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Can Dwight regain his old defensive intensity?
Dwight Howard will improve the Houston Rockets, that's a sure thing. When healthy, Howard is the best two-way big in basketball, and it's not close. But whether or not he actually vaults Houston into the championship conversation depends both on his health and his willingness to accept the Rockets' style of play.
And both of those things are still up in the air.
Howard's going to be counted on to anchor the Houston defense this season, and while he's certainly capable of it, you could make a real case that if he's not much healthier than last season, he won't be all that effective.
Howard and the man who now backs him up, Omer Asik, had similar defensive tasks last season—be the anchor and rim-protector for a fast-paced team with few quality defenders—and you could make the case that Asik actually outperformed Howard.
Asik outdid Howard on the defensive glass (grabbing 31 percent of available rebounds to Howard's 27 percent), and the Rockets were better than the Lakers defensively when both Asik and Howard were on the court (per 82games.com). Obviously, you can't make any concrete conclusions since the two played for very different teams, but it's hard to say that the Howard of last season could have transformed the Rockets into an elite defensive team.
And even if Howard is 100 percent healthy and a monster on the defensive end, there's some question as to how he'll fit into the Houston offense. Ideally, the Rockets will play high-tempo basketball and run endless strings of pick-and-rolls with Howard and James Harden—Howard is one of the league's best roll men, and Harden its best young pick-and-roll guard (per Synergy Sports Technology).
But Howard is accustomed to getting 55-60 percent of his touches in the post, and his post-ups are a far less efficient option than a pick-and-roll with Harden. Will he be willing to sacrifice post touches? And if not, where does that leave the Houston offense?
The Rockets figure to be very good no matter what, but if Howard isn't back to his Orlando Magic form or is unwilling to accept a different role in the Houston offense, they may not be a real title threat.