If Dwight Howard called it a career tomorrow, he’d be a first ballot Basketball Hall of Famer. Yes, the second half of his career hasn’t exactly been awe-inspiring, but the things he was able to accomplish in the first 10 years of his career make him a lock.
Howard is an eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year who’s led the league in total rebounds six times, total blocks two times and field goal percentage once. In two of those categories — rebounds and blocks — he’s ranked first among active players. He also won medals with USA Basketball, including two gold medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and the 2007 FIBA Americas in Las Vegas.
However, the one thing Howard doesn’t have is an NBA championship.
He came close while he was with the Orlando Magic in 2009, but they fell to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. The closest Howard has gotten since is the Conference Finals, which he made once with the Magic in 2010 and once with the Houston Rockets in 2015.
This season with the Lakers, Howard will have another chance to make a deep run in the postseason, this time with Anthony Davis and LeBron James — arguably the two most talented players he’s ever shared the court with. But Howard knows that in order to make it back to the NBA Finals, he has to play a role that’s drastically different form the one he played on the other title-contending teams he played for.
During an interview with Kyle Goon of the OC Register, Howard said he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship:
The very things Howard has been criticized for in recent years – wanting too many post-ups, not setting screens, playing indifferent defense – have been virtual non-issues since he arrived. Howard said for years, he was caught up in outside criticisms that he didn’t score enough, or wasn’t versatile enough, but now he’s let that go.
“I think every player’s dream is to score 30 and stuff like that,” he said. “I’ve done that, I’ve had that. I feel it. But the one thing that’s missing is a championship, and being part of something elite. What we have here is a championship-quality team. Elite players. Elite mindset. So I just have to do my job.”
While it’s early in the season, he’s done just that.
Through six games, Howard is averaging career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes per game, but he’s also averaging a career-high 78.6% shooting, posting a team-high net rating of +22.5 and allowing the fewest points per 100 possessions (92) of his career.
A large part of Howard’s bounce-back season can be attributed to changes he made mentally, but it also has to do with where he’s at physically. According to Howard, he made it a point to be in the best shape of his life:
“I told myself whenever I get back on the court I was going to do whatever I can to get in the best shape of my life,” he said. “I know defense is where I made my mark in this league so I wanted to come back and just play as hard as I can on the defensive end.”
It might be too early to say that Superman is back, but he’s definitely said and — most importantly — done all the right things since making his return to Los Angeles in August. Hopefully the changes he made leading up to his unexpected comeback can lead to something sustainable for Howard and, eventually, the NBA championship the 33-year-old center is seeking.