SLAMonline Top 50: Josh Howard, no. 37

by September 15, 2008

by Holly MacKenzie

Sometimes, it can be easy for a player’s performance to be overshadowed by their off court actions. Thanks in large part to his own choices; Josh Howard falls into this category. With marijuana talk and an arrest this summer as a result of drag racing, Howard (along with the entire Mavericks organization), would like to forget the second half of this year.

After starting out with a strong campaign in the first half of the season, Howard all but disappeared when 2008 arrived. That slump coincided with the trade that sent Devin Harris to New Jersey and brought Jason Kidd to the Mavericks. While much has been made of this slump, it is important to keep in mind that Howard still finished with averages of 19.9 points per and 7.0 rebounds per game for the season. On December 8th, 2007 Howard dropped a career-high 47 points on the Jazz, just another highlight in a great first half of the season that seems like forever ago. Still, with the exception of his meltdown in ’08, Howard has been a cornerstone on the Mavs roster.

While many can only shake their heads at some of the choices Howard has made, one thing that is still crystal-clear is how he (a graduate from Wake Forest University, and native of Winston-Salem, NC), has earned his place on this list, just as he has earned his spot on the Dallas roster and in the NBA itself. Despite being only the second player in ACC history to rack up 1000 points, 500 rebounds, 200 assists, 200 steals, 100 blocks, and 100 three-pointers, he dropped to the 29th pick in the draft, partly due to concern over his work ethic and attitude. Howard has made sure that all of those teams that passed on him have taken an extra look. He may indulge in some activities that make David Stern’s head roll during the off season, but he is still coming at you hard when the ball drops.

Hard-nosed and intense, Howard fits the bill of the blue-collar guy that every team needs. The difference with him is the smoothness with which he gets the job done. Don’t be fooled, Howard knows the art of the hustle and he owns it, diving for loose balls, D-ing up with intensity that the entire team feeds off of and sprinting the length court to get easy transition points. It is the way he does it all, with a grace belying his efforts that sometimes makes him slip into the background.

Playing with Dirk Nowitzki cannot always be easy. Howard is expected to both fit into the offense seamlessly and not demand a lot of attention or plays being run through him, yet still produce enough to take a load off of Nowitzki’s heavily burdened shoulders. Howard manages to do both well, being a major contributor to the Maverick offense as well as being one of their premier perimeter defensive players.

In addition to the radio show interview during the playoffs that made everyone scratch their heads, former Mavericks coach, Avery Johnson alluded to other troubles concerning Howard when he complained of his focus being on his birthday party rather than the playoff match up at hand. Add that on the troubles this past summer and suddenly there are a lot of questions surrounding Josh Howard the person and a dark cloud that is threatening to cast a shadow over Josh the player.

One only needs to look at the fantasy basketball piece written about Howard in the Athlon Sports NBA Preview issue to see the fun for media this past season has been when it comes to Howard. “Howard’s 3-point stroke went to pot last year, but he smoked to a career-high 19.9 ppg. He also found the grass greener than ever in FT/G (4.1), RPG(7.0) and APG(2.2) columns.” Let’s hope that the focus is shifted back to his play on court this season.

The question of whether Howard’s lifestyle choices are affecting his game can only be answered by the man himself. Spending his off-season working with Coach Carlisle individually in order to be prepared for this season is a great indicator of Howard’s commitment to his game. Given that he is so forthright with everything else that is asked of him, it only makes sense that Howard does not believe his actions are hurting his career. Given that he is young, passionate and head-strong, it only makes sense that he could be wrong. This season, he will rediscover his game or the effects of his choices will start to sink in. Either way, Howard is a player who was raised to be honest and the NBA world will hear his truth. Hopefully, this season, he decides to get back to letting his game do most of the talking.

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