Would Howard Have Learned More in College?


Dwight Howard is going to have a busy summer. He is going on his whirlwind world tour that he seems to do every summer, promoting shoes for adidas, helping out with basketball camps in Africa and being a lovable goofball. He will also be doing his best to dodge questions about his future.

Howard is also going to be in the gym during the early morning hours and late evenings working on his game. Howard has plans to hire a shooting coach to help him improve his already-improved jump shot and his free throw shooting. He also is hoping to have more sessions with Hakeem Olajuwon to build off the confidence he instilled last summer.

“I don’t think other people understand how hard I do work, because all they see is the commercials and the videos and all this other stuff that I’m doing,” Howard told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel at the beginning of the month. “They think I’m forgetting about basketball. But I know the reason why I’ve gotten to where I’m at is because of basketball. My main focus is to become a great basketball player and be one of the greatest.”

No doubt Howard will continue to improve and will turn in another MVP- and Defensive Player of the Year-quality season in 2012. But eight years into his career, there are still those who believe Howard is not where he should be offensively at this point in his career — and they are probably not looking at his 26.0 PER this year which trailed only LeBron James.

Howard is going to continue to develop and evolve. All the great players do. But with everything about LeBron James gaining criticism, the high school-to-pro players are coming under criticism again. Not Dick Vitale-level criticism, but criticism nonetheless.

From Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News: “Over the past decade or so, I’ve suggested a few times that even the most successful preps-to-pros prodigies—James, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant—might have been at least a little bit better as players had they been introduced to the game at the college level first. I found a kindred soul in ESPN analyst and former NBA power forward Len Elmore, who asserted those players had small deficiencies in their games that college might have helped to address.”

I do not want to suggest Dwight Howard is not an elite level player. He is. I do not want to suggest Howard does not work hard to improve his game. He works as hard as anybody. But I do not think we should dismiss DeCourcy’s argument so quickly.

DeCourcy suggests part of James’ failures this season was the fact James never had the training and urgency that comes in playing in the one-and-done atmosphere of the NCAA Tournament. James never had to learn how to deal with the crushing loss that comes from losing a random game or the ordeal of winning those six games in a row necessary to win an NBA championship that greats like IsaiahThomas, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had to go through.

DeCourcy specifically points out Kobe Bryant is the only straight from high school player to lead his team to a championship — I would add Kevin Garnett to that list for pushing the Celtics over the top in 2008 after his own failures in Minnesota.

Howard did not have that training either.

It has not necessarily hurt him. If you remember back on Draft night in 2004, the argument for Orlando was whether the team wanted to wait and develop a raw Howard or take more of a refined and polished Emeka Okafor. Everyone can agree Jon Weisbrod made the right decision in taking Howard and investing in the future. I am pretty sure he did not see Howard turning into the player he became.

Certainly if Howard had went to school, he would not have been as much of a question mark. His rookie season, Johnny Davis pretty much could only ask him to defend and rebound, running almost no plays directly for him. He just was not ready for the rigors of an NBA schedule and did not have the post game that Davis could rely on.

The Magic brought him along slowly. But Howard learned by being thrown into the fire and completely changed his approach and improved dramatically as time went on. And he learned by going through the fires of the postseason how urgent postseason games can be.

Still, if Howard went to college — I think he was down to North Carolina, Duke or Georgia Tech — he would have learned some of the post moves that took him three or four years to build up to in his NBA career. He might have perfected that jumper he is constantly working on against the zone defenses he would have seen in college.

This is all not to say Howard is not an elite player. But who is to say he would not have been further along with even just a year in college.

It is interesting food for thought. Even though Howard turned into an elite and amazing player anyways.

Photo via DayLife.com.