Dwight Howard left the glitz and ::cough:: glamour of playing for the Los Angeles Lakers for a number of reasons. Speculation ranges from his difficulty to get along with Kobe Bryant to displeasure about Mike D’Antoni‘s offense to simply not liking the pressure that comes with playing in Los Angeles. If he thinks it’s going to be easier playing for the Houston Rockets, he’s got another thing coming. But even if it is difficult, he doesn’t care. At least, the stats say he doesn’t care.
Houston opens up at home on Wednesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats. The preseason comes with a lot of questions, but not a lot of pressure. The regular season is a much different story for a player of Howard’s stature. He lives his life in a pressure cooker and the temperature is about to be on high. Luckily for Dwight, he’s been here before and he knows how to deal with it. He just plugs along like it’s another day.
NO PRESSURE, IT’S JUST ALL ON YOU
Being the focal point of a team is what superstars have to deal with. They’re expected to perform better than anyone else on the team and when things go bad, they go to the superstar first. Look at the 2012-13 Lakers and you’ll see how Howard got a ton of blame, despite the fact that he put up very solid numbers on a mediocre team. Instead of lashing out or folding under pressure, he kept plodding along, putting up a very respectable 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.4 blocks per game.
In Houston, Howard is expected to shoulder the defensive load for sure, while being a key component of the offense. If Houston fails defensively, fingers won’t get pointed at Jeremy Lin or Patrick Beverley‘s inability to stop penetration. They’ll look at Howard and point out that he doesn’t move laterally as well as he used to. In reality, Howard moves just as well, he’s just tasked with more.
Offensively, Howard will be used in pick-and-rolls as well as in the post. If James Harden struggles and the Rockets start slow, will pundits question coach Kevin McHale‘s scheme and the role players? No, they’ll talk about Howard and his inability to create offense for himself. If Howard averages 18 points per game but only shoots 50 percent from the free-throw line, again, Howard will get a ton of criticism. Yet, it’s what he’s been his whole career.
SO WHAT DOES DWIGHT HOWARD DO?
Think about the human psyche for a second. Do we as humans enjoy pressure? Do we like criticism, whether it’s fair or unfair? Absolutely not. Some people react to that criticism by spitting vitriol at the nearest target. Others rise to the occasion and play like it’s their last game. Howard doesn’t fit either of these molds. Instead, he makes jokes and tries to laugh off the naysayers — and that’s OK. He stays on an even keel and doesn’t let anyone bother him. It comes off as not caring, but it’s his way of dealing with stress and pressure.
Coach McHale knows this, too. McHale knows that Howard simply doesn’t have the Shaquille O’Neal gene. He’s not going to go out and put up enormous numbers in big games, simply because he can. Howard doesn’t have that “extra gear” and he doesn’t use negativity to motivate him. Instead, he’s a rich man’s Joe Friday, a guy who comes to work every day and puts forth an equal amount of effort, regardless of the situation.
A LITTLE DEEPER
It’s not terrible that Howard doesn’t seem to blow up and have monster games, because he also doesn’t tend to completely disappear, either. His game logs from 2012-13 show a man of consistency. In games where he played 30 or more minutes and took 10 or more shots, he scored in single digits zero times out of those 43 games. He went under eight rebounds six times, but in those six games, he totaled 13 steals and 16 blocks. It makes sense that attacking the shooter or ball handler means he wouldn’t pick up as many rebounds. An unrelated note — he didn’t take 20 shots or more from the field once (pass the damn ball, Kobe!).
Nothing in his logs points towards extra motivation creating monster games, nor “unimportant” games creating lesser production.
A look at his career per-36 minute splits from the regular season to the playoffs paints the same picture. Take a look at these:
Regular Season: 18.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.5 blocks
Playoffs: 18.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, .7 steals and 2.5 blocks
Want further proof? Let’s take a look at his career splits (697 games), based on home/road.
Home: 18.5 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 steals and 2.2 blocks
Road: 18.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.9 steals and 2.2 blocks
How scary is that? He must vary a lot based on the day he plays, right? Wrong. His points vary by 1.5 from high-to-low, his rebounds by 1.1 and his assists by 0.5. Well then, he must have a lot of luck versus certain divisions, right? Wrong again. Based on division, his points vary by 0.6, his rebounds by 1.2 and his assists by 0.3.
It literally appears that Howard either:
a) feels no pressure at all
b) feels exactly the same amount of pressure regardless of situation
c) pressure simply doesn’t affect or change the way he plays
Call him Joe Friday, call him Mr. Consistency, call him whatever you want. The fact of the matter is, you know what you’re getting. He’s not going to come out and score 50 with 30 rebounds and 10 blocks in a closeout game. You’re going to get your 18 points, 13 rebounds, an assist, a steal and two blocks. That’s good enough, right?