Dwight Howard may be one of the most disliked players in the NBA, but that doesn’t mean he’s still not one of the most unguardable players in the league. Howard carried the Houston Rockets—playing without James Harden and Jeremy Lin—to a big win over the Detroit Pistons with a monstrous performance, showing once again why he is the best center in the league.
.@DwightHoward put the injury-plagued Rockets on his massive shoulders & willed them to a 114-97 win vs Detroit with a monster 35p/19r/5a.— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) December 22, 2013
This is what Houston general manager Daryl Morey envisioned when he signed Howard as a free agent over the summer—the most dominant force in the game anchoring the paint on both ends of the floor.
More importantly, this wasn’t some undersized frontcourt that Howard dwarfed. He was facing a Detroit team that has arguably the biggest and most athletic frontcourt in the league—and the Pistons haven’t been afraid to use that to their advantage this season:
Dwight Howard physically dominated a front line tonight that has been pushing around everyone lately...— Brian Geltzeiler (@hoopscritic) December 22, 2013
Without Harden in the lineup, Howard was much more aggressive on the offensive end, and it showed in his first-half numbers:
Dwight Howard already has a double-double (23p, 12r) and the Rockets lead the Pistons 61-53 at halftime. pic.twitter.com/76ObF08GQX— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) December 22, 2013
He came out guns blazing, almost ending the first quarter with a double-double at 14 points and seven rebounds. Howard thoroughly outplayed (and outmuscled) the Pistons’ young center, Andre Drummond, who has drawn comparisons to Howard with his blend of elite athleticism, shot blocking and horrendous free-throw shooting.
Howard showed the second-year center that he still has a lot of work to do and proved why he’s the best center in the league. This came just one night after he outplayed the Indiana Pacers’ Roy Hibbert, albeit in a losing effort.
Howard’s defense may have fallen off from his Defensive Player of Year seasons, but he’s still an elite rim-protector. According to NBA.com’s SportVU statistics, opponents are shooting 46.6 percent at the rim against Howard—the 14th-best mark in the league for qualified players.
That’s impressive considering the sheer volume of attempts that Howard has to deal with at the rim—just under 10 field-goal attempts per game (fifth most in the league)—given the porous nature of Houston’s perimeter defense.
He’s also capable of locking down the post and pick-and-rolls, giving up under 0.9 points per possession against both play types (ranking in the top 50 of all NBA players), according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).
But defense isn’t where Howard holds an advantage over Hibbert, his closest competitor for “best center” honors. It’s on offense.
Howard went off for a season-high 35 points while shooting 72 percent from the floor. While Hibbert is a nice offensive player with a better arsenal of moves in the low post, he just can’t match that output nor efficiency.
The most noticeable aspect of Howard’s performance was how effective he was in the post—an area where he hasn’t looked as dominant as he did when he was with the Orlando Magic.
Can't remember the last time I saw Dwight Howard dominating out of the POST like he is tonight in Detroit. Taking it to Pistons' bigs.— Matt Winer (@matt_winer) December 22, 2013
Post-ups have still been the majority of Howard’s offense, but it hasn’t been where he’s most effective, according to Synergy Sports:
|Play Type||Points Per Possession||Percentage of Howard's Plays|
If Howard can continue to be as destructive in the post as he was against Detroit, Houston’s opponents are in big trouble. Especially if they try to play him one-on-one:
D12's biggest scoring explosions (at Dallas, Portland & now tonight) have come when teams try to defend him 1-on-1.He's torched that this yr— Jason Friedman (@JasonCFriedman) December 22, 2013
The fact that Howard carried the Rockets to a big win without Harden in the lineup may signal that it’s time Houston makes Howard the focal point of the offense.
|Player||Field-Goal Attempts Per Game|
Harden is one of the best offensive players in the league, but running the offense through Howard in the post creates driving lanes for the perimeter players and open threes for the shooters.
Howard’s personality and dramatic tendencies have drawn the ire of NBA fans, but don’t get it twisted. He’s still the best center in the game, and he reminded us of that fact when he torched the Pistons.