While the center has not been racking up points, he will not need to in order to be effective this season.
Obviously, the year is just getting started, so it is hard to trust small sample sizes. However, Howard has only averaged 15 points per game in the Rockets' three wins. If this were to continue, it would be his lowest scoring mark since his rookie year.
The first question is whether or not this is a fluke.
It stands to reason that his numbers would pick up, considering he is usually one of the most dominant low-post scorers in the NBA. He also averaged over 20 points per game in four of the last six seasons and has the ability to reach that mark again this time.
With that said, he is surrounded by multiple talented perimeter players for the first time in his career.
Throughout Howard's time with the Orlando Magic, he was asked to basically carry the offense. Even last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, injuries to Steve Nash and others forced Howard to be more aggressive than necessary.
This season, though, James Harden is the go-to option on the offensive end. Meanwhile, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons continue to take on roles as secondary scorers on the outside.
Considering this same team ranked second in the NBA last season in points scored per game, Howard is not needed to solve any problems there.
As a result, he seems to have taken on a smaller role offensively. In three appearances, he has already seen his shot attempts drop from 14 to 10 to eight. While he has gone to the free-throw line 26 times this season, his number of attempts from the stripe per game would still be his lowest since 2006-07.
This reduced activity on the offensive end was seen throughout the preseason and has carried into the start of the year.
The good news is that this is not a problem for the Rockets going forward. As previously mentioned, this was an elite offense a year ago. Conversely, Houston's 28th-ranked defense held the squad back. This is what Howard was brought in to fix—and that will not be a problem for the three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
With the big man protecting the rim, opponents are forced to take tougher shots, which reduces their effectiveness on the offensive end. Meanwhile, the rest of the Rockets are able to take more risks on the perimeter since they know Howard will be behind them.
Additionally, the seven-time All-Star can work harder on the defensive end than ever before due to his saved energy on offense. He now has no excuse when it comes to going after opponents or fighting for the ball on rebounds.
This has already been on display this season with his incredible 17 rebounds per game, limiting second chances on the defensive end.
All of a sudden, the team ranks sixth in points allowed per game and second in opponents' field-goal percentage. Even though the competition has not been great, the results are for real.
Howard might have some big offensive outbursts during the season, but Houston does not need him to be the same threat that he was in Orlando. He is excelling on the defensive end, and that is enough to make the Rockets legitimate contenders in the Western Conference.
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