The most boring team in the NBA over the past few seasons has been the Charlotte Hornets. Not the Kings (the Boogie drama kept them intriguing). Not the Magic (the baseline of potential young stars was interesting). Not even the Nets (you could possibly catch Jay-Z and Beyonce court side). When it comes to the NBA's doldrums, the Queen City has owned it.
But over the past week, there's a new (pardon the pun) buzz around the Hornets. They shed the terrible Miles Plumlee contract from the books. They drafted Malik Monk, a potential long-term solution for the backcourt who can shoot the lights out, and managed to trade down in the second round to get a versatile player in Dwayne Bacon and also some cash.
They also got future Hall of Famer Dwight Howard.
Dwight Howard: Hall of Famer?
Okay, it might be a bit premature to crown the self-proclaimed Superman with such distinction, but Howard's career stats speak for themselves:
Rk Player MP FG% eFG% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS 1 Dwight Howard 34.9 .585 .585 .566 3.6 9.1 12.7 1.5 1.0 2.0 3.0 17.5 2 Hakeem Olajuwon* 35.7 .512 .513 .712 3.3 7.8 11.1 2.5 1.7 3.1 3.0 21.8 3 David Robinson* 34.7 .518 .519 .736 3.1 7.5 10.6 2.5 1.4 3.0 2.4 21.1 4 Dikembe Mutombo* 30.8 .518 .518 .684 3.2 7.1 10.3 1.0 0.4 2.8 1.8 9.8 5 Patrick Ewing* 34.3 .504 .505 .740 2.3 7.5 9.8 1.9 1.0 2.4 3.0 21.0
Superman's stats certainly line up well with some of the game's great big men from decades before. When compared to these four Hall of Fame centers, Howard shoots better from the field and averages a rebound-and-a-half more per game than any of the other guys.
When it comes to physical freaks, Dwight Howard ranks with the best of them. His 6'11 frame is chiseled, shoulders broad with an outrageous wingspan. He's not as thick as Mutombo or Ewing, and isn't quite as slender as Hakeem.
Let's look at how Howard's best season stacks up with the best season of another great center, Shaquille O'Neal:
Rk Player Season Age G MP FG% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS 1 Dwight Howard 2010-11 25 78 37.6 .593 .596 4.0 10.1 14.1 1.4 1.4 2.4 3.6 3.3 22.9 2 Shaquille ONeal* 1999-00 27 79 40.0 .574 .524 4.3 9.4 13.6 3.8 0.5 3.0 2.8 3.2 29.7
Shaq was the league MVP in 2000. Howard finished 2nd in the MVP race in 2011, the highest finish he's had in his career.Note that the two are similar in many stats across the board- Howard beating Shaq in boards, Shaq winning in points. Advanced stats show close comparables as well, though win share favors Shaq heavily.
The point is, Dwight Howard is really good. Really, really good. He has not had a season yet in the league where he hasn't averaged a double-double. He has been a quietly dominant center for over a decade now. And for all the complaints about his health (he has had a few back issues), Howard has played less than 70 games in only two seasons.
So why does it seem so many NBA fans and writers hate Dwight Howard? For all the physical gifts Superman has, he seems equally childish and petulant at times when things don't go his way.
So when we compare him with the other greats, it's clear that there are differences in the intangibles. For all the statistical similarities, Howard hasn't experienced the championship success that Olajuwon, Robinson, and Shaq did. He hasn't become a one-team legend like Ewing. He hasn't exuded the bullish confidence of Mutombo.
Wherever Shaq went, he won. He helped the team get better. For Howard, the opposite has been true. Since leaving Orlando, the place where he tasted relative success, his stops in LA, Houston, and most recently Atlanta have largely been forgetful disappointments.
Giving Hornets' Fans Hope
If left to the opinion of the media and NBA bloggers, fans in Buzz City might have groaned with frustration at the Howard acquisition. But there is something to look forward to here.
First, this will be the first year of Howard's career where there will be low (if any) expectations. As the 2004 top overall pick, the weight was on his massive shoulders from the onset to bring wins to Orlando at the ripe age of 19. He led the Magic to the Finals in 2009 before leaving the city for the bright lights of Los Angeles. He played only one season as a Laker, struggling with an aging veteran core, never really fitting in with the Shaq-sized expectation of the fans.
After his season in LA, Howard teamed up with James Harden in Houston where the team tasted some playoff success but never could get Houston over the hump. After his departure in 2016, Howard went to Atlanta to join the Hawks and play for his hometown team. Hopes rose that Atlanta could finally make some noise in the playoffs beyond just disappearing in the 2nd or 3rd round. But the Hawks didn't even make it past the first round, due in part to Howard having the worst playoffs of his career, averaging only 8 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Now as a Hornet, there are no expectations to make the team an immediate title contender. There are no Hollywood signs. There is no big city atmosphere with media pressure. There is no hometown fan casting wild thoughts about the local kid bringing unheard of success to the franchise. This is Charlotte. and fans don't want Howard to be a savior. They don't need him to be.
And Steve Clifford doesn't either.
The Hornets' coach is another reason for optimism in Charlotte. Clifford was an assistant with the Magic for the last 5 years Howard was there and was with Dwight for his one season as a Laker. If any coach can "get through" to Howard, it's Cliff who demands defensive hustle from his guys while maintaining a respect for the team.
Coach Clifford knows the game, and he only wants to bring in players that know the game. Dwight Howard knows defensive sets, and can run the pick-and-roll well. Getting that chemistry early on with Kemba Walker will be key in bringing some offensive punch in the post that has been lacking the past few seasons in Charlotte.
And there's a reason that defensive-minded Coach Cliff brought in Howard beyond buckets in the paint. He's a fantastic rim protector. Howard isn't the same as he was when he won 3 consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards, but he can still use his massive frame to stop even the best ball handlers from getting to the rim:
Look, I get it. You're either a nervous Hornets fan, or you're a fan of some other team that is glad that your team didn't trade for Dwight Howard. He's become the guy that you either love if he's on your team, or you get annoyed with him on any other team.
Let's let the Hornets fans be excited about him. If he works out, great! That will mean he's been able to play 25-30 minutes a game and add a strong defensive presence as the Hornets get back to the playoffs. If he doesn't work out, 90% of NBA fans will be ready to send out all the "I told you so" tweets.
But for a city that hasn't experienced a basketball high since Zo was the center and Larry Johnson was wearing a dress, let them have this season as a chance to recapture some of what once gave Hornets fans something to really buzz about.