Dwight Howard is back in force this season—a monster game Saturday night made that perfectly clear. It’s becoming pretty obvious that the next generation of centers isn't anywhere near his level yet.
The way Howard’s playing now, Gen-Next might have a long wait before assuming the title of NBA's best center. And that’s taking nothing away from rising stars like Andre Drummond, who’s already a high-end center, and Anthony Davis, a budding star whose place in the center hierarchy will become clearer as he bulks up.
Drummond had a chance to make his case against Howard and the visiting Houston Rockets. The starting center for the Detroit Pistons, just 20 years old and playing in his second NBA season, has been attracting a lot of talk, averaging 13.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks per game, before Saturday.
Drummond had his hands full trying to guard Howard one-on-one. Things didn’t exactly go to plan and Detroit went back to double-teaming. That didn’t work either.
Howard ended up with 35 points and 19 rebounds in the Rockets' 114-97 victory at The Palace Saturday night.
Dwight Howard is 1st Rockets player with at least 35 points, 19 rebounds since Yao Ming in 2008.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 22, 2013
Howard also went to the stripe 14 times, making a respectable nine of them while picking up just two fouls of his own.
And Drummond? Nine points, six rebounds and five fouls. Howard’s performance came on the second night of a back-to-back, and without Jeremy Lin and without James Harden. Houston also lost Patrick Beverley to a broken hand in the first half of the game.
The Rockets were blown out the previous night against the Indiana Pacers but that can’t be laid at the feet of Howard who had 19 points and 12 rebounds, facing another of the league’s bright hopes in Roy Hibbert. Coincidentally, the Pacers’ center finished with the same numbers on Friday that Drummond had on Saturday—nine points and six boards.
Howard clearly wasn’t in his element last season with the Los Angeles Lakers. Coming off back surgery and playing for coach Mike D’Antoni, he just didn’t look like the same guy who dominated for all those years for the Orlando Magic.
That’s all in the past now. Howard’s overall stats aren’t much different this season, at least not yet. He’s got his confidence back, though, as well as his conditioning. He’s got his timing again, and he looks like he belongs again—backing down Drummond on Saturday night, spinning and creating space and tossing in those close-range hook shots.
Asked when the last time he had a team call the same post-up for him that often, Dwight Howard said, "In Orlando."— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) December 22, 2013
It wasn’t lost on his teammates. Per Noah Trister of the Associated Press in his recap for NBA.com, Chandler Parsons offered the following:
Dwight was unbelievable tonight. He completely dominated the game. I'm a big fan of Andre Drummond. I think he's got a lot of potential, and he's a really good player, but I mean, Dwight just dominated tonight.
The Pistons’ young center acknowledged the obvious, also per Trister:
"At the end I thanked him for the lesson," Drummond said. "He said, 'Any time.'"
Howard will continue to face the best young big men that the league can throw at him. The New Orleans Pelicans and their second-year sensation Anthony Davis will be in Houston on Dec. 28. On New Year’s Eve, it will be DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings’ turn to visit. Davis and Cousins will get their chances again in January.
Howard is now in his 10th year in the NBA and will eventually have to pass the torch. Though experience in the pivot counts for something, youth will be served at some point.
But while Dwight Howard’s playing like this, the next generation will have to wait.