Dwight Howard can certainly learn a thing or two from Hakeem Olajuwon.
Rumor also has it that this idea is a no-brainer, as Howard’s game will receive the polishing it needs under the guidance of one of the best centers in NBA history.
When you look at Olajuwon’s basketball career, the big man did incredible work as a player. He’s a two-time champion, a 12-time All-Star and a six-time All-NBA First Team member. He’s also a three-time blocks leader, five-time All-Defensive First Team member and one-time recipient of the Most Valuable Player award.
But as many accolades as he collected during his playing days, he’s now using his wealth of basketball knowledge to become a mentor to some of the game’s most prominent players.
Having already worked with Howard in the past, Olajuwon’s insertion should be seamless. According to the Associated Press (via Sify News), the legendary Rocket reached out to the one-time Orlando Magic during a 2010 playoff series—one in which Howard was displaying a lack of imagination on the offensive end.
The two spoke on the phone, and while Howard sparked a comeback to force a Game 6 against the Boston Celtics (after trailing 3-0), it wasn’t enough to propel the team to a series victory.
Following the disappointing elimination, the two big men began working together. While NBA fans were glued to their television sets watching the finals, Howard was glued to the hardwood in order to expand his limited offensive attack.
The lessons moving forward between Howard and Olajuwon need to revolve around creativity. Howard has the quickness to beat bigs off the dribble, and his game can no longer be predicated on just put-backs and open lobs.
Up to this point, Howard has thrived off of athleticism. For his career, he’s averaged 18.3 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.2 blocks while shooting 57.7 percent.
His numbers are impressive, but the problem—which we saw with the Los Angeles Lakers—is how he can struggle when his athleticism isn’t what we’ve come to expect.
@YousefBaig do y’all understand I had a major surgery. U jus don’t return from back surgery 100% in 4 months. It takes time.— Dwight Howard (@DwightHoward) May 27, 2013
Howard’s athleticism is going to fade with time. The truth is we should actually see it improve in the short term, as his back will ideally be better than it was in L.A.; but when he can no longer jump out of the gym later in his career, having a set of go-to moves is going to be essential.
As a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame—as well as one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players—Olajuwon has a lot to offer. However, from a purely offensive perspective, it doesn’t take more than the eye test to see how he made a career out of attacking with such a nimble approach.
Not every play can be made with superior strength. The “Dream Shake” was as good as it comes, and if Olajuwon can teach Howard to master the up-and-under moves that made him famous, it will be a giant leap toward a refined offensive game.
But while the idea here is to add spins and pivots to Howard’s arsenal, it should all start with the ability to knock down a consistent jump hook. That, as well as a reliable face-up game, will keep defenses honest. Howard already possesses the skills to blow past defenders, but if he can start further away from the rim, it will allow him to avoid taking a constant beating down low.
The problem for Howard is that when you learn a set of moves at this stage in the process, they become predictable for defenders. A new move makes an offensive player vulnerable when it’s not mastered, and that’s why improvisation will come hand in hand with creativity.
What is the most valuable thing Dwight Howard can learn from Hakeem Olajuwon?
Luckily for Howard, he now has somebody in Houston who can preach the concept of reading a defense, not just planning for one. Howard must be able to look at a defender, make his move and still have the ability to alter his approach.
Olajuwon was the master at doing just that in his day, hence why the “Dream Shake” was such a success.
Aside from offensive creativity, the one area Olajuwon must hammer home is taking winning seriously. We all know that Howard didn’t mesh with the Lakers’ organization, and while he chose Houston partly on the notion that he can have fun in Clutch City, he has to prove that his desire to win is just as high a priority.
As the Associated Press put it, when Olajuwon made that first call to Howard back in 2010, the youngster “shed his happy-go-lucky attitude and became a one-man wrecking crew.” In the sessions that followed, Olajuwon made it clear that Howard needed to be “mentally stronger,” and that his playful nature needed to take a backseat to staying focused.
The bottom line is this: Howard doesn’t need to change who he is. The Rockets don’t need him to be Kobe Bryant; they just need him to concentrate on what he does best—dominating the center position.
If he can do that, he and the Rockets are destined for great things. Olajuwon will teach him to be a more versatile player, and if all goes according to plan, success will come, and the 27-year-old can have a whole lot of fun while winning along the way.