Class is in session for Dwight Howard, and according to new instructor Hakeem Olajuwon, D12 still has an awful lot to learn.
Howard got in a 90-minute workout on Monday with both Olajuwon (a special assistant with the Houston Rockets) and head coach Kevin McHale that focused on building the big man's underdeveloped offensive game.
It'd be difficult to imagine two better teachers for a low-post seminar than Olajuwon and McHale, both of whom are on the very short list of "greatest post-up scorers of all time." But that's a luxury Howard will get to take advantage of on a daily basis as a member of the Rockets.
If he can't put together a competent series of moves with these guys helping him along, it's never going to happen.
Like most good teachers, Olajuwon was honest and encouraging in his assessment of the 27-year-old center. The Hall of Famer told Jason Friedman of Rockets.com:
As good as he is right now, he’s still very raw. But he has all the tools so I’m like a kid in a candy store. That’s why we give him the fundamentals of these moves. There’s a rhythm. And once he sees it, then it’s easier to emulate and then incorporate with power. He has the power. Now we’re adding finesse to the power.
For what it's worth, Howard has actually been an effective scorer on the block during his career. In his last season with the Orlando Magic, he rated among the top 15 percent of all offensive players in terms of points per play in post-up situations, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).
And even in a role with the Los Angeles Lakers that cut down his touches on the block, he was still much better than average in his post-up efficiency.
Olajuwon is right about Howard's post game, though; D12 got the job done with strength, but it was never pretty. Howard knows that he can't take on all of the Dream's finesse down low, but he's focusing on a couple of key areas in his effort to absorb as much as he can.
Per Friedman, Howard said:
It’s not about emulating Dream. That’s the thing. We get caught up in comparing players, trying to do what this guys does just because you work with him. The thing is, when you work out with a guy like Hakeem or Kevin McHale, you take away certain things. You don’t try to do everything they can do. I could work out with Michael Jordan, but I’m not going to be able to shoot the fadeaway like Michael Jordan.
The biggest thing when we’re working out is I’m always watching his feet. Today we were working on spin moves and I was doing a spin move with my left foot in the back and I saw him doing it with his right. So once I caught that, I adjusted.
If Howard really does experience some growth in his offensive game, it'll do a world of good for his team and his reputation.
The Rockets' spacing and offensive balance can only benefit by Howard becoming a bigger threat on the block. Plus, if the big man is willing to humble himself and really learn from the greats, it'll help erase the selfish, immature reputation he's earned over the past couple of years.
The Rockets are labeling their upcoming season as "A New Age." If Howard shows the ability to grow up (and mature into a truly skilled post-up threat), that label will apply in more ways than one.