The Evolving Image of Dwight Howard
USA Today Sports
Perception is often looked at as a concrete entity in the realm of sports, with the shifting of a viewpoint shared by millions of people comparable to trying to move a mountain with a Tonka truck. But perception is malleable, if only in a limited sense. There is, after all, one person on the planet that can change the way an athlete is looked at for the better or worse – the athlete himself.
This was a lesson Dwight Howard learned a day late and a dollar short, turning him into a villain of sorts among NBA followers in recent years. Indecision and naivete eventually cost Howard the hearts of many, and having to play in Los Angeles with sky-high expectations and a healing back certainly didn’t help. What remained of a once colossal figure in Orlando – one who averaged 20.6 points, 13.9 boards and 2.5 blocks a night on 59% shooting with three Defensive Player of the Year awards from 2008 to 2012 – was an underperforming, target of many criticisms from wanting to be the modern-day Shaquille O’Neal to being a selfish, non-winner and everything in between.
From the L.A. Times’s Bill Plaschke following Dwight’s signing with Houston this summer:
“The Lakers didn’t lose a center, they dodged a bullet… It’s a good day for the Houston Rockets, but a great day for the Lakers, who will watch Howard walk to the Rockets for less money, lower expectations, and probably four more years of mediocrity.”
Plashchke wasn’t alone, as a popular view of Howard at the time was that the burden he brought along to whatever team signed him – as it turned out, Houston – outweighed his deteriorated positives on the basketball court. Dwight did have his fair share of struggles in Tinsel Town, and to differentiate the blame on his back issues versus his effort on a nightly basis would be impossible.
The only thing left to do was for Dwight to shape his outlook into one he could be proud of. In a new city and new team, this would have to start on the basketball court. His personality and identity have been in place for years, and aren’t things easily changed. This is unlike his down year as a Laker, a clear outlier considering his complete domination in years prior. Past the quarter mark of the 2013-14 NBA season, Dwight has already begun crafting his new sculpture of who was once undoubtedly the world’s best center. And he isn’t too far from reclaiming the reputation he lost in just a year’s time.
Following what can be labelled has a solid first month as a Houston Rocket, (which arguably could have been better had head coach Kevin McHale not started Dwight at the four spot alongside Omer Asik for a number of games) Howard has erupted in the month of December, a convincing bid for the alpha dog role on the team over James Harden. In 13 games during December, Howard has averaged 19.8 points and 14.3 rebounds on 60% shooting from the field in less than 34 minutes of action a night. It’s been a sort of resurrection for Dwight, with his recent play reminiscent of his unstoppable days in Orlando before the back ailment hindered his athleticism.
Howard’s second jumping is as explosive as ever, his scoring in the post unstoppable in single coverage and his defensive impact is as profound as it’s been since his Defensive Player of the Year three-peat. Dwight unleashed his full arsenal with Rockets leading scorer James Harden out for two games, scoring 35 points and grabbing 19 boards against the Detroit Pistons and their enormous front court and 29 points, 15 rebounds on the Dallas Mavericks.
Dwight Howard has yet to become the league-wide favorite he once was, and perhaps he may never regain this widespread fandom. Whatever doubts concerning Howard’s immaturity, childish antics and mentality that still remain – they have their place. But as for his basketball this season, it has been unimpeachable.