Photo by Fernando Medina
Dwight Howard is the most valuable player for any team, and if you weren’t convinced in the regular season, take a look at his first two games of the postseason.
Dwight’s game has a gravitational pull to it. We have seen that throughout his career, but he is operating on a whole new level now.
The stats speak for themselves. Through two games, Dwight has posted 79 points and 38 rebounds. Since the merger of the ABA and NBA, he is only the fourth player to accomplish a 75/35 two-game span in the playoffs (the other players were Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). And only Elgin Baylor in 1961 amassed more points and rebounds in his first two playoff games than Dwight.
These dizzying comparisons only get compounded when you consider that this offensive output is coming from not just a “solid defensive player,” but the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Put differently, this means that a defensive specialist is doing an offensive specialist’s work. Sure, that’s what we expect from Dwight, but this is otherworldly.
That’s no surprise to Magic fans. It’s everyday conversation to talk about the way he enforces his will in the paint on both sides of the floor, but take a moment to soak in the excellence that we’re seeing from Dwight.
What we are witnessing is a man on a mission. Dwight is taking every element of his game, every characteristic that defines him, and magnifying it despite the underachieving “support” from the rest of the team.
For starters, he played all 48 minutes in Game 2 , which was the first time that he had done so in a postseason game. In fact, Dwight became the first player since Moses Malone in 1980 to play 48 minutes, put up at least 30 points and 15 rebounds, and shoot over 60 percent from the field in a playoff game.
What did he do with those minutes besides score? He got to the free-throw line a lot.
In the regular season, Dwight led the league by getting fouled just over nine times per game. In the first two games combined he was fouled 31 times, far surpassing a category that he already sat atop of.
These fouls are partially the result of attacking the basket, but the biggest figure that stands out is the offensive rebounding for the Magic. Orlando tallied 33 offensive boards in the first two games which led to 43 second chance points, a staggering number by anyone’s standards.
So we’re talking about a guy who is flat out doing it all. It’s easy to say from a distance that Dwight is putting this Orlando team on his back and playing great basketball. But when you take a closer look at the numbers, it’s actually quite shell-shocking.
Just as Dwight’s goodness has been magnified in the postseason, though, so has the recurring struggle for his teammates to bury the three-ball.
I wrote earlier this year about the importance of the three-pointer for this Magic team, and how regardless of how Dwight plays, they need to be successful from deep.
The two go hand in hand, in my estimation. You just can’t have one without the other in this type of program. Proof of that is when your three-time Defensive Player of the Year scores 46 points and you still find a way to lose to Atlanta. With that in mind, take a look at the three-point assault numbers from the postseason.
The Magic scored 105.7 points per 100 possessions in the regular season, and in the first two games of the playoffs they have only scored 98.9 per 100 possessions. The discrepancy can be adequately attributed to the lack of three-point shooting. During the regular season, the Magic led the NBA in getting 28 percent of their offense from deep. Thus far in the playoffs, they only get about 18 percent. That’s a big fall off from a team who I say “lives and dies by the three ball.”
Put differently, the Magic are short about 10 percent of their offense at the moment. They have to get that back. Maybe not against Atlanta, but certainly against Chicago. I write that with one hand as I knock on wood with the other.
There are other factors that contribute to this Magic team being marginalized as well, but I don’t think you can ignore the fact that they will have to flat out shoot better to win games moving forward. Dwight is going to get his, as we’ve seen. It will be extremely unsettling for him to continue posting numbers at this clip en route to an early playoff exit. There does not seem to be one go-to guy who is going to change things on offense besides Dwight, so the answer, it seems, is to figure out a way to move the ball quickly and knock down the triple.
We know these things. Stan Van Gundy knows these things. The players might even know these things. It just needs to be executed.
Again, you could take any single element of Dwight’s postseason performance and call it great. League leading defense, historic offensive output, and a gravitational pull that brings all eyes (and hands) to him in the post are not three things that any one player should have.
Kanye West said it best, “No one man should have all that power.”
Well, Dwight does, and it would be a shame to miss an opportunity to ride that power to another NBA championship series berth.