Dwight Howard has never quite been the same player since his back surgery in 2012. As a snapshot, look at his PER the three years before in Orlando were 24, 26.1, and 24.2; the four years since it has been 19.3, 21.4, 19.2, and 18.9. Those are still strong numbers, but not the dominant numbers we had seen in Orlando. He hasn’t looked like a No. 1 offensive option anymore, and he’s also battled knee and other issues that had him missing 52 games the past two seasons in Houston.
Howard is looking to change all that, to restore his reputation in Atlanta.
“My back hasn’t been an issue, and I don’t think I’ll ever have an issue out of my back for the rest of my career,” he said without pause.
Even if he is healthy — and that remains a big “if,” everyone needs to see it — the question becomes will he buy into the Hawks selfless system? The Hawks success the past couple years has been based on team play, on moving and sharing the ball, on everyone accepting their role. Can Howard do that? Can he focus on defending and rebounding and not pout if he doesn’t get 15 post touches a game? Last season he led the NBA post touches, was second in the league in paint touches, and still said he didn’t get enough. When he gets them, the ball stops. Do that in Atlanta and the team takes a step backwards.
Maybe Howard has grown up and moved on, maybe he has become humble, maybe he can lead the Hawks and have them in that second tier in the East. But at this point, we all need to see it. We’ve all heard Howard say the right things before. Actions, not words.