According to the Associated Press, Dwight Howard has joined LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in being undecided about whether or not he will play in the world championship games this summer.
Unlike James and Wade, Howard will not have to make a free agency decision this summer, but he is thinking of skipping the games anyways. When asked about his participation in the games after the Magic’s end-of-the season meeting, Howard said “I haven’t decided what I want to do,” and went on to say that he was “just going to get some rest and think about [the games] later on.”
Howard was effective if not dominant on the 2006 World Championship team, the 2007 Olympic qualifying team, and the 2008 Olympic team.
With the shorter three-point line and trapezoidal lane used in FIBA-rules play, Howard was rarely used in post-up situations. Even so, his defense and rebounding were a definite asset to the US team, and his ability to move without the ball and finish resoundingly made him deadly while playing alongside the likes of James, Wade, and Kobe Bryant.
There’s no doubt that the US National team would miss what Howard brings to the table if he does decide to skip the world championships. The more interesting question may be if participating in the championships would be the best thing for Howard’s development. After the 2010 playoffs, it’s clear that Howard still has some very serious holes in his game, and can be contained if his opponents play him physically in the paint and keep him from establishing deep position.
Howard has success against defenders like Kendrick Perkins when he moves off the ball and plays the catch-and-dunk game, either in pick-and-roll situations or running the floor in transition. When Howard tries to post up quality post defenders in one-on-one situations, he isn’t nearly as effective.
If Howard decides to play with Team USA this summer, he’ll be spending most of his time working without the ball in his hands and learning how to use off-ball movement to get himself easy opportunities; if he gets comfortable enough playing that style, he could dominate the game against quality defenses without needed the ball tossed to him on the block at all.
On the other hand, Howard could skip the world championships, and instead of trying to find opportunities in Team USA’s perimeter-oriented offense, he could go to a big man camp or work with a personal coach and spend the summer working on his post moves.
Howard’s become pretty comfortable with his running hook shots, and actually has good touch with his left hand around the basket, but still needs to work on his footwork, his patience on the block, and develop a few counter-moves if he wants to have success in the post against defenders who can keep him from getting the deep position he wants.
It’s the classic dilemma: should a player spend most of his time shoring up his weaknesses, or spend most of his time developing new ways to use his strengths? Howard is already the best center in the league, and could easily be next season’s MVP. The only question now is what Howard will do this summer to get even better than he already is.