Watching the Dwight Howard scouting video that DraftExpress put together exemplifies why he is both so coveted by NBA front offices and yet so often derided by fans.
And it was strictly focused on what happened on the court - there was no delving into the widespread questions about his maturity.
It's not only that the video highlights both his strengths and weaknesses as DraftExpress normally does in their scouting reports, but also that the video clips used as evidence of his strengths ultimately attest to the type of basketball weaknesses that can erode team chemistry.
A few examples that really stood out to me in the 18-minute video:
- Drop step (2:44): Among the biggest criticisms of Howard's game has always been his post moves or lack thereof. This scouting report (rightly) adds some nuance to that critique: "Doesn't use [his drop step] enough but is capable of knocking his defender off of his spot..." There's little question that he's a limited offensive player in that he doesn't have much range beyond the semi-circle marking the restricted area and his free throw shooting struggles have been well-publicized. But when he's focused on simply dominating his man, there isn't any center in the game better.
- P/R finisher (3:42): The video notes that Howard is very effective pick and roll finisher and yet his inconsistent effort on the roll was a source of frustration for Steve Nash this season, as quoted by Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register: "It's been difficult really to get him into that game -- running into pick and rolls, diving hard, looking for the ball. We really haven't found that rhythm from him yet."
- Offensive glass (9:21): The comment "motor is not high enough but he's still tough" could easily be used to summarize everything that makes Howard so frustrating. To be fair, prior to the past two seasons when he has been hampered by injuries he has been among the league's top 10 in rebounding percentage and has among the best career offensive rebounding percentages of any active player. He's an imposing force who can dominate a game, but it's grating to watch someone with so many natural gifts seemingly not putting in full effort.
The recurring themes that seem to show up in both his strengths and weaknesses throughout that video: inconsistent effort, focus, and "motor". And even though he is clearly a productive player, it's not a stretch to say that Howard underperformed this past season for reasons that might not just suddenly correct themselves.
And honestly, as a basketball fan, those are things that can make a player really difficult to root for even if basketball logic tells you that he can help your team - is rooting for a generally likeable team that loses in the second round better than rooting for a guy who's hard to watch but can bring you closer to a title? That's probably a matter of personal taste.
But as a Warriors fan, the video brought to mind three questions:
- How much did his back problems bother her last season? Any one of the negatives highlighted in that video could be attributed to back issues, as Matt Moore of CBS Sports described back in April. And if you've ever even had a hint of back pain, you know how debilitating that can be. And chances are you weren't being banged around by seven foot professional athletes. Any of the shortcomings above - changing direction, establishing position, quickness - could be explained by back problems. They linger. The problem is that this has been a problem for two seasons now. Is this something he'll be getting over any time soon?
- Can coach Mark Jackson get the most out of him? One of the most impressive things about Jackson and his staff this past season was their ability to maximize the talent they had on the roster, even extracting the best defensive effort of David Lee's career. Would Jackson help mitigate the issues related to motor?
- How well would he fit with the Warriors personnel? A few years ago, I co-authored a piece during Free Darko's Dream Week comparing Hakeem Olajuwon's 1995 Houston Rockets as a "template" for the 2010 Orlando Magic. I was reminded of that while watching the DraftExpress video for two reasons. First, what was critiqued as being "too much finesse for his size" was in part Howard trying to execute the moves that he had picked up from Olajuwon just before that piece was published.
But second, both of those teams - and, as mentioned, the 1995 Shaq-led Magic team that played the Rockets in the finals - surrounded their dominant center with shooters. It's not at all a stretch to say that the perimeter players that the Warriors would surround Howard with are better than what the Magic surrounded him with in 2010. The whole point of that post, and in fact the concluding sentence, was that the 2010 Magic did operate on a similar logic as the 1995 Rockets but simply weren't as good position-by-position. It's really not difficult to imagine the Warriors being somewhere in between, even if Howard continues to underperform next season.
Most of us have a pretty good sense of what Howard is capable of: by any reasonable measure, he's worth all of this hype in terms of what he can bring a team. But the biggest takeaway from me is that last point - he could really excel with the Warriors.