Dwight Howard is the best center in the NBA. Some will pick apart his unpolished fundamentals, others will look to his struggles at the free throw line, and some have even dared to overlook his Hall of Fame-caliber production, but no one can unbiasedly deny his status as the top star at his position.
In order for the Houston Rockets to become a championship-caliber team, however, Howard will need to overcome the one weakness that few have disputed: his lack of aggression.
Even when he doesn't assert himself, Howard has been able to put forth extraordinary stat lines. He's averaging 17.0 points and 14.5 rebounds in 2013-14, and posted 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 1.1 steals during his "down-year" in 2012-13.
Unfortunately, free throw shooting is still a major issue.
That number is beyond unacceptable, but it isn't what could bring Houston down.
If the Rockets are hoping to become a true NBA championship contender, D-12 will need to be more assertive. His current style of play is dominant on the stat sheet, but Howard is too talented to be doing anything other than taking over games from start-to-finish.
The question is, what is the necessary offensive output for the seven-time All-Star to lead the Rockets to postseason success?
Ideal Offensive Output
The key for the Rockets moving forward will be to get Howard as many touches as possible. Whether those chances come via designed plays or by putting him in places to succeed, head coach Kevin McHale cannot undervalue the importance of providing D-12 with opportunities to shine.
From there, it's on Howard to make the most of those plays.
There's no reason for Howard to average anything less than 20 points per game, and he truly should be in the 25-point range. In order to do so, he should be attempting 15.0 field goals per contest, working both out of the post and off of the pick-and-roll.
Instead, D-12 is averaging 10.7 field goal attempts per game. It's on Howard to crash the offensive glass and sink free throws, but he needs to be given more looks at the basket.
Beyond the production is the need for Howard to impose his will throughout the course of every game. He's either stronger or more athletic than every opponent he'll come across, and that should enable him to hit the 20-point plateau with relative ease.
Unfortunately, that hasn't happened since 2011-12, when he posted 20.6 points per contest. Houston needs that to change if it's going to be a true contender.
Otherwise, it's just another team with noteworthy talent.
Impact on the Team
The Rockets have a talented core with All-Star shooting guard James Harden, rising small forward Chandler Parsons and Howard. Throw in the strong play of Jeremy Lin and a group of promising young players, and Houston could be a force in 2013-14.
If the Rockets are looking to turn high scoring numbers into a championship, however, Howard needs to step up. The whole team needs him to, specifically its superstar.
Harden is a stud playmaker, but it's worth noting that he shot 43.8 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from three-point range in 2012-13. Those aren't poor numbers, but 8.6 of Harden's 25.9 points per contest were a result of free throws made.
When the calls don't go his way, Harden can become erratic due to the nature of his isolation-style offense.
With Howard working out of the post and scoring off of the pick-and-roll, Harden would become a more unpredictable player. Already difficult to defend, the addition of an interior player who can score with consistency would open up the floor for Harden to hit spot-up jumpers instead of creating his own looks on every possession.
Even when D-12's numbers aren't coming, his aggression would lead to double-teams and players such as Harden, Parsons and Lin would be given open looks at the basket.
No one will question whether or not the Rockets can score in the open court, but when the games slow down in the playoffs, Houston will have trouble without an inspired D-12. He may have been signed for his defensive prowess, but the Rockets have been exposed as a poor half-court offense.
Should Howard find the necessary level of aggression, however, the Rockets' playbook will open up and Houston will become a true championship contender.