In the evolution of the NBA, the Washington Wizards did not have a stretch-five on their roster last season with traditional centers in Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi with a little bit of Jason Smith without a jump shot sprinkled in. That will likely remain the case in 2018-19 with Dwight Howard as the only addition to get consistent playing time (no offense Thomas Bryant). Despite not shooting three-pointers like the Al Horford’s or DeMarcus Cousins’ of the world, Howard seems to think that he can still fit in during small ball play as a traditional center.
When asked about his thoughts on the small ball era, Howard mostly avoided giving an opinion by answering with a politically correct response. “It’s all about winning,” Howard said. “Whatever coach needs me to do, I’m ready to do it and I’m looking forward to doing it.” During the 2017 playoff series against the Wizards, as a member of the Hawks, he would receive inconsistent playing time at the end of games because of Washington going small as well as his poor free throw percentage.
In his lone season with the Hornets, Howard did start to adapt his game, unlike Gortat who was stubborn in his hatred of small ball, which he called garbage” multiple times. When the eight-time All-Star entered the league, he remembers battling with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal or Alonzo Morning in an “arm-wrestling match.” Despite turning 33 in December, Howard boasts that he wants to play another eight seasons so even though he may be kidding himself, he knows he must evolve to have any shot.
“In order for me to do that, I have to really change my game. It started last season. Last season was probably the most confident I’ve been in my career as far as just doing everything on the floor. Handling the ball, shooting, being more of an offensive threat in iso situations,” Howard began. “My whole focus is to do whatever this team needs. I know how to set screens. It’s not something that I need practice on, I’ve been doing it my whole life. And I know by me setting screens and rolling or whatever is asked will open up the paint, the threes for everybody else. Whatever is needed, I’m available, I’m willing to do it and that’s the only thing we’ve been talking about.”
Howard’s athleticism that allows him to live above the rim is certainly one way to fit into a subset of the small ball era, which is something John Wall has never truly had available to him (unless you count JaVale McGee). The fact that the former No. 1 overall pick is finally over a long-term back injury will certainly help him regain his Superman form.
“Last year was probably the healthiest I’ve been the last four or five years,” Howard explained. “I got the cape. It was a little dusty, had a couple holes in it so I had my seamstress put it back together. Got it cleaned so looking forward to putting the cape back on.”
One thing that has been clear since Scott Brooks took over two summers ago is that he wants his team to always push the pace. Brooks is already preaching this offseason about his desire for the team to push the pace even more so during the upcoming season. The head coach has proclaimed that Howard is “on board” with such a style of play. Team president Ernie Grunfeld described his newest singing as “someone who could rebound the basketball so we can get out in transition and get out and run more, push the pace.”
“It was great,” Howard said about running more with the Hornets. “My dad was a track coach so my whole life all I did was run. And that’s what I’ve been doing all summer. I know I got to be able to keep up with John and Bradley, the rest of the younger guys. I’m in the best shape of my life, this is the healthiest I’ve been, I’ve changed my diet, again, to a better diet.”
Although Washington as a team wants to do less talking this year, given that they could not back it up last season, Howard already has high expectations for this team, which is expected for a press conference in front of Monumental Sports employees.
“We match up well with anybody. They’re going to have to match up with us,” Howard proclaimed. “Man, I really think we have a really good opportunity to win and win big in the East and all of us are hungry.”