw Chandler Parsons at the 4, run like crazy and hoist up tons of threes.

And that strategy could play right into Howard's hands. The Rockets often force other teams to go small to keep up with their speed, and if there's one thing Howard can do, it's take advantage of smaller defenders.

Obviously, teams aren't going to be throwing guards or small forwards out to try and defend Howard on the block, but a bad defensive switch could put Howard in a good spot down low. And the Rockets' constant pick-and-roll attack generates switches like that pretty regularly.

Defensively, we know Howard would fit well with the Rockets because when healthy, he fits with everyone. 

Asik did a phenomenal job anchoring the Rockets' defense this season, but he's not Howard, who's led the league in defensive win shares four times in the last six years, per Basketball-Reference.

Howard also could replace, if not improve, Asik's production on the defensive glass.

Asik grabbed 31 percent of all available defensive boards last season, and a healthy Howard rebounds at around the same rate, per Basketball-Reference. Crashing the defensive glass is important for a running team like the Rockets, so the fact that Dwight can match or exceed Asik's production in that area is key.

If you're a Rockets fan or even just a Howard fan, you have to admit all of that sounds pretty great.

With that being said, there are a few potential drawbacks to Howard going to Houston, and it's important that they be mentioned.

First, there's the fact that Houston played at the fastest pace in the league this season, per Basketball-Reference. The only team Howard's been a part of that played near that quickly was this year's Lakers squad, and he looked pretty uncomfortable in the Los Angeles system.

This isn't an enormous concern, since Howard was dealing with serious back issues this year, and he's always been outstanding at running the floor for easy lobs or dunks. He would probably be just fine playing at the Rockets' pace, but it's still worth mentioning since there aren't all that many big men who love sprinting up and down the floor.

The second and most important drawback is that Howard would have to sacrifice some post touches. That was mentioned a bit earlier, but the reality is that Howard would be forced to adapt to the Rockets' system.

Howard's accustomed to having between 50 to 60 percent of his touches come in the post, and that simply would not happen in Houston. The Rockets play too quickly.

That would maybe change if Howard did indeed learn from McHale, but as he is now, Howard would have to sacrifice some post touches for the good of the team.

That's it, though. Those are the only real drawbacks to Howard being with the Rockets, and in all honesty, they're pretty small.

No one knows what Dwight Howard's legacy is going to be by the time he retires, but one thing's for sure—he'd have the chance to build a great one with the Rockets. They have the right players, the right coach and—as CBS Sports' Zach Harper recently broke down—the ability to get at least one max player in a Rockets uniform.

The rest is up to Howard.


All stats were compiled via Synergy Sports Technology unless mentioned otherwise.


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