Archives For Dwight Howard

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

Have you ever known a thing — or a person — to be present in your life for nine years, only for them to walk out/exist no more after one June night? Well, that’s the reality of what happened to Hawks fans with Al Horford this summer — the All-Star center who left the only professional team he has ever known to join the Boston Celtics.

Horford was a constant in Atlanta ever since the day he was selected by the Hawks with the third overall pick in 2007, and the thought of him not being a part of the pre game player announcements (and part of the Hawks as a whole, of course) is certainly an odd thing to think about now, let alone actually seeing (or not seeing him in this case) the reality of situation on opening night.

Normally the thought of Al Horford leaving Atlanta would have been near catastrophic as the Hawks aren’t normally known for attracting the top free agents, thus filling the void Horford left (who certainly ranks among the better centers in the league) would’ve proved very difficult. But the Hawks did not leave anything to chance in an unpredictable free agency and decided to bring a center on board, even before Horford announced his intentions to sign with the Celtics.

But the Hawks didn’t just acquire any center, they acquired a high profile center — at least in terms of his name — in Dwight Howard. While the Hawks aren’t getting the best version of Dwight Howard, he was a very big fish for the Hawks to catch — the Hawks don’t normally sign players with a name as big as Dwight Howard’s. But what his signature provided the Hawks with was a very decent safety net in the event Horford did choose to leave, which he ultimately did. With Dwight’s signature agreed upon, losing Horford was not as catastrophic as it could’ve been.

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(Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

(Source: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

Normally I’d begin a column with some sort of introductory paragraph, loosely relating to the general topic of the column — in some sort of way — before getting on with the topic itself. Today I don’t feel like doing that, so we’re going to just jump straight into it — no foreplay today…

Last night the Atlanta Hawks’ regular season schedule was released, and there’s much to dissect and discuss.

The Hawks will have the benefit of beginning their season at home on October 27th against a division rival, the Washington Wizards — one of three games the Hawks will contest in October before the season shifts into gear in November.

We’re going to go through each month individually, but before we do there are some significant dates and items to mention:

  • The oh-so awaited return of Al Horford (and the Boston Celtics) to Atlanta is January 13th, which is way too long to wait, in my opinion. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN and it should be a fantastic game. Jeff Teague will make his Atlanta return on March 15th, but the Hawks and Pacers will meet in Indiana before that on November 27th. Atlanta’s marquee signing, Dwight Howard, will make his return to Houston on February 2nd, and I can’t imagine he’ll receive a video tribute or a warm reception from Houston and their fans respectively. The Rockets roll into Atlanta early enough in the season though, November 5th.
  • Very controversially, the Hawks will not host a game on Martin Luther King Day. Instead the Hawks will travel to New York where they’ll face the Knicks on MLK Day. This has left fans incensed and very upset at this scheduling decision made by the NBA. Since I’m not from the United States, I don’t fully understand or feel the same range of emotions that a lot of Hawks fans are feeling about this decision, but I understand that this is a big deal. The guys over at Peachtree Hoops shed some light on why the Hawks not hosting an MLK is a strange occurrence.

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Feature Image: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

Many fans across the league rejoiced when they heard the news that eight time All-Star, five time First Team All-NBA, and three time Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard was coming home. Home to his native Atlanta. But as the city and the fans welcome home own of their, Atlanta cries for the loss its true son, who has left the nest after nine years.

Al Horford is gone, painting his Twitter account in green, indeed showing his intentions to sign with Boston Celtics on July 7th.

I’m still in utter disbelief. Throughout the night I tossed and turned, the Tweet announcing his next chapter embedded in my head. The moment he sent out this Tweet, you knew there was no going back DeAndre Jordan style.

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The Atlanta Hawks, historically, have had trouble acquiring star power via free agency. And in a summer where Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors shook the NBA to its core, Dwight Howard hardly seems to qualify.

 But Howard’s return to his hometown—where were first introduced to the 6-foot-10 slender teenage with a Hollywood smile in a no. 12 Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy jersey—couldn’t have come at a better time.

 The front office was unable or unwilling to come to terms with Al Horford on a long term deal, and Howard’s signing a three-year deal was good insurance for their franchise cornerstone’s eventual departure to the Boston Celtics. The move lets Atlanta remain competitive now without tying up the cap over a longer period of time.

Now, the Hawks job isn’t done. Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver still remain from the All-star foursome selected to represent Atlanta in New York a year ago. Kent Bazemore played the best basketball of his career this season and will return after signing a four-year $70 million dollar deal, and a confident Dennis Schroder steps into the starting point guard spot. But Atlanta still has a dearth of elite shot creation, and, even if Schroder takes a leap as the starting point guard, there’s still a lack of depth behind him. But perhaps Howard diving hard in pick and rolls can generate more gravity than Horford or Millsap were able to muster working from the elbows.

And though Atlanta already had a quality defense, maybe Howard’s different defensive skill set allows the team to shore up some weaknesses that appeared in the playoffs the past two seasons.

As the 2nd best defensive team in the league, you would be hard pressed to find a glaring weakness. Dwight’s biggest impact defensively will be providing rim protection for a team that ranked 2nd in rim protection field goal percentage holding a opponents to 44.9%. Atlanta also ranked first in blocks, defensive rebounds and field goal percentage defending 2 pointers. However, what we found out against bigger, longer, athletic teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers (swept) and Milwaukee Bucks (1-2 regular season series record) is that Atlanta doesn’t have the athletes to match.

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Lebron is unstoppable when he has a full head of steam headed towards the basket, but the lack of size and shot blocking ability is apparent

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Frye gets to the pain and because of his length there is no shot any Hawk has to contest.

As an individual, Dwight’s presence on the defensive end is far more imposing than Horford’s or Millsap; so opposing players are certainly more careful attempting a shot around the basket. Last season, when facing the champion Cleveland Cavaliers, Dwight’s defensive field goal percentage contesting shots less than 6 feet was 33.33%(2 games), compared to Al Horford’s 66.7%( 3 games). Watching Tristan Thompson gather several offensive rebounds for 2nd chance points throughout the semifinals was a reminder that Atlanta ranked 18th in that department, another area Howard’s 8.4 defensive rebounds per game will come in handy as opposed to Horford’s 5.5.

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Tristan Thompson out hustles entire Hawks frontcourt using his instincts and leaping ability. Two attributes Dwight uses when rebounding the ball.

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Dwight howard rebounding activity

Budenholzer will have to tweak the scheme just a tad bit in order to fully capitalize off of Dwight’s strengths by not allowing him too far away from the basket as Horford might off been at times. Now not saying Howard doesn’t have the capability to cover a guard off a pick n roll for a couple seconds, but it’s not exactly his comfort zone. Luckily for him he will be playing with a supporting cast that is instructed to wreak havoc on the perimeter in order to reduce easy driving lanes to the rim. Nevertheless, Howard is one of the best erasers in this league and has been for quiet some time.

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Howard protecting the rim

 

The former three-time Defensive Player of the Year leaves an offense first, second, and then defense third mentality in Houston for one of the best defensive coaches in the league.

The Hawks finished in the top three in defensive rating over the past two seasons. What Budenholzer has done is highly impressive, given the lack of size and rebounding capabilities on the roster, and now he has a game-changing player with the ability to shore up both of those deficiencies. Atlanta has sorely missed that imposing presence anchoring the defense, sort of similar to what Tyson Chandler meant to those Dallas Maverick teams.

Al Horford and Paul Millsap did all they could in conjunction with a perimeter group who swarmed ball handlers with pressure defense to speed offenses up and out of their comfort zone, but they still lacked great size on the frontline. Howard is a rim protecting presence who should allow defenders to scramble less, maintain the integrity of their rotations, and clean the glass.

Another important note is that due to Budenholzer’s all hands on deck philosophy, he should be able to keep Howard’s minutes in check.

Over the past couple seasons Dwight has not looked like the Superman we saw in Orlando, and much of that can be attributed to injuries (knees and back) and poor coaching philosophies he was forced to endure. However, he is not absolved of blame. Defense is all about effort and he looked disengaged at times last season. The injuries are something Atlanta is taking a risk on, but the mental stability is much more concerning. Howard discussed the situation in Houston on Inside the NBA on TNT during the playoffs.
“As a big, sometimes you want to feel a part of what’s going on,” Howard said on TNT. “If I could bring the ball up the court, shoot threes, go between the legs and do all that stuff, that would be great. But I have to rely on my teammates to get the ball. Now, there have been times where I’ve been upset and I’ve taken myself out of games in situations, and that’s on me. I have to grow to be a better player at that.”
Howard played 71 games and the entire first round, so the issue as much a mental block as physical. He averaged just 13.7 points per game, the second lowest of his career, on just 8.5 field goals a game, on a team that took 7,392 regular season threes during his tenure.

He now joins a philosophy that believes in ball movement and has shown they don’t mind playing through their bigs as Atlanta averaged the most post touches last season with 19.8 a game—two factors I’m sure played a large part in his decision. Howard will certainly find much more comfort playing with a willing passer in Dennis Schroder, especially in pick and roll situations, which will force defenses into a tough circumstance with shooters like Korver and Bazemore spotting up.

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Howard in Pick and Roll

 

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Howard rolling to rim

Schroder is much more prone to use picks to create better looks for his own scoring options. Last year he ranked third in frequency of using the pick and roll with a 54% rating, two spots above Chris Paul, and having five of his 11 points per game come from that play type. At this point in his career he is not threat to defenses shooting the ball and typically uses the likes of Millsap and Horford’s offensive prowess to his advantage. During Wednesday’s press conference Howard stated that Dennis reminds him “of a bigger Rondo.” And said that the pick and roll game with both of them will be hard to defend.

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Schroder to Horford

Howard may not be the midrange shooter that Horford was for Atlanta, but he certainly is just as effective rolling to the rim awaiting a pass from a point guard. Even with the lack of touches he this past season, Howard still shot 60% as a roll man during it all. If you have watched him long enough you understand that he’s quiet comfortable in pick and rolls, but the real questions lie in the post. We were all optimistic when he walked into los Angeles to work with all time leading scorer Kareem Abdul Jabaar, but that soon faded after he battled a bad back all season long and never quiet got in sync with Mike Dantoni. He then heads to Houston where 3-time NBA champion Kevin Mchale and the masterful footwork teachings of Hakeem Olajuwon’s awaited him, but that too never manifested.

So for Atlanta, barring any vast improvement in his low post scoring ability, Dwight is already one of the top offensive rebounders in the league, which can be a source for points, but he will be most successful in Atlanta’s offense stationed closer to the basket (he shot 69.6% from less than 5 feet last season) feeding off the playmaking ability from his teammates, rather if it’s a drive and dish or off a pick and roll. Budenholzer will still need to call his number for post ups, but idea is not to exhaust him too much by demanding he create his own offense majority of the time. Although the playing style was not in his favor last year, just 244 of his 976 points came from post ups.

Another luxury Howard now has is that this scheme also encourages interior passing between its bigs to create easier scoring opportunities—a similar scheme is currently ran on the Los Angles Clippers between Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan whenever they play two-man game from a hi-low or pick and roll setting. Millsap is a better floor spacer than Griffin, and close enough of as a passer.

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Here we see a series of clips showing Blake Griffins passing abilities in the Hi-Lo situations.

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Dwight did share time on the floor with a passing forward in Josh Smith; and Hi-Lo situations is something he’s shown no problem excelling in like Deandre Jordan.

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Millsap to Horford

Howard is now 30 years old with a history of injuries and enough drama to fill a Netflix series. The Hawks, on the court, have been a stable franchise in recent years in search of a catalyst to hit a higher ceiling. Beginning a new chapter, Howard will now wear #8 in hopes that a return to his Atlanta roots will be just what his career needed.  Recently, Howard spoke with the Atlanta Journal–Constitution about the ultimate goal in Atlanta and his motivation preparing for next season.

“I want to do whatever I can to bring a championship home,” Howard said Tuesday, “I know it’s not going to be easy. I’ve worked extremely hard this summer, every summer. I’m very motivated. I’m really ticked off about last season. I’m looking forward to coming back with a different mentality.”

 

The hopes that Al Horford would retire a Hawk are dashed. The long term future of the franchise is not, however.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Hawks have agreed to sign Atlanta’s own Dwight Howard to a three-year, $70.5 million contract and will retain Kent Bazemore for $70 million over four years. Such was not the same fate, sadly, for the most tenured Hawk.

Remove the emotional aspect of the tumultuous past couple of days and come to realize this is by no means a disaster for the Atlanta Hawks. The team rebuilt the wing corps through the draft and were able to retain breakout star Kent Bazemore. They landed the much maligned but still effective Dwight Howard without having to commit to a fourth year.

Sure, their hopes of winning a championship are very slim this season, especially so if Durant lands on an Eastern team like Boston or Miami, but all you can hope is to be a top four seed in the conference and maybe a path towards the Finals opens up. There are 30 teams competing for one trophy and it’s unrealistic to have half of the teams contending and half rebuilding; there’s always going to be middle ground.

Besides, a Millsap-Horford core proved to be in the same non-contending boat. That duo had two true opportunities to dethrone Lebron’s reign on the Eastern Conference and failed woefully each time. Subsequently, the Boss received a nice severance package and headed to greener, shamrock-filled pastures and we went to Plan B. That’s just how the business goes sometimes.

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The Atlanta Hawks rolled to their fifth consecutive victory following their 109-97 triumph over the Houston Rockets. Michael Beasley — yes, Michael Beasley of all people — led all scorers with 30 points off of the Houston bench on the second night of their back-to-back sled. The Hawks, meanwhile, were led by Al Horford’s 22 points (on 10-of-19 shooting) and nine rebounds.

A five game winning streak can only mean one thing…

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That’s right, for the first time since the very early stages of this season, the HaWWWWWks are back.

Dwight Howard and “Sticky-gate”

OK, OK. In all seriousness, this is the thing that people are actually talking about — and I guess this is what we’re calling it?

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The Atlanta Hawks may not be seen as one of the most physically intimidating teams in the league, but their mental toughness makes up for that and then some.

In December, Atlanta battled back to win 121-115 against the Houston Rockets after overcoming a 17-point deficit at halftime. Today, the Hawks fought through a dismal second quarter of nine turnover and Mike Beasley’s best game off the bench since returning to the league (30 points); but once again, that showed the true make up of this team.

“I feel like we are a much better team right now than we were before, said Al Horford, who finished with 22 points and nine rebounds. “We are much more focused, our defense is really good and we are starting to put it together on the offensive end.” Continue Reading…

With how good the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, and San Antonio Spurs often are, it is hard for road teams from the East to come into Texas and expect any success. The Hawks are not an exception to that, but Atlanta grinded out a rare victory in the Lone Star state, beating the Rockets 104-97. The Hawks now sit at 19-7 and have now won 14 of their last 16 games.

Atlanta managed to pull it out in the end thanks to some nice passing and solid execution. It also helped that Jason Terry completely forgot to cover Kyle Korver during one of the game’s most crucial moments.

While the game started off close, it wasn’t like that until midway through the third quarter. The Hawks had a decently-sized lead through most of the first half thanks to crisp ball movement getting them a lot of open looks. For the majority of the game, the best the Rockets could do was go on a small run occasionally, but the Hawks would withstand it and get right back to business and build up their lead once more. That was until the Rockets adjusted.

During halftime, the Rockets made some tweaks that managed to get them back into the game, tying the game up by the end of the quarter. Part of it was the Hawks just not hitting shots, but the Rockets rotations were much more organized in the second half; when the Hawks started to move the ball, the Rockets were right there to contest the shot. Continue Reading…

FINAL

HOU.gif(23-14) 83 – 80 (20-17)ATL

Key Performers:
K. Korver (ATL): 20 pts, 5 reb, 2 ast, 3 stl
J. Harden (HOU): 25 pts, 7 reb, 7 ast
[FULL BOX SCORE]

The Rockets jumped out to an 11-0 lead in the first quarter, but Mike Scott responded with eight first quarter points to keep the Hawks within a reasonable distance. The Hawks then won the next two quarters 55-42 to take a 65-60 lead into the fourth quarter. In the fourth, the Hawks used a DeMarre Carroll three-pointer to take a 79-78 advantage that they would not relinquish as four free throws from Kyle Korver iced the game in favor of the Hawks. The win gives the Hawks 20 on the season as they improved to 14-5 in Philips Arena.

Reaction grades [assessed 0-10]:

Paul Millsap: After four very rough games for Millsap, he was able to respond against Houston. His jumper was still a little off, but he did get a couple of three-pointers to fall. His four offensive rebounds were very important, as that was one of the keys that pushed the Hawks to victory despite a 37.2% shooting night from team. 7/10

DeMarre Carroll: DeMarre’s night kind of reminded me of Pero’s game against Charlotte. He was doing the little things throughout the game, but he could not hit a shot to save his life. Finally, with the Hawks trailing 78-76, he got a three to fall. 6/10

Pero Antic: Not a very good night for Pero, who finish with four points on eight shots. On defense, he wasn’t doing completely terrible, but Dwight was simply too physical for Pero on some possessions. The result was Pero getting into foul trouble and a minutes increase for Elton Brand. 4/10

Jeff Teague: Teague was outplayed by both Lou-Will and Shelvin tonight. Dwight Howard’s defense probably gave Jeff the most difficulties of any ATL player, as Jeff just couldn’t do what he wanted in the lane. Outside of the lane, Jeff was consistently short on his jumper, which is very reminiscent of how he was shooting the ball at the beginning of the season. 4/10

Kyle Korver: Kyle Korver has been the team’s top performer in consecutive wins against Indiana and Houston. Korver was 6-for-11 from the field and his three three-pointers in the third quarter were huge for the Hawks being able to take the lead. Korver also played very strong defense in the second half, as his digs and activity caused problems for Houston’s big and their guards. 9/10 Continue Reading…

FINAL

HOU(11-5) 113 – 84 (8-8) ATL    

Key Performers:
A. Brooks (HOU): 21 pts, 2 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl
A. Horford (ATL): 14 pts, 8 reb, 2 ast, 2 stl, 2 blk
[FULL BOX SCORE]

The Rockets were without James Harden, and then Jeremy Lin after he left the game in the first quarter due to injury. Didn’t matter, as the Rockets routed the Hawks with a barrage of three-pointers. Aaron Brook and Francisco Garcia each scored 21 off of the bench, and Houston scored 36 points in the fourth quarter to close the game out. The Hawks may have been without Kyle Korver, Lou Williams, and Shelvin Mack, but losing by 29 to a Rockets team that was playing without Harden and Lin isn’t an ideal result. I guess this does help show how important Korver’s spacing is to this team. The Hawks have now lost three straight games.

Reaction Grades: [assessed 0-10]

Al Horford: Al did his best on Dwight Howard, and the Rockets big man only had 11 points and eight rebounds. However, Horford didn’t do too much on the offensive end, scoring 14 points on 14 shots, many of which were wide open jumpers that he needs to be hitting at a better clip. 7/10

Jeff Teague: Not a good night for Teague. He was killed defensively, and his offense just wasn’t there. He was 0-for-5 from the field in the first quarter, and he didn’t take a shot after that point. He did have six assists and probably should have had a few more, but he definitely wasn’t able to attack the rim as effectively with Howard and Asik manning the paint for the Rockets. 5/10

Paul Millsap: Millsap was battling foul trouble for some of the night, but when he was in, he was doing his best to take advantage of Terrence Jones and Omri Casspi. Millsap had 16 points on just 10 shots and he was dominating on the block. He did have a few head-scratching turnovers in this game, but he was definitely the most effect Hawk on offense. 6.5/10

DeMarre Carroll: 2-for-8 from the field is not what you want from DeMarre. The Hawks have weirdly been running pick-and-rolls for DeMarre lately, and it’s effective sometimes… but a lot of times it is ending up with DeMarre taking weird looking floaters in the lane, which is really a shot I only want Jeff Teague or Lou Williams to take. 4/10

Cartier Martin: Starting in Kyle’s place, Cartier was actually effective in being the team’s go-to three-point shooter. Cartier scored 14 points, including 4-for-7 from behind the arc. Defensively, he was… you know what, everyone was awful defensively. Just assume that for each following player unless I note otherwise. 7/10 Continue Reading…