Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Third in a three-part series, I’m going to analyze this year’s playoff performances of several Orlando Magic players. These posts will be offense-centric, given that I will be writing up player evaluations next week, so I’ll reserve analysis on the defense of Dwight Howard – for example — until then.
The aforementioned Howard.
It was an interesting postseason for the one nicknamed “Superman.”
Perhaps this statement is off-based, and it might be, but it’s amazing how much criticism Howard endures as a player of his stature. Howard is, without a doubt, a top five player in the NBA, yet is almost roundly criticized for what he can’t do rather than praised for what he can do. It is what it is.
|vs. Charlotte Bobcats||MP||PPG||RPG||APG||BPG||FG%|
Superman is grounded
For instance, did Howard play well against the Charlotte Bobcats?
Depends on who you ask.
It’s true that Howard had a difficult time staying on the floor against the Bobcats in the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs, given that he was committing ticky-tack fouls left and right. For whatever reason, Howard was getting too frustrated and kept allowing his emotions to get the best of him. Because of these factors, Howard’s stats in the first round were rather pedestrian for his standards because he played limited minutes in each game of the series.
With all that said, though, Howard’s impact against Charlotte when he was on the floor was enormous … especially on the defensive end. More often than not, the ‘playing like a man possessed’ phrase is attributed to a player when he’s playing well on offense. For Howard, however, he was playing like a man possessed defensively as the Bobcats continued to attack the rim, in hopes of getting him in foul trouble and taking him out of the game. Charlotte succeeded in doing so but paid a heavy price, as Howard blocked shots with great frequency and set franchise playoff records in the process.
So in that sense, Howard did play well, even if he didn’t do much on offense and couldn’t stay on the court for longer than 29 minutes in a game.
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A beast unleashed
Fortunately for Howard, against the Atlanta Hawks, he was able to show everyone what he could do offensively.
To put it simply, Howard was a super freak on offense against the Hawks. Al Horford, Zaza Pachulia, Jason Collins, and Randolph Morris had little to no chance defensively against Howard. The Magic predominantly ran 4-out/1-in offensive sets for Howard, as well as 1/5 pick and rolls with Jameer Nelson. From these plays, Howard had a field day against Atlanta. For the series, Howard shot 27-of-32 from the field and had an absurd True Shooting Percentage of .765 percent. Efficiency at its best.
Dunks and layups were the norm for Howard against the Hawks, but also righty and lefty hooks too. Howard is no longer the one-dimensional player on offense he used to be several years ago. Offensively, Howard is able to score in a variety of ways and Atlanta found out first-hand how good he can be when he has a thorough advantage against his opponent.
Game 3 was a perfect example of Howard’s progression on offense. All six of his field goals were hook shots — no dunks and no layups.
Plus, Howard had a major influence in the Hawks’ struggles offensively. Joe Johnson, more than anyone else for Atlanta, suffered the most, as he drifted on the perimeter and rarely attacked the basket because of Howard’s presence in the lane. More often than not, Johnson and the remainder of the players for the Hawks settled into trying to beat the Magic in a jump-shooting duel and got swept, as a result.
Needless to say, Howard was a monster in the series.
|vs. Boston Celtics||MP||PPG||RPG||APG||BPG||FG%|
Besting familiar foes
Perhaps the most encouraging snippet to take away from the playoffs with Howard was that he was able to succeed on offense a majority of the time against Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace, two players that have historically been able to slow down the big fella and do it in different ways. Perkins uses his lower-body strength to try to push Howard out of his comfort zone on the low block and force him to attempt awkward hook shots outside of his range. Wallace, on the other hand, pokes and prods at Howard to try to get him to commit offensive fouls, as well as attempt to frustrate him mentally.
Granted, there were times when Perkins and Wallace were able to cause Howard to struggle offensively. But unlike last year in the postseason, Howard was able to dominate on offense against the Celtics for long stretches of time. The great thing for Howard is that he diversified his approach offensively and because his low post game continues to progress, he’s starting to score more against Perkins and Wallace. One thing that Howard has been able to adjust in his game is that he’s using his finesse in the post more to get around Perkins and Wallace to score. In the past, Howard tried to power his way to the basket with his strength but Perkins and Wallace were able to hold their position. Another thing Howard was able to do was generate his offense in pick and rolls. This is something head coach Stan Van Gundy probably should have done from the get-go for Howard, but better late than never. Again, because Howard can use his speed and athleticism, he was able to score almost at will when he rolled to the basket and received a pass from Nelson.
Defensively, Howard made his usual impact against Boston, making it tougher for them to score at the rim by altering and blocking shots whenever possible. Nevertheless, the one item that should be noted from Howard’s series against the Celtics was his progression on offense. Slowly but surely, Howard is getting to a point where he’s becoming dominant offensively against any team in the NBA. Out of everyone in the league, aside from Yao Ming, Perkins has always been regarded as the player that can slow down or even stop Howard on offense. Unfortunately for Perkins (Wallace, too), that is no longer the case. Plus, with recent news that Howard will be working with Hakeem Olajuwon, there’s no telling how much he will improve offensively. From his rookie year to now, Howard has improved incrementally in the low post each season. In particular, Howard’s touch around the basket, footwork, ability to distribute the basketball out of the post, and other skills have become more refined.
People talk about Orlando’s need for an elite wing player or a traditional power forward to pair with Howard. The thing is, if the Magic want to win a championship in the next couple of years, Howard has to be dominant on both ends of the floor. The good news for Magic fans is that he’s close to getting to that point. Closer than he’s ever been in his career. Given that Howard hasn’t reached his peak yet, next year may be Howard’s best season yet. Everyone always talks about Howard’s MVP candidacy and such, and there’s no doubt that if he performs like he did in the playoffs aside from his struggles against the Bobcats, he’ll be a frontrunner for the award alongside LeBron James. Ultimately, it depends on how much more responsibility Van Gundy gives Howard on offense because more opportunities will likely lead to better stats. That’ll determine not only Howard’s individual accolades but it’ll go a long way in determining Orlando’s chances of winning a title sooner rather than later.
Make no mistake, the championship window is open for the Magic but they’ll need to strike while the iron is hot. In other words, strike while Howard gets closer to his zenith as a player.