Dwight Howard has been a joy to watch this season, and we’re not talking about it enough.
To start, he’s having a historically great season when it comes to rebounding. He’s been a great rebounder his entire career, but this has arguably been his best rebounding season yet. His 17.8 offensive rebound percentage and 35.3 defensive rebound percentage are both career-highs. His 26.7 total rebound percentage is not just a career-high, but the highest single-season total rebound percentage (of anyone playing at least two games) in Philadelphia 76ers franchise history, according to a Stathead search by my Liberty Ballers colleague Daniel Olinger. Moses Malone never posted a single-season total rebound percentage as high as Dwight’s this season. Dennis Rodman only did once.
Howard has incredible instincts when it comes to rebounding the basketball, and that was on full display on May 8 against the Detroit Pistons, when he had 14 rebounds in 22 minutes. The clip below shows some of his most impressive offensive rebounds from that game.
He’s also a very solid rim defender. Inside of six feet, players shot 5.4 percentage points worse than their average when guarded by Dwight Howard this season, according to NBA.com. He had two fantastic blocks on May 11 against the Indiana Pacers, shown below.
Even in Howard’s worst moments, he’s incredibly entertaining, whether it’s leading the league in technical fouls or sequences like the one described by Rich Hofmann below.
In absolute awe of that Dwight Howard sequence.— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) April 27, 2021
Commits a shooting foul, grabs a one-hand rebound and points to the crowd when the Thunder player misses both free throws to trigger the Frosty Freeze Out, commits an offensive foul and commits another shooting foul on defense.
Speaking of the Frosty Freeze-Out, Howard enjoys it just as much as the fans do.
Off the court, all indications point to him being a positive influence in the locker room. After the very first game of the season, Howard came back on the floor to put up extra shots with Ben Simmons. At 35, Howard is still in excellent shape and putting in extra work to help his young teammates get better. What more could you ask for from a player in his 17th season?
A major knock on Howard has been that he doesn’t shoot threes so he’s not a good fit. I don’t think it’s that simple. It’s true Howard is a poor fit in some lineups, but the team is better off limiting those lineups than giving Dwight’s minutes away to a random 7-footer shooting in the mid-to-low 30s from three. To find a stretch-5 to come off the bench, the Sixers would either need to spend big on a bench piece (playing behind their best player) or settle for a player who may shoot close to league average from 3 but can’t rebound or protect the paint nearly as well as Howard can. In my view, neither are good options for a team looking to compete in the playoffs.
While we’re on the topic of the playoffs, Dwight played in every Finals game for last season’s NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers, getting 11.8 minutes per game in that series. He also played every game in the Western Conference Finals, playing 20.2 minutes per game and playing a huge role in limiting Nikola Jokic.
Throughout Joel Embiid’s career, the Sixers have fallen apart in the NBA playoffs in the minutes he’s been off the court, in large part because they haven’t had backup big men who are viable against good teams. Dwight Howard already proved last season that he is more than capable of playing in these moments.
It’s been cool to see Howard, arguably a top 10 center of all time, embrace his role as a key bench player and locker-room leader for the Sixers. He’s always smiling and playing to the fans, and he truly seems to be having fun at all times.
Getting to watch Dwight Howard play 69 games has been a highlight in a season full of highlights, and Philly is very lucky to have him for the veteran’s minimum (thanks in part to some recruiting by Joel Embiid). He’s easily the best backup center we’ve had in years, and his time with the Sixers has been worthy of appreciation.