Don’t Take for Granted Dwight Howard’s Historic Season
By Sam Perley
The play of the Charlotte Hornets over the last few months has certainly been a disappointment for a team that rightfully had high expectations entering the 2017-18 season. Although he’ll be one of the first to say individual performances hardly matter when the team isn’t winning, Dwight Howard has quietly been playing some of the best basketball of his NBA tenure.
Never was this more evident than on March 21 in Brooklyn when Howard became just the second NBA player in the last 26 years to record at least 30 points and 30 rebounds in a regular season game. The boards were a new career high for the 14-year veteran and smashed a long-standing franchise record that had been held by Emeka Okafor since 2007.
According to Basketball Reference, only 10 different players in NBA history have ever recorded a 30-30 game. For comparison’s sake, Major League Baseball has seen 23 individuals throw a perfect game and there’s only been 12 people to ever walk on the surface of the moon.
It’s not this particular game that was so incredible, but really, Howard’s body of work this season as a whole. He’s on pace to be the first player age 32 or older since Artis Gilmore in 1983 to average at least 16.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks for an entire NBA campaign. Elvin Hayes is the only other player to ever accomplish this feat, doing so twice from 1977-79.
Howard’s already broken the team’s single-season defensive rebounding record (720 and counting), a mark that previously stood at 649 and had been held by Anthony Mason since 1998. He’s also overtaken Larry Johnson’s franchise records for total rebounds in a single campaign (899 in 1991-92) and double-doubles (49 in 1992-93).
Watching Howard, it looks like that because of his size and strength, that the game comes naturally easy for him. Hornets Head Coach Steve Clifford has long raved about his intelligence, insisting that he’s not just some great athlete out on the court playing basketball. He’s had to overcome a lot of obstacles since entering the league too, which has only made him stronger in the process.
Big men tend to take a beating more than any other position in the league. Howard dealt with knee issues during his time in Orlando and about six years ago, had to have back surgery to repair a herniated disk. This particular operation is a significant one and can have a substantial impact on a player’s mobility and longevity.
Howard’s lone season with the Lakers in 2012-13 was hampered by the ensuing recovery in addition to a torn labrum he suffered halfway through the year. He missed just six games despite dealing with these two serious ailments. This year, he has yet to sit out a single contest because of injury.
“I think if you went back and told our trainers in Orlando or our strength coaches that he was going to be playing at this level now with the state that his knee was in back then, they would have said, ‘No way,’” said the former Magic assistant Clifford following Howard’s 15-point, 24-rebound outing against Brooklyn on Feb. 22.
He added, “He’s done a phenomenal job of taking care of his body. You’re talking about a guy who’s had major knee surgery and major back surgery and again, you’d never know it. One thing he’s always done – look back at every year – unless he’s had surgery, he plays every night. He likes to play. He never asks out of practice. He didn’t when he was young. He didn’t in L.A. and he hasn’t here.”
The adjustments Howard’s made off the court have played a large role in his night-in-and-night-out consistency, which has become easy to overlook. Last year, Howard showed up to Charlotte in great shape after picking up a summer boxing routine. Long known for his sweet tooth, he’s cleaned up his diet a bit, leading to improved stamina and energy throughout the season.
During his eight years with the Magic, Howard made the All-NBA First Team five times, won the Defensive Player of the Year Award three times and was one of the biggest superstars in the sport. He set such a high standard during the first half of his career that it’s forced all his seasons since then to be measured comparatively. You could argue that he’s become a victim of his own success and his teams unfortunately haven’t been nearly as successful as the ones in Orlando either.
“I don’t think people disregard him,” said Clifford. “I do think – and he knows this – he’s still got a lot left. You can see it physically. For him to get the respect that he wants and deserves, he’s going to have to be on a team that plays well. Ultimately, it comes down to that. I know that he wants to go out on a high note and there’s a lot of things for players that are outside of what they can be accountable for. I think for him, that’s what everybody’s looking for.”
In what has been a challenging year for the Hornets, Howard’s contributions have been one of the silver linings for the team. Charlotte has been fortunate to play a small role in his illustrious Hall-of-Fame career, which doesn’t seem to have a firm end in sight. For now, celebrate him, cherish him, applaud him because the league might never see another player quite like Dwight Howard.