Grading Dwight Howard's Houston Rockets Debut
This is not Los Angeles Lakers Dwight Howard. Not by a long shot.
In his regular-season debut with the Houston Rockets Wednesday night, Howard collected a staggering 26 rebounds and tallied 17 points on 8-of-14 shooting in 35 minutes.
On a night when Chandler Parsons struggled throughout and James Harden didn't find his rhythm until the fourth quarter, Houston's new big man stepped into the alpha-dog role and carried the Rockets in their 96-83 win over Charlotte Bobcats.
Lakers fans who watched this game must have been shaking their heads all night, as Howard played with the kind of energy and bounce they wanted from him during 2012-13.
The difference? Howard's happy.
In Los Angeles, he knew he was always no better than the No. 2. In Houston, he has a chance to be the centerpiece once again.
There's been an awful lot of debate over just who would assume that role this year—Howard or Harden? For at least one night, the answer was D12.
Even the Rockets' PR department seemed to think so, as the Toyota Center crowd was introduced to the team by Howard pregame. Management clearly knows that keeping him happy will directly impact his output.
It wasn't all roses, though. The concerns following this game are the same ones that have been lingering since Howard was acquired.
Chemistry with Teammates: B-
Plenty of people were worried about Houston's spacing on offense if coach Kevin McHale opted to go with a frontcourt of Howard and Omer Asik. He did, and true to many predictions, the strain on the perimeter starters went up. Harden and Parson went a combined 11-of-27 from the field.
It was the second unit perimeter players—the ones who don't have to worry about the spacing issues—who scored from the outside Wednesday night. Jeremy Lin and Francisco Garcia combined for 35 points on 12-of-20 shooting.
This, of course, isn't completely related to Howard. But he does need to be a bit more patient in the post, develop some moves that will command double-teams, and be willing to kick out to the shooters when the second defender comes. We didn't really see any of that in his debut, but the Rockets still have 81 more games to figure things out.
Dwight Howard's other issue is free-throw shooting. Surprised? Yeah, me neither. He hit just 1-of-4 from the line. Either him or Asik have to figure out how to knock those down if the two bigs are going to make an impact late in games.
Ultimately, this was a great individual performance for Howard. I felt like I was finally getting to watch the center that dominated the Eastern Conference for Orlando again.
Defensive Presence: A
He, along with Asik, was a defensive anchor, holding Charlotte's Al Jefferson, Josh McRoberts and Cody Zeller to a combined 12-of-34 from the field.
And Howard's biggest contribution, as it has been so many times in his career, came on the boards. Howard was battling, and I mean battling on both ends of the floor. Again, this performance was a far cry from what we saw during 2012-13—especially during a first half in which he grabbed 17 rebounds.
Dwight might have 20 boards by halftime in this Bobcats-Rockets clankfest. HOU little looser since TMac, sitting courtside, intro'd to crowd— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) October 31, 2013
Overall Grade for Howard: B+
If Howard does nothing else besides fight that hard under the rim for rebounds and defend his man with passion and intensity, he'll make the Rockets significantly better.
That interior defense is championship-caliber. If they can figure out the other end, we may have another legitimate contender to add to the conversation.
For 140-character pearls of wisdom from Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey, follow him on Twitter @AndrewDBailey.
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