At one point, Dwight Howard was a force. His style of play has been one similar to all-time great big men, as he dominated the game with power that hadn’t been seen since Shaquille O’Neal‘s prime with the Lakers and Magic. 

The nickname of Superman is no more, and Howard has been widdled down as the years progressed–so much so that he’s now labeled soft.

His stint with the Houston Rockets just made everything worse, and Howard had some of the worst seasons of his career watching James Harden pound the air out of the basketball. However, a new time is coming, and Howard is returning to his hometown of Atlanta to bring life back into his career with the Hawks.

First, let’s tackle what went wrong with the Rockets and why Dwight’s production plummetted. To start, the system was terrible. Over his three seasons with the organization, little to no emphasis was placed on defense, and that just so happens to be the part of the floor where Howard makes most of his impact. They never finished higher than 17th in points per game allowed, but their team was so loaded offensively that they would run opponents out of the gym–a huge reason why they had never sustained success in the playoffs. When Houston was forced to lock up, they couldn’t.

Despite that, Howard still managed to be an effective rim protector, and his defensive rating per 100 possessions was 102 over the last three season; that makes him a top-15 player in that category, according to Basketball-Reference. Moving to Atlanta was perfect because Dwight fits in the system much better, and the Hawks finished second–yes, second–in defensive efficiency last season.

He’s not the athlete that he once was, but Howard still hits the defensive boards at a tremendous rate and remains a consistent shot blocker and shot-changer. Essentially, he’ll be filling the void left by Al Horford and placing more emphasis on protecting the rim.

On the offensive side, Howard can’t do much in the low-post, but there are other ways to utilize him. He’s still a big target with decent athleticism, making pick-and-roll and alley-oop plays are his bread and butter. Houston hardly gave Howard the time of day, and he averaged less than ten shot attempts per game for just the second time in his career–I will acknowledge that the Rockets aren’t totally at fault and Howard should’ve demanded the ball more.

Shifting into a Budenholzer offense means a lot more ball movement, and Atlanta finished second in assists per game last season with 25.6. Simply put, they feed whoever’s open, and if Howard gives them a target in the post, they’ll willingly dump it off to him. With Dennis Schroder set to take over as the starting point guard, the young playmaker will look to his veteran teammates if he gets caught in trouble. And Howard is now a veteran teammate.

These next few years are make or break for Dwight Howard, and if the Atlanta Hawks want to become a feared team again, they need to incorporate Howard as often as possible.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted

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