Answering Dwight Howard’s Critics

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No offensive game, no post moves.

Too soft.

No killer instinct.

These are some of the biggest misconceptions those in the media have about Dwight Howard’s game.

But Howard takes it all in stride. All he does is work hard and continue to improve, almost always wearing a smile on his face.

After Sunday’s win over the Cavaliers in which Howard had 22 points, 16 rebounds, five blocks and had his coach call his performance “absolutely terrific,” he was still criticized for “not dominating” Shaquille O’Neal.

Unless you have seen only a handful of Magic games, you would know that saying Howard has no offensive game, no post moves and relies only on the dunk to score, is ridiculous.

Dunks actually account for only 23% of Howard’s made field goals and they only accounted for 22% of made field goals last season.

Howard has always had a post-game, albeit early on, it was limited. But now, his game has developed more than ever.

Howard seems to have mastered the hook shot that he has been working to perfect over the past few seasons. Howard has been making his move into the lane and hitting the hook shot on a regular basis. The key to Howard’s development in his shot is that he never lost confidence, even when the shot was falling.

“I’ve always been confident in my game – hook shots, whatever it may be,” Howard said. “It’s something that I’ve been shooting since I’ve been here.”

Howard says that he just needs to stay aggressive, no matter the situation and that when the shot does fall, he can get into a rhythm.

“I think for me, just seeing the ball go in gets me in a rhythm on the offensive end especially when I make a couple shots here and there,” Howard said after a home win over Boston. “Once I make those shots, I get the ball more and from there on out, it’s just on me.”

The same rules apply to Howard’s jump shot. He has consistently hit the shot in practice but seemed apprehensive to attempt the shot in a game despite players and even General Manager Otis Smith, telling him to shoot the ball.

Obviously, there are still kinks to be worked out as evidenced in Sunday’s win over the Cavaliers. Howard squared up, took a jumper over Shaquille O’Neal and hit it. He attempted the shot again, but rushed it and the ball wound up hitting the top of the backboard.

The jumpers have really seemed to open up Howard’s offense.

One of the biggest reasons for Howard’s improvement, especially recently, is that he is getting more opportunities. Orlando is taking less bad shots and instead is making a great effort to get the ball into Howard. Howard has only failed to have double-digit shot attempts in four of the last 17 games and in three of those games, he had nine attempts. Howard is averaging just 10.1 attempts per game, the lowest since his rookie season. Ever since Howard hit two jump-shots against the Lakers on January 18th, Howard has averaged 12.4 shots per game. Over that 17-game span, Howard has averaged 22.5 points per game – he is averaging 18.5 points per game on the season.

Howard is shooting 61.0% on the season, the best percentage he’s shot since his rookie season. Through the first 40 games of the season, Howard’s free throw woes continued, but since then, Howard has shot 65.3% from the line and has really only had two poor nights (a 3-of-10 performance against Boston on January 28th and an 8-of-18 game against the Pistons on January 31st).

It has been even better recently for Howard. Over the past three games, Howard has averaged 28.0 points per game, 16.3 rebounds per game and 5.3 blocks per game and was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. In those three games, Howard has attempted 16.7 shots per game. In those three games, Howard has also really got it done from the charity stripe, going 11-of-13, 7-of-10 and 8-of-13 (72.2%).

Howard has also done a much better job dealing with double-teams. Rather than trying to force the issue and put up a poor shot or turn the ball over, Howard has done a very good job of passing the ball out of double teams and finding his shooters for open looks.

Howard also has had a label of “soft” lately, which makes even less sense.

Howard lives inside the paint and battles as hard as anyone in the league- for the second straight season, he leads the league in rebounding (13.5 per game) and blocks (2.8 per game). Not only does Howard block the most shots in the league, he alters many more and keeps opponents out of the paint completely. He is the most dominate defensive force in basketball, is the reigning defensive player of the year and should be the favorite to win the award again.

Howard’s reputation for not having a killer instinct often coincides with his soft label, which also doesn’t add up.

Starting with the obvious, if Howard doesn’t have a killer instinct, then how did he have arguably the most dominating performances in the postseason last year when he scored 40 points and grabbed 14 rebounds  in Orlando’s game six, series-clinching win over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals last season?

After Howard’s big game in Orlando’s win over the Cavaliers on Sunday, Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters that Howard did it “without smiling,” so the media should be happy.

Is Howard’s smile really one of the reasons that he is so heavily criticized? Because he shows that he loves what he does? Because he is visibly having fun playing the game of basketball?

Does Howard really need to snarl to show that he has a killer instinct?

My definition of the alpha dog in the NBA would be a player who shows up when his team needs him most – Howard did just that against the Cavaliers last season.

Howard has also been more vocal and has called for the ball, which has been part of the knock on him, but he still can’t win.

Mike Freeman of CBSsportsline.com went on to call Howard’s calls for the ball an act, saying “He might be demanding the ball more but it looks tepid, almost fake, like he’s trying to be something he’s not.”

Calling Howard’s calls for the ball an act is an insult to Howard. He has worked hard to improve his offense, but without the ball in his hands, he can’t show it off.

Howard’s critics have called him an underachiever, always saying how much more Howard can do, failing to realize that Howard is just 24 years old and has clearly improved every season that he has been in the league.

All indications are that Howard is going to continue to grow, improve and become the best player he can be.

All with a smile on his face.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Twitter to follow him daily and you can get the HTD app here).