No current NBA player is harder to take seriously than Dwight Howard.
One man’s opinion, of course, and an easy statement to make from a distance, not to mention one that packs a whole lot of implications. Let me get some of those out of the way now: Yes, I take Dwight less seriously than I do attention sluts with nicknames like Swish and Swaggy, because those guys are caricatures first and mediocre players second, mostly harmless distractions in a league that’s always been good about offering up such characters. And yes, I take Dwight less seriously than I do the last guy on the bench in Milwaukee or Orlando or Utah, the essentially nameless/faceless dude clinging to the NBA dream who, to the vast majority of us NBA watchers, does not really matter at all.
But Dwight matters. Or he’s supposed to, anyway. And that’s why I find his whole existence to be just so silly.
Last season, his 10th in the League and his first with Houston—his third team in as many years, of course—Dwight Howard averaged 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. Those numbers line up almost identically with his career averages, a fact made more impressive by the knowledge that his 33.7 minutes per were the lowest since his rookie year. He shot 59 percent from the floor and blocked 1.8 shots per game. He did all this on a team that won 54 games in the Southwest, good for the fifth best record in the League. His 21.3 PER was identical to Tim Duncan’s, and the 18th best in the NBA.
In other words, a context-free statistical assessment of 28-year-old Dwight Howard places him firmly among the League’s top-20 players, and on a very short list of its most impactful post performers. When healthy—he managed to appear in 71 games last season—he’s still, by measures both tangible and not, one of the most effective players in the game.
The offcourt stuff…listen, we’re not going to get into that here, but suffice it to say Dwight’s ability to find new and exciting ways to constantly remind us of the absurdity of his God’s-chosen-basketball-ambassador talk is impressive in all the wrong ways.
But the main problem with Dwight Howard is that he’s Dwight Howard. The problem is there’s so much self-inflicted absurdity where this guy is concerned, his on-court contributions somehow add up to less than their actual sum. Every geometry-defying free-throw attempt, every fit of faux-tough-guy posturing, every flex or smile or grimace reminds us of how unserious Dwight Howard really is.
Maybe it comes down to the fact that he hasn’t gotten better. I mean, he has, of course—he’s “added pieces to his game,” as we’ve heard for countless offseasons now, and given the chance to practice post moves with Hakeem, how could he not?—but the payoff has been essentially nil. He averaged 21 and 14 in leading (well, statistically anyway) the matchup-nightmare ’09 Magic all the way to the Finals, and two seasons later, in his final healthy season in Orlando, he put up a career-best 23 ppg.
And what has it gotten him? It’s only fair, of course, to acknowledge the health issues that have hampered him the past three seasons, but Dwight’s penchant for moronic words and deeds long ago cost him the benefit of the doubt. While his approximate rivals for true elite status—LeBron, the Kevins, Chris and Blake—have undeniably improved themselves on an almost annual basis, there is no real evidence that Dwight has consistently cared enough to do the same.
If even Dwight can’t seem to take himself seriously, how the hell could we?
We enter the 2014-15 season with probably four legitimate title contenders, and perhaps three or four more depending on the physical health and/or mental well-being of a handful of guys in Chicago, Indiana and Houston. Which is to admit that, yes, if Dwight Howard’s back holds up, and if he and James Harden can magically acquire the leadership gene neither appears to have been born with, then yes, the Rockets might be good enough to challenge for a Championship, and our national dream of Daryl Morey finally having something to be legitimately smug about might at long last come true.
But more likely, Dwight will put up some really impressive numbers, and he won’t lead in any meaningful sense, and he’ll do and/or say some needlessly stupid shit along the way, and the Rockets will go out in the second round, and we’ll be back here next year wondering if he’s still a top-20 guy (probably) and statistically that much more sure he’s a future Hall of Famer, and no more likely to take him anymore seriously than he’s given us any reason to thus far.
|#SLAMTop50 Players 2014|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.