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This season, Dwight Howard is no longer wearing the Houston Rockets uniform, he signed a three-year 70.5 million dollar contract to join the Atlanta Hawks. Howard averaged 13.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game last season. Any center who averages these numbers while only getting 8.5 shot attempts per game would usually be a sought after asset for fans of most teams, but not Howard. Most fans would respond to that statement by saying phrases like “We don’t need this BUM, I don’t want this SOFT dude on my squad, why would we sign him, dude is pure TRASH.” Why are adjectives like bum, soft, and trash used to describe Howard? When and why did the former Defensive Player of the Year become the NBA fan’s punching bag?
Howard was the #1 overall pick out of high school in the 2004 NBA draft to the Orlando Magic. A center with a goofy personality going #1 overall to Orlando of course brought up natural comparisons to Shaquille O’Neal. O’Neal is a Hall of Famer, who is arguably the most dominant player of all time. Howard started his career with an uphill battle with people expecting him to be the next Shaq.
Howard did not fold under the expectations becoming a great player by his third year in the league. He led the Magic to the playoffs while averaging 17.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 1.9 blocks per game and shot 60% from the field. Howard continued to get better on both sides of the floor being a consistent first option on offense and dominating on defense. The Orlando Magic found themselves in the NBA Finals just two years later, not many players can say they led a team to the NBA finals, let alone by their fifth season in the league.
During the 2008-09 season, Howard averaged 20.6 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.9 blocks per game and shot 57% from the field. He won Defensive Player of the Year and finished in the top five for the Most Valuable Player Award. Also Howard and the Magic beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to get to the NBA Finals that year. The Magic lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. Even though his team fell just short of the ultimate goal, the world was now aware of the force Howard was. Howard continued to play well on both sides of the ball finishing in the top five in MVP voting four times and winning three Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Howard had become a top five NBA player at that time and a top 10 defensive player all-time. Despite his individual success, the Magic would not get back to the NBA Finals. This may have caused some issues between him and coach Stan Van Gundy. Their relationship seemed to be strained and this led to the moment where I believe the NBA world turned on Dwight Howard.
The look on Van Gundy’s face says it all. Van Gundy believed that the playful center went to upper management asking them to fire him. Right after he said that, Howard came in trying to be affectionate. It looked disingenuous to say the least. Things went downhill from there. Both Van Gundy and Howard ended up leaving Orlando. Howard left via a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers. An elite big man going from Orlando to LA, sounds familiar. Howard just could not avoid the O’Neal comparisons.
The former first rounder only spent one season in LA, a season that most Lakers fans want to forget. It was actually the last season the Lakers were competitively relevant. Howard played most of that season with multiple injuries. He was not the only one battling injuries as Steve Nash’s body broke down and Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles tendon late in the season. Even with all those issues, the blame fell on Howard as he averaged 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds (led the league in rebounds that season), and 2.4 blocks per game. Despite the Lakers organization and fans attempts to get him to stay, Howard moved on to the Houston Rockets that offseason.
For the next three seasons, he helped get the Rockets to the playoffs. The Rockets made it to the Western Conference Finals during the 2014-15 season. Howard played great during those playoffs averaging 16.4 points, 14 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. This past season his frustration grew with his lack of touches on offense and he moved on to Atlanta.
So far this season, the Georgia native is having a good season for his hometown Atlanta Hawks. Howard is averaging 13.4 points and 12. 8 rebounds per game while shooting 64% from the field. Howard is no longer the force he once was but has definitely helped the Hawks, who are currently 5th in the Eastern Conference standings but have a very realistic shot at getting the 4th seed and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Dwight Howard may be the most underrated player of all time. When you look at all his accomplishments and stats then read and listen to the way fans view him, things just don’t match up. I also believe it is time for us to change the way we look at or judge him. We have held him to the standards of 1990’s post up centers, in particular Shaquille O’Neal and that style of play is no longer considered efficient. Howard will never be an offensive force like O’Neal but he is a better defensive player and rebounder than the “Diesel” was. Howard has led the league in rebounds per game five times and blocks per game two times. O’Neal did not accomplish either feat once during his career. Don’t get me wrong the Hall of Fame center is the better player but these facts should be pointed out. Howard is a future first ballot Hall of Famer and basketball fans need to appreciate him for who he is.