A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Looking back at Dwight Howard’s Magic tenure: Was he the inverse Allen Iverson?

with 2 comments

Dwight Howard has been dealt from the Orlando Magic to the LA Lakers for Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington’s contract, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, Josh McRoberts and 3 draft picks. I’ll have my thoughts on the trade itself later, if you’re looking for instant analysis of it, there’s a big lush pool of it to swim in about the trade on the internet today.

The Magic fans will remember the Howard era for a handful of contending seasons and most of all, making the NBA Finals, most notably going through a Lebron James Cavaliers title favorite to do it. There are not many players who’ve achieved success as high as back to back 59 W seasons and a Final trip without “an all-star teammate”. Historically Howard may be given credit for carrying the Magic’s role players and mediocre talent level to contention, much in the same way James did for the Cavaliers.

Personally, I think there’s always been a reason to be skeptical about Dwight Howard’s scoring numbers, which on paper are not far behind the other dominant 2 way bigs of this generation, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Howard’s offensive polish has always been in question. It’s never been about slick looking post moves or shots as much as being so immensely powerful that he couldn’t be stopped scoring on the pick and roll and on clean up baskets.

At the same time, he played in the perfect system for his offensive numbers to look good. Most of the time the Magic played 3pt shooters at every other position – including power forward with Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson spotting up. This gave Howard a ton of space in the paint inside, where his physical tools could take over. The spacing made it so help defense on Howard became very difficult, as the rotations would be far away, and the Magic could easily burn teams who helped by finding open shooters.

Nevertheless, at the same time, Howard was the team’s only defender and rebounder at all times and had a team with very little athleticism and quickness to help him out on that end on the perimeter. He certainly had a massive impact on the Magic.

What I feel though, is that the Magic didn’t beat teams with what Howard’s strengths were – athleticism and power on both ends. Despite having Howard, the rest of the team weren’t physically pressuring teams and were beating them with skill and basketball IQ in the halfcourt. What defined the Magic was their offensive style, raining a ton of 3s down on teams.

Thus I would settle on this premise: What Howard did with a lineup such as his Finals cast of Jameer Nelson, Courtney Lee, JJ Redick, Hedo Turkoglu and Ryan Anderson, was to compliment their major weakness, that they had no physical presence on the court through defence, attacking the rim, or rebounding. He turned them from a team with awful physical presence to one with middling or decent physical ability. What the perimeter players on the Magic’s strengths were, was being one of the most purely skilled and smart lineups 1 through 4 thanks to all that shooting and scoring talent. This wouldn’t have worked with nothing going for them physically as this weakness would’ve cancelled out their strength, but once they became middling to slightly above average physically, the combination of average physical impact and elite skill impact turned them into a great team on the whole. Howard only needed to guarantee they were average in the area they lacked (physical presence) and his teammates would carry the rest.

That’s why I feel like Howard may be the inverse Allen Iverson. On the Sixers Allen Iverson was the only offensive player on a team full of defensive studs and rebounders. Without Iverson the 2001 Sixers may have been one of the worst offensive teams of all time, they had absolutely no shot creation or shooting to get them by night to night. However adding Iverson made them an average offensive team, which is key because they only needed to be average offensively to be a great team, since their defense and rebounding was going to be so elite. The combination got them a memorable trip to the Finals.

However Iverson’s reputation has been slightly tainted by the fact that what made the Sixers great (defense and rebounding) was not what he provided. The combination of what all his teammates did to make them great defensively and rebounding was more important than Iverson himself, since the defense contributing more to their wins than offense. But should the same be said for Howard? The Magic won games because they hit a ton of 3s and were one of the most skilled teams in the league at positions 1 through 4, Howard ensured that they wouldn’t lose games because of their lack of physical presence.

I feel the logic understated Iverson and Howard is wrong in both cases. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether a player helps a team move from horrible to average in an area or from average to great – it matters how much impact they had period. And Iverson and Howard had massive impacts on their team, turning a team that wouldn’t have a shot at the playoffs without them into a Finals squad.

Finally, Iverson is not a bad comparison for Howard for other reasons as well. Their peak level of success for their franchise was similar, they were both talented superstars who clearly had flaws in their game compared to the true best player in the game contenders, they both lacked all-star talent from teammates but needed a team completely constructed to their skillset to peak statistically, and of course, they both left behind tainted reputations and a feeling that they didn’t really get it leadership wise. Iverson came after a superior Philadelphia superstar in Charles Barkley and Howard came after a superior one in Shaquille O’Neal. Both will matter historically to their franchises, but not as much as say, Kevin Garnett did to the Timberwolves or Lebron James did to the Cavaliers, just restricting it to superstars who didn’t win a ring and switched teams. To me Dwight Howard is a great player but he is closer to Allen Iverson than Lebron James in caliber of play. I’ll expand on that more in the next few days.

Written by jr.

August 10, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Posted in Basketball

2 Responses

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  1. I don’t know, I think that there’s a big difference here. With Howard providing a highly efficient 18-21 ppg and putting huge foul pressure on the opposition, the area that wasn’t his main strength was still relatively better than AI on defense, and his defensive dominance outstrips Iverson’s offensive strengths.

    It’s an interesting concept, but relative to their peers, Howard is a more dominant defender than was AI a scorer and Dwight is also a better offensive player than was Iverson a defender, so can it really be said when the two players are that distinct in two-way ability?


    August 15, 2012 at 2:33 pm

  2. Smart, but interesting, as are many of your pages.
    I read through the archives over the past week, and I must say I think I’m in love.

    Mandakini Ravi

    February 27, 2013 at 2:44 am

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