When the Houston Rockets announced that they acquired Dwight Howard, it made an instant impact. Suddenly the young Rockets, led by James Harden, were now contenders, led by Harden and Howard. Without even playing a game, Howard instantly provided the Rockets with credibility and an excitement that sent shock waves throughout the league. What other ways does Howard impact the team that doesn’t show up in box scores?
There’s something to be said for playing in full arenas every game. Sure, most NBA players (and professional athletes in general) have to be a bit of an egomaniac. After all, they’re literally the best in the world at what they do. With that said, do the Charlotte Bobcats walk with the same swagger as the Miami Heat? Absolutely not.
Howard and the Rockets are now more of an attraction. Last season, they were just 16th in the NBA in home attendance percentage, selling 92.4 percent of their capacity. On the road, they were the 6th-largest draw, with teams selling 94 percent of their tickets.
The top road teams? The Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder. Those teams not only sell their own tickets, they light up the box office on the road. The Rockets were becoming that kind of a draw without Howard, but now they’ve become a must-see team when they come to town.
Take a look at a guy like Norris Cole of the Miami Heat. Does he walk with the same puffed-out chest if he’s a bench player for the Milwaukee Bucks? Absolutely not. It’s like the difference between hanging out with the people in the drama club instead of the football captains. You’re still the same person, but you just feel like a bigger deal.
From the starters all the way down to the last guy on the bench, the whole Rockets team got a shot of confidence just because they are now among the league’s elite draws. That extra confidence can (and will) go a long way for guys like Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas.
Is Howard the most physical player in the league? No. Should he be? Yes. He is a chiseled 6’11″, 265-pound freak that isn’t bullied by anyone currently in the NBA. Still, Howard creates a lot of contact in the lane, whether he’s diving to the rim, setting a pick or getting into position for a rebound.
The fatigue that sets in by opposing players is something that can’t be overstated. Players who guard Howard aren’t going to be able to rotate as quickly, they can’t play as many quality minutes and they end up getting themselves into foul trouble. There’s a reason why Howard has led the league in free-throw attempts in four of the last six years (he was second one year and third last season). He’s extremely difficult to defend because of his size and strength. If he had a more refined post game, nobody would be able to guard him.
It just so happens that Harden was the league leader last season. Harden is terrific at creating contact and is one of the best in the league getting to the basket. With Howard beating down his defender, how much easier will Harden be able to get to the basket? Who’s going to rotate? It’s a major plus for the Rockets this year.
FUN LOVING BUNCH
Aside from not being totally healthy, the biggest difference in Howard from his time in Orlando to his time in Los Angeles was his level of happiness. He went from a fun-loving jokester who wore the moniker of “Superman” to being expected to take the game more seriously. Not everyone has the killer instinct of Kobe Bryant. Not everyone looks at the game as a business and that’s OK.
With Houston, Howard will be able to go back to being his normal self. With Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons by his side, he’ll go back to playing loose and he’ll enjoy himself more. That kind of chemistry is extremely important in the NBA, as those 2012-13 Lakers can attest. Lin dealt with the same thing with the New York Knicks. When he was able to play free and easy, he produced. When he moved to Houston and the expectations rose, he stopped having fun…and stopped producing.
Every team goes through tough times during a season. When the Miami Heat had tough stretches where the media were questioning their ability to repeat, they were able to stay strong and get through it because of their relationships with each other. They truly liked each other and it made it easier to work harder, for each other, to get through.
DRAWING ON-COURT ATTENTION
This one plays off of the physical beatings in a way. It wasn’t that long ago that Howard was considered one of (if not the best) defensive rebounder in all of basketball. Despite the turmoil and injuries of the past two seasons, Howard has still led the NBA in defensive rebounds six years in a row.
That kind of impact really helps a team like the Rockets, because possessions are more likely to end after one shot and they can get out and run. They won’t have to worry as much about crashing the defensive glass as a team because Howard is there.
Offensively, even though Howard has as many moves as your typical All-State high school center, he always draws a crowd. Why? Because he’s so much stronger and faster than his opposition that he can still get to the front of the rim. This is where the help comes into play and Howard either draws fouls or has an opportunity to kick it out to the open man.
In the pick-and-roll, Howard will command attention in the same fashion that Blake Griffin does with the Los Angeles Clippers. Defenders will have to think twice about doubling the ball handler because Howard is such a great leaper that lobs are, well, a slam dunk.
Howard will help the Rockets in a multitude of ways, from the box score to these intangibles that can’t be quantified. Will the Rockets win the title this year? No, but they’ll be contenders for years to come and he is the reason.