Can Dwight Howard Revive His Career With the Atlanta Hawks?

Bryan Brandom
(Photo: Getty Images)

Since Dwight Howard demanded a trade from the Orlando Magic, the game of the three-time Defensive Player of the Year as well as the public's opinion of him have declined, the latter at a much more precipitous rate.

And those declines culminated in an ugly 2015-16 Houston Rockets season in which a talented squad managed just 41 wins and snuck into the playoffs on the last day of the season. It's no secret that Howard's off- and on-court relationships with James Harden led to an acrimonious clubhouse and that the team lobbied for more playing time for Howard's backup Clint Capela.

It's also no secret that Howard overvalues his low-post scoring game and very much dislikes playing the roll man in the pick-and-roll—an unfortunate preference considering what a beast of a dive man he is when he cares to be.

But now he's a member of the Atlanta Hawks, a team that over the years mastered the sort of fast, free-flowing offense that doesn't allow for many post touches slowing them down. In his first game with his hometown team, Howard became the player his in-hiding supporters hoped he'd become over the last half decade—the absolute king of anything or anyone who dares enter his paint, and someone who gets his offense in the flow of the game.

Despite finishing second on his team in minutes during the Hawks' 114-99 victory over the Washington Wizards, Howard shot just nine times—fourth on the team—for 11 points to go with a beastly 19 rebounds (seven offensive), two assists, and three blocks.

He even showed some competence as a fulcrum in the high post, an important piece of the Hawks' offense.

As you can see, Howard still got a handful of post touches and did well with them, but his pursuit of offensive rebounds is easily the most impressive part of his performance.

Howard's game is the virtual opposite of that of Al Horford, whom the Hawks lost to the Boston Celtics in free agency last season. But that's not necessarily a bad thing—last season Atlanta was one of the worst rebounding teams in the league; in their conference semifinals sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Horford collected five fewer rebounds than Howard gathered on Thursday night alone. And the Hawks have no shortage of bigs who can shoot, including Paul Millsap (28 points, seven rebounds, six assists), Mike Muscala, and Kris Humphries, who's improving from outside.

If the 31-year-old Howard can remain content with being a third or fourth option on offense while focusing his energy on rebounding and protecting the paint, he can return to the elite center mantel, and the Hawks can be a force to be reckoned with come the playoffs.