Charlotte Hornets: Dwight Howard, searching for Superman

Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images /

With the recent addition of former All-Star Dwight Howard, the Charlotte Hornets have a very good chance of returning to the playoffs.

There was once a force of nature who stepped out onto the court one All-Star Weekend. Draped in his Superman costume, this force flew above the crowds into the heavens, taking home the 2008 Slam Dunk Title that was rightfully his.

Known by his alter ego Dwight Howard, Superman had entered the building. Both the heavens and the ground shook underneath as he touched down for his landing.

Some may argue, that without his cape, after bouncing around the league from the Orlando Magic (eight seasons), Los Angeles Lakers (one season), Houston Rockets (three seasons) and Atlanta Hawks (one season), that Howard’s become more of a journeyman than Superman.

I wholeheartedly disagree. I believe that Howard has finally found his true home with the Charlotte Hornets.

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Right after the playoffs ended, where Howard battled his former Magic teammate, Marcin Gortat of the Washington Wizards, I wrote that Gortat should be coming off the bench, with a potential acquisition like Howard starting. A couple of weeks later, the Hawks traded Howard to Charlotte, in exchange for the 41st pick, Miles Plumlee and Marco Belinelli.

Atlanta may sneak into the playoffs again, but it will be an uphill battle without their man in the middle.

On the other hand, that was an excellent pickup by Charlotte, because Howard is a former eight-time All-Star and an eight-time All-NBA selection. When Howard led the league in rebounds in five consecutive seasons, he became the first player to beat Wilt Chamberlain’s record (though Chamberlain recorded four consecutive seasons twice in his illustrious career).

A man with abilities such as those just doesn’t disappear. I believe that Howard will dust off his cape, and put it on again as an All-Star next season. But before he dons his suit, a few things must happen along the way.

Howard must defend the three-point line

On the Hawks, Howard didn’t have an elite point guard like Kemba Walker who could push the ball up the court and make plays both on and off the ball. With Howard, Walker has found his perfect alley-oop partner, and someone who can crash the boards.

However, the game is changing, and Howard must change with it. Because centers such as Al Horford are playing position-less basketball these days, they’re out at the perimeter knocking down threes and long twos.

Howard doesn’t need to add the three-ball to his repertoire, but what he needs to do is learn to be faster off the ball. That way he isn’t chasing behind someone like Horford, but staying in front of him at all times.

There are no ifs, ands or buts about it — Howard must now protect the perimeter, and he must be as dominant as he is when he protects the paint, because Charlotte isn’t getting by Boston if they can’t defend the three-point line.

Games are being won and lost at the free throw line

Howard must also add some semblance of free throw efficiency to his game, because that’s his — and ultimately the Hornets’ — kryptonite.

Even with the rule changes to cut down on Hack-A-Shaq, crucial games next season will be lost if Howard doesn’t learn to make a simple free throw.

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Not being able to make a free throw makes Howard both an offensive and defensive liability at the same time. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how many times you crash the boards, since all those points will be taken away when you’re missing basic free throws. Hopefully this offseason, Howard is spending countless hours perfecting that shot.

Howard was a 53 percent free throw shooter last season, and commendably his stat line went up in the postseason to 63 percent. There’s no reason those numbers can’t be in the 70 percentile.

Howard was a beast on the boards last season, averaging 12.7 rebounds per game in addition to 13.5 points. Maybe he should have been an All-Star last season…but not when his counterparts are knocking down threes just as easily as they dunk, and he can’t make a free throw.

Alongside Walker, who is hands down a better point guard than his former teammate Dennis Schroder, Howard will definitely improve his scoring efficiency.

Fans will look to the heavens once again 

Next season, I believe with Howard’s improved free throw shooting, rebounding, and with Walker leading the way, there’s no reason why the Hornets should miss the playoffs again.

And dare I say, that Superman has come to town once again. Not only will Dwight Howard be in the All-Star conversation, but will return to being the superstar he was destined to be.

Next: The biggest winners and losers of 2017 NBA free agency

Howard, you’ve been cleared for takeoff.