Dwight Howard is all smiles in Houston, but will he be able to take his game to new heights?
Dwight Howard's journey has certainly been an interesting one.
Entering his 10th NBA season, the star center is now with his third team, a rare case for a player of his caliber. Despite his talents, however, Howard has drawn criticism for not being able to get to that next level.
How can Dwight reach that plateau with the Houston Rockets?
There are numerous facets of Howard's game that he can stand improvement. He has never been a go-to guy on the offensive end of the floor, and while he doesn't have to become Shaquille O'Neal in that regard, he certainly needs to become better if he wants to bring a championship to Houston.
Dwight definitely seems happy in his new home, but will that translate into on-court production?
Howard has been in the league for nine years, and yet his arsenal of post moves is still extremely limited. He has that little running jump hook, but that's about it.
Fortunately for Dwight, he will have the opportunity to work extensively with arguably the greatest low-post player in the history of the game in Hakeem Olajuwon.
If Olajuwon can't make him better, no one can.
I'm not sure if it's that Howard can't come up with any moves on the low block or if he doesn't want to, but if he truly wants to become an all-time great capable of consistently putting his team on his back, he must become a reliable low-post scorer.
Dwight certainly has the size and athleticism to dominate. He just needs to learn finesse. That's where Hakeem comes in.
One look at Howard's shot chart will tell you all you need to know about his jumper.
Dwight lacks any semblance of a jump shot, and that is absolutely something he will need to work on in the Rockets' pick-and-roll heavy offense. Both James Harden and Jeremy Lin love to operate in screen-and-roll sets, so it would be awfully nice if Howard could provide them with an outlet.
Of course, part of the reason why Howard was so unsuccessful (by his standards, anyway) with the Los Angeles Lakers was that he did not really want to run the pick-and-roll too often, as his former teammate Steve Nash attested.
Well, Dwight better be open to running it in Houston, because that is the bread-and-butter of the Rockets' half-court offense. As a matter of fact, only the Miami Heat and New York Knicks were better at running the pick-and-roll in 2012-13.
Obviously, a key to this type of offense is good jump-shooting, and if Howard wants to fit in with his new team as seamlessly as possible, it would behoove him to work on his mid-range game.
Some athletes care way too much about the public's perception of them, and Howard seems to be one of those guys.
If he learned anything from Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles, it's that none of that matters. What matters is your performance on the court.
Dwight is certainly going to be under pressure to live up to expectations in his new city. After all, he bolted the legendary Lakers because he felt Houston was a better fit for him. Because of that, he is going to hear it from the media and the fans if he gets off to a slow start.
That's where mental toughness must come in to play. Howard has to block all of that out and focus on doing what he can to become a better basketball player. He has a good supporting cast around him, so hopefully for Dwight, that talent will take off some of the edge.
No matter what, people are always going to rag on Howard. He just needs to learn to shake it off and play ball.
This is somewhat out of Howard's control, but it is arguably the biggest factor to him flourishing in Houston.
The guy has to stay healthy.
Dwight was clearly not 100 percent throughout the 2012-13 season, and during a February interview with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, the 27-year-old said that he was still feeling a "tingly sensation" in his legs.
About five-and-a-half months have passed since then, and after the All-Star break, Howard averaged 18.4 points and 13.6 rebounds per game, so it's likely that his condition has improved. That being said, this is still someone who underwent major back surgery a little over a year ago, so the potential for injury remains.
Hopefully for Dwight (and the Rockets), his back is now fully stable.
Dwight likes to have fun—a lot of it. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. However, he has reached a point in his career where he needs to take things more seriously.
Instead of playing pranks, he needs to be working on his craft. That means getting in the gym, fine-tuning his game and broadening his offensive repertoire. If that means that Howard can't have as much fun as he used to, then so be it. There comes a time in every player's career when he arrives at a crossroads, and the 2013-14 campaign is that time for Dwight.
If his most recent interview with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith is any indication, it appears that Howard is ready to take that next step.
And you know what? The better he gets, the more fun he'll have.