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Are Houston Rockets Using Dwight Howard Correctly on Offense?

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Are Houston Rockets Using Dwight Howard Correctly on Offense?
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The Houston Rockets made one of the biggest splashes of last summer by signing perennial all-star Dwight Howard, one of the very best defenders in the league.

But questions about his role on the other side of the court were both appropriate and prevalent upon the acquisition, and the team has yet to show us something to truly answer them.

Howard’s job within the Rockets’ offense remains largely undefined.

The team has gone away from its attempts to get Howard the ball with his back to the basket, and they've largely made him into a pick-and-roll player. That’s fine, in one sense, as D12’s always been most effective in that motion.

But there’s a boon of extra half-court space to be had from Howard’s presence, and the Rockets aren’t getting it.

This is largely because Houston has yet to gel as a new team—injuries and immediate expectations of title contention have led to a discombobulated, if successful, group effort early on. The Rockets have continued to run their go-go offensive approach that brought them results last year, but only for now.

A new identity is on its way.

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Blowout losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers have exposed the Rockets’ thin playbook as a weakness.

And their greatest post-season strength, in a center-strapped league, is Howard. But thus far, the edge he gives them has been mostly dormant, hibernating.

A healthily varied offensive diet should unleash the benefits Howard brings. 

The team’s obsession with slashing shots near the rim and three-pointers must eventually come to an end.

Their approach is a fascinating frontier in offensive paradigms, but their personnel for such an assault is easily behind that of the Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, just to name a few.

The ceiling for these Rockets falls well below an NBA championship, as long as they’re so emphatic on using this style.

Enter Howard.

The big man demands attention from the defense every time he touches the ball—even a double-team, if he’s close enough to the rim when he catches it. As such, he is the key to unlocking the more in-between areas of the court that Houston needs to be finding residence in.

A survey of his greatest hits this season shows he's clearly still a physically dynamic enough player to make this difference:

If they don’t, they’ll become all too predictable.

Put most simply, the Rockets need to use Howard as the linchpin to an offensive slowdown.

He’s the anchor needed to recalibrate their entire approach and allow for many of their younger players like Jones and Chandler Parsons (who have never played in different systems) the room they need to learn to score in a more methodical, even fashion.

Getting Howard the ball in the post to maximum efficiency will spur this growth as quickly as anything can.

The team’s efforts to establish Howard down low, so far, have looked somewhat forced. But James Harden, Jeremy Lin and the rest of those throwing it to him should look to develop a greater sense of when Howard is facing a mismatch, when his man is incorrectly positioned and the like. Howard has expressed a similar sentiment with reporters.

Expect the team to tinker with the right ratio of post-ups to screen-and-rolls for Howard.

The ideal outcome, in any event, is to solidify Howard as an option in all of his forms, so that the team can use both the threat and reality of his scoring to take any number of turns in a possession.

The goal for the Houston offense should be a larger array of options. When disciplined half-court defenses pin them down and take away the open-court bonanzas Houston thrives on, the Rockets can start to look mighty paltry.

Good thing they have Howard—perhaps the best man available for changing their ways.

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