The Case for a Mavs’ Dwight: If Not Dwight, then Who?
by Chris Axmann
In Dwight’s world, mum’s the word on his up-coming free agency, his last few years with the Rockets, and where his career will go from here.
Back in the real world, people are talking – some more positively that others.
In what ended up being his most memorable media appearance in recent memory, Dwight got grilled under the bright lights of the Inside the NBA studio. You can watch that interview below:
Right off the bat, Charles took out the big guns:
“He’s a really nice man, he’s a hell of a player, BUT, for some reason people don’t like him. Why do you think people don’t like you?”
Dwight responded accordingly:
In his defense – how does one even respond to a question like that? However, Chuck’s question rings true in many fan’s ears: heck, I don’t even particularly like him. Or what I know of him, rather.
Dwight Howard ‘the guy’ may or may not be intolerable: frankly, as fans, we have no idea who he is as a man. There are carefully choreographed (sometimes literally – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4270602/) glimpses into the ‘Life of Dwight,” but without spending time with the All-Star center, we can’t say for sure whether or not his reputation is justified.
What we can say, however, is that he’s a hell of a basketball player, and he’d be a great addition to the Mavericks roster.
Before I elaborate, I should explain the context in Dallas. The safe move would be to resign Zaza, or perhaps snag a bench center or two, but, for the most part, maintain status quo. The problem with our status quo is that it’s not going to cut it – for a team with elite shooters like Dirk, Wesley, and Chandler stationed around the perimeter, there’s space inside for a dominant big to operate. That was the vision that the Mavs sold to DeAndre last off-season, and that will be the vision that the Mavs sell to Dwight this off-season.
The Mavs were dead last in the league in FGA within 5 feet last season, and, in a league moving towards optimized efficiency, this is prime real estate: the Mavericks just didn’t have the pieces to capitalize on it. That being said, the Mavs have had plenty of success in the past with high efficiency play around the rim. Tyson Chandler comes to mind, but even Brandon Wright was one of the most efficient players in the league just a season ago, using the space created by Dallas’ shooters and dynamic guard play.
Even putting aside the personality issues that Dwight is rumored to have, further questions persist about his viability as a primary, or even secondary, scoring option for a competitive team. This season, the NBA witnessed a precipitous drop-off in his production, at least in terms of scoring: he dropped to 13.7 points per game, the second lowest season average of his career and a far cry from the averages that the once perennial All-NBA center put up in his seasons in Orlando.
Bryan Toporek of BBallBreakdown.com insists that his decrease in offensive productivity can hardly be pinned on Dwight’s play:
During the regular season, Howard averaged just 13.7 points on 8.5 field-goal attempts in 32.1 minutes per night, despite shooting a career-best 62.0 percent from the field.
During the Rockets’ opening-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, Howard attempted only 48 shots across the five games despite shooting a team-best 54.2 percent overall.
It’s almost as if the Rockets forgot that Howard was the same player who averaged 16.4 points, a league-high 14.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game en route to their Western Conference Finals berth the year prior.
“If Howard struggled to finish around the basket, Houston’s reluctance to feed him down low would at least be slightly more defensible. Instead, however, the big man finished with the league’s fourth-most points per shot this season (1.33) among players with at least 500 field-goal attempts, according to Vantage Sports, trailing just DeAndre Jordan, Stephen Curry and Hassan Whiteside.”
Bryan’s piece makes the reality evident that further statistical analysis reveals that Dwight’s perceived drop-off is simply a matter of poor utilization; given the toxic climate in Houston this year, such a reality isn’t difficult to conceive. Anyone who would question Carlisle’s superiority when compared to J.B. Bickerstaff is either a Rockets’ homer, or someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about – probably both. Carlisle has been the league’s best at using Xs and Os to put players in their optimal positions to score – in fact, much of Dirk’s continued relevance can be contributed to Carlisle’s knack for coaching players to their fullest potentials.
Speaking of Dirk’s continued relevance, the aging Hall-Of-Famer can, in large part, thank the Mavericks’ stellar medical/training staff for that. The trainers in Dallas have preserved and revitalized scores of veterans in the past, and if ever there were a place for Dwight to have a resurgence, Dallas is the city. After his career-altering back surgery in 2012, Dwight has drifted away from the 82 game guarantee that he once was in his prime. From recurring back spasms, to a series of nagging knee injuries, Dwight’s health will be a cause for concern by any team looking to sign the center to a long-term contract, as noted by Orlando Sentinel reporter Josh Robbins:
“His health record should be more troubling to potential suitors. Although he missed only four games to injury this past season, it’s difficult to ignore the 2014-15 season, when a right-knee strain cost him 11 games and right-knee edema forced him to miss 26 games.”
Howard’s camp knows his situation better than anyone, and the Maverick’s history of injury management, particularly in regards to veteran players, will be appealing to Dwight as his career winds down.
As fellow Mavs Fanatics, you (the reader) and I both know what happened last free agency between DeAndre Jordan, Mark Cuban, and Chandler Parsons. The Mavericks went out on a limb, and it burnt them – just as similar situations have many times in the past, including the Rondo fiasco.
What Donnie Nelson and the Maverick’s management understand is that the NBA is a league of risk-taking, and you can’t play it safe and hope to succeed. Sometimes, when you go big or go home, you end up going home: that’s life in pro basketball.
With that in mind, the Mavericks can’t, and won’t, stop swinging for the fences: not with Dirk’s career winding down and Playoffs berths in the next couple of seasons hardly assured. The case for a Mavs’ Dwight isn’t so much based on Dwight’s excellence, or his history as a teammate and a professional. the argument for a Mavs’ Dwight is simple: “If not Dwight, then who?”
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