The thing about the Houston Rockets we love to dissect and focus on more than anything is the way James Harden dominates this team, maybe a bit too much, and what does it mean for Jeremy Lin. But this season was also about Dwight Howard finding a comfort zone in the NBA once again, and although he isn’t the main face of the team and isn’t running the show, it’s safe to say he made the right choice through the free agency bonanza of last summer.
The numbers aren’t special, not for Howard: He averaged 18.3 points and 12.2 rebounds per game to go with 1.8 blocks a night. That’s his lowest blocking numbers since the 2005-2006 season, although his minutes dropped to 33.7 a night, the fewest he has played since his rookie season. The Rockets need Howard to be great, potentially, but they have a different player to make them good and carry the load.
This might be just fine with Howard, who didn’t enjoy, to say the least, his time in Los Angeles. Maybe it taught him a lesson. There will be many versions on why things failed for him as a Laker, and it has something to do with him as a person but also with Kobe Bryant and the whole culture for a team and franchise that simply isn’t as great as it used to be. Everyone has an opinion about how Howard should have handled himself: More humbly, more aggressively. It doesn’t matter. He wanted out, and Houston seems to be a very good fit.
He is no longer the best rim protector in the land, although numbers might be misleading. The Rockets are very bad on the perimeter individually and as a team, which makes it a lot easier to try and score on Howard. He still is one of the best big men in that area, allowing players to shoot 47.8% against him on 8.8 field goal attempts per game, which means he isn’t getting a whole lot of blocking from the guys he’s playing with.
But Howard seems happier, and maybe even a better player. He isn’t the first option most of the time on an offense that is dominated by Harden holding on to the ball and making all the decisions, but he has guys like Lin and Parsons (along with Harden) who have no problem feeding him the ball in the paint or constantly looking for him on the fast breaks, with Howard enjoying a much younger and athletic set of teammates this season to make him look good.
Should the Rockets be using Howard more? It all depends on the circumstances. One thing that seems to be a problem with McHale is his inability to adjust. He has a plan going in, which usually means James Harden doing everything, and can’t chance if things run into a wall, unless he’s forced into it. Robin Lopez is a very good rim protector, but Howard makes him look mediocre when they meet. We’re not saying trying to feed every ball to Howard against the Blazers, but changing things up a bit and moving the ball a little bit to the inside won’t hurt them at all.