After the Eastern Conference Finals has concluded, I ask: What have we learned?
For starters, Dwight Howard is not the offensive force that he should be after six years in the Association.
For all the accolades Howard has gained being the premiere “Superstar” big man in the NBA, he still has not developed the type of post game that puts fear in opposing defenses.
In game one against the Boston Celtics, Howard scored 13 points on a dismal 3-10 shooting with 12 rebounds, and five blocks. This stat line would be fine if Howard were a complementary player, but he is the focal point to the Magic offense.
Every superstar is entitled to a bad game here and there—after all, you cannot be “Superman” all the time and he did not let the bad shooting night affect his 12 rebounds or five blocks. He still had a defensive presence that affected Boston in the second half, but there is a disturbing trend in Howard’s game.
In game two, Howard responded with conviction, scoring 30 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and shooting an efficient 9-for-13 from the field. By all accounts this is a definite improvement, but his imprint was not really on the game.
In the defining moments of the contest, the Magic went into a pick and roll offense. Each time Dwight did get the ball down the stretch, the possession was not decisive. Instead of knowing what he wanted to do with the basketball, he rushed shots.
Is this really the best option for the Magic?
The Orlando Magic offense is based around Dwight drawing the defense in, while shooters get in place for high percentage jump shots. The inside-out approach is a good strategy because it opens up the floor for Howard to get his field goals once the lanes open up, but in crunch time we never see this. This is evident when the Magic transition into a pick in roll offense where Jameer Nelson or Vince Carter making plays.
Why is this?
Howard’s offensive game is too inconsistent for a six year veteran and Most Valuable Player candidate. There are times where Howard can seem unstoppable and he looks like he is coming into his own. This was evident in the series against the Atlanta Hawks, where he averaged 21 points on 27 of 32 shooting FOR THE SERIES! As he dominated, so did the Magic.
They went on to win by an average of 25 points a game.
Then there are times where he reverts to committing offensive fouls, complaining to referees or turning over the basketball. This Jekyll and Hyde type of play was clear against the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Bobcats are an elite defensive team, so they were able to contain Howard’s production. In four games, he averaged 9.7 points per game on13-for-27 shooting for the series. Those inconsistencies are a huge part of why is has not really transitioned the way that he should. At 24 years old, players have ups and downs throughout a season, and he is no exception, but as a center and focal point he becomes a liability at times.
This is a key reason why the Magic go into a pick and roll offense.
During the regular season, the Orlando Magic scored 1,283 points on 1,372 possessions in the pick and roll offense, while scoring 44 percent of the time. That percentage increased in the first two games against Atlanta in the second round.
In the first two games, the Magic scored 76 points on 61 possessions in the Pick and Roll. This creates shots for Howard and the three point shooters and wing players, but there is a problem. If the Magic get trigger happy shooting the ball they are going away for Howard and he gets lost offensively.
Howard’s inability to create shots for himself hampers Orlando when they get into a half court style of game against quality defenses such as the Boston Celtics or Charlotte Bobcats. As Howard goes, the Magic will follow. At this point during his career, the Magic should not struggle down the stretch of games as much as they do. He should be able to call for the ball and make a move that will challenge a defense.
During his career, Howard averages 17.5 points per game. In the 2009-2010 campaign he averaged 18.6 points a game. Those are respectable numbers, but Howard had just come off of two consecutive seasons of 20 plus points game. There are games where Dwight can score 24 points and add 18 rebounds.
On the other hand, there are moments where he can score seven points and seven rebounds just as he did in Game three against Boston.
In 82 games this season, Dwight has scored less than 10 points in nine contest and less than 20 points in 37 games. During the regular season, the Magic are able to get away with that because elite competition is spread out throughout the season.
During the playoffs, your level of play must increase in all aspects. When you look at the last three seasons it looks as if he has done that, but when you look at it much deeper, has he really taken heed to the tutelage of Patrick Ewing?
Over the last three seasons, Howard has scored less than 20 points in 122 games out of a possible 243 games. That is just over 50 percent. By no means is offense the whole story. Defensively Howard’s impact is irreplaceable for Orlando.
He has won the Defensive Player of the Year award two consecutive years and the Magic have reaped the rewards of that. They have been an elite defensive team over the last two seasons. Their rotations are easier because Howard is there to protect the rim and block multiple attempts at the basket.
Dwight Howard's rebounding numbers are also phenomenal. Dwight has averaged at least 12 rebounds the last five years and has led the league in that category during the last three seasons. All of these numbers say that Howard is superstar who can lead his team to a championship. After leading the Magic to the Finals in 2009 the strides that he was supposed to take in 2010 was supposed to put Howard and the Magic over the top. Unfortunately, his game is not polished enough to do so.
Howard's scoring must increase if he wants to make up for his bad free throw shooting, which is a liability. In games four through six, Howard had 32, 21, and 28 points respectively. Games four and five were victories in which Howard shot a combined 13-26 at the line. In game six, which was a loss, Howard shot 6-for-12 at the charity stripe. If he really wants to make defenses pay, his arsenal must improve.
There are too many times we see Howard shut down by one defender. A man of his stature and athleticism should be able to average 30 points and 15 rebounds with no problem. That just is not the case.
Howard is still young, and has years ahead of him that we as fans probably cannot even fathom, but he must take the time to work on his game and take it to the next level, before this window of opportunity passes the Magic by.