All this week Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando fell short of a second straight trip to the NBA Finals and the franchise’s first NBA title.
Dwight Howard’s numbers were down across the board this season. He went from 20.6 points per game, 13.2 rebounds per game and 2.8 blocks per game to 17.5 points per game, 12.7 rebounds per game and 2.1 blocks per game. From a pure numbers standpoint, Howard did worse than last year.
But there is more to Howard than his numbers. And since he is far from his prime, Howard’s progress is judged by how his team does. And even in this he did worse than last season. Orlando fell short of the Finals, and Howard made it sound like he was accountable for the team’s ultimate shortcomings while he also held his teammates accountable.
The Boston series was a true growing moment for the young superstar, one that he will again carry with him into the postseason. Like last year when Howard and Jameer Nelson sat and watched the Lakers celebrate a title at Amway Arena, this series with the Celtics will be forever burned into his memory and push him this offseason.
Howard showed throughout the season what kind of leader he can eventually be — both on and off the court. Orlando was the only team out of the Eastern Conference’s “Big Three” to match its record from last season. Considering all the changes the team made, that was quite an accomplishment.
Howard sacrificed his numbers to help integrate his new teammates and keep this team churning. But he still had the same dominant impact he had last year in winning his second consecutive Defensive Player of the Year Award. His offensive rating and defensive rating remained the same as it did last season and he increased his rebounding percentage from last year, according to Basketball-Reference.
Howard showed progressively as the season went on that his offensive game can be more than dunks and put backs. He displayed his running hook and began to show counter moves and really begin to dominate defenses. He even brought out his jumper on occasions (although he never felt comfortable going back to it).
Dwight also started to play better against the defenders he has always struggled with. He had big performances in the Conference Finals against his nemesis Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace, finishing the series with 21.8 points per game and 10.8 rebounds per game.
He still had his shortcomings this season. He got into foul trouble in several games and let the referees affect him. He led the league in technical fouls and was nearly suspended for accumulating too many.
But when his team needed him, Howard stepped up. He is becoming quite the player and leader of this team. It is not too far-fetched to think next year will be the year he really makes the offensive leap fans have been waiting for.