His first season in Houston will be his tenth overall in the league—and it may be his most significant yet. In the eyes of most fans, reporters and players alike, he’s got a lot to prove. Key among the concerns relating to Howard is whether he can keep a lower profile for his personality difficulties in the media.
But more important is the question of whether Howard can return to the playing form that made us care in the first place; with the Orlando Magic, Howard was a perennial MVP candidate. Will he ever be that good again?
Biggest Narrative Surrounding Dwight Howard
Above all, Howard’s new relationships in Houston are what interest fans and the media. They’re the key to whether his new situation works well or doesn’t. After taking part in a comically dysfunctional Los Angeles Lakers squad last year, the main story about Dwight Howard is whether he can be a part of something more focused and effective.
James Harden is the new superstar that he’ll have to try sharing the spotlight with. The relationship between the two will be essential to whatever success or failure the team has, but it will also help to define Howard’s reputation with his audience. If he can be modest enough to treat Harden as an equal or superior, it will go a long way with the public.
Perhaps more intriguing is how Howard’s chemistry with Omer Asik develops. In order for the two to work effectively together, one or the other has to tweak their game considerably. As it stands, their skills overlap quite a bit. It will be interesting to see what happens here—ultimately, Asik could just be traded, which would put the whole conversation to rest.
But both relationships take us to a more core concern about Howard: can he adapt? His time with the Lakers suggested much the opposite, but that situation was especially rocky.
In Houston, Howard won’t be forced to give up as much of the comfort and positive attention as he was asked to sacrifice with the Lakers. But his new circumstance will still demand much more ego management and added scrutiny than he was used to in his time with the Orlando Magic—still the only team he has thrived with.
Has Howard found a new happy home with the Rockets? A situation that benefits all? Only time will tell.
What’s on the line for Dwight Howard and the Rockets?
Expectations in Houston are high for 2013-14. The Rockets fanbase and media probably don’t expect a championship with any certainty this season, but they do anticipate a team more competitive and more fearsome than last year’s.
No person will be held more accountable for the Rockets’ ability to take the next step than Howard. He is, after all, the main source of this heightened pressure.
If Dwight Howard fails to play a pivotal role in a major increase in win total—last year’s team won 45 games; this year’s team should win at least 55—it will be a huge mark against him for many.
Beyond that, the Rockets will have to win at least one round of the playoffs with Howard. It may take another season with the team’s nucleus together—and a trade of Omer Asik for another valuable piece—for the Rockets to be serious title threats, but they’ll have to at least clear a much higher bar in 2013-14 than they did in 2012-13.
Howard and his franchise are equally held against the expectation of a 55 win season (which would presumably make them a top four team in their conference), and winning one round in the playoffs. Having the same goals is a good start.
Scouting Report for 2013-14 Season
Howard’s effectiveness has dropped in his last season, in which he was injured, mismatched with his team and at the center of much media drama. His PER levels reflect this:
Howard’s sagging offense needs to turn back around more than anything, and his post game is the key to that. If he can get his touches and re-establish the moves that were devastating in Orlando it will create some massive spacing issues for opposing teams. Just take a look at his back down spin move, one of his old favorites:
The best way to defend Howard’s size, speed and dexterity on a move like this is by giving him the space to do it into your body—not past it. Had Howard’s defender backed off a few feet, it would have made him shoot from a distance where he’s ineffective, or pass the ball elsewhere.
Unless Howard is close to the rim—where defenses should try to deny him the ball entirely—giving him space to operate is the best defense against him. He’ll have to hone his passing skills and shooting (historically his weaknesses) in order to make opponents pay for it.
The best case scenario for Howard has him averaging about 20 points per game, 13 rebounds per game, improving his assist totals and bringing his PER back around 24 as the Rockets win 55 games or more and take at least one round of the playoffs.
The worst-case scenario is that he runs into prolonged health problems with his back, is a 20 PER player or worse and Houston is unable to take the step beyond fringe playoff team.
In order to maximize his potential for the season, Howard needs, above all, to stay healthy. He’ll also need to shapen his passing, potentially work on his shot and exhibit as much court awareness on offense as he does on defense. 2013-14 will show us if he’s up to the task.