The Atlanta Hawks went from winning 60 games 2 years ago to 48 games this past season. The Hawks got Superman to return home by signing Dwight Howard to a three-year deal. Atlanta is betting that Howard can regain his form of the 8 time all-star who led the Magic to the 2008-09 Finals averaging 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks a game. Howard has struggled with injuries and could never get on the same page with his teammate like Kobe Bryant and James Harden over the past few years. There is no better opportunity than the playing for a stable organization like the Hawks for Howard.
Howard was the most dominating center in the NBA but ever since he forced his way out of Orlando he slipped further and further from that dominance. It appeared Howard had found his kryptonite in lack of structure. He left a drill sergeant of a coach in Stan Van Gundy to the chaos that was the Los Angeles Lakers. His first season with the Lakers they fired coach Mike Brown five games into the season and brought in Mike D’Antoni whose run and gun offense never took advantage of Howard’s posting ability.
After a year with the Lakers, he left to join James Harden and the Houston Rockets. There he was coached by legendary big man Kevin McHale and made it as far as the conference finals two seasons ago. This season was a disaster from the start and McHale was let go. As J.B. Bickerstaff took over, there was no real improvement in the situation. The Rockets followed their conference finals run with a first round flame out after just barely making the playoffs.
In Howard’s first eight years in the NBA he played for only 2 coaches and over the last four seasons he has played for four total coaches. The only coach who was able to get the most out of him was Stan Van Gundy. He is the type of coach, who provides a structure and demands discipline from his players. These coaches can often be the toughest type of coach to play for.
Howard might have found that in coach Budenholzer of the Hawks. In his three years of coaching the Hawks, he has brought in a style of space and play to the Hawks. Budenholzer comes from the Spurs coaching family tree and spent 17 years under Gregg Popovich’s tutelage, another type of coach who demands discipline. Also while with the Spurs he coached one of the best power forwards of all time in Tim Duncan.
Budenholzer knows what type of sets to put Howard in to take advantage of his post up abilities. The set below is a designed pick the picker action to get Kyle Korver a three but can be turned into a post set now that Howard is a Hawk. Kent Bazemore comes over the top of a double staggered screen and gets the ball on the wing. Korver sets a back screen to bring Paul Millsap to the post. Al Horford sets a screen for Korver to free him up for a three. It’s easy to envision Howard getting the back screen from Korver to cut to the post.
Millsap is a good post player but not quite the threat the Howard could be in the post. Sets like these are the type of sets that Howard can excel in. His post up opportunities has dwindled over the past six years from 658 attempts to 204 last season. He admitted in an interview with ESPN.com “I allowed not getting the ball to affect me.” Given the opportunity to get more shots in the post should keep Howard engaged on both ends of the floor.
The Hawks run an offense that requires the ball to be moved constantly and not be dominated by one player. So when Howard gets the ball in the post he will be expected to make the right decisions and reads. If he begins to return to his Superman form that he showed in Orlando, double teams should start arriving. He’ll be expected to make plays like these for his teammates. In the plays below he finds Trevor Ariza and Ty Lawson for a threes when the double team arrives.
Of all the possible places Howard could have landed, he picked the opportunity where he has the best chance to succeed. The Hawks with coach Budenholzer at the helm have the foundation that will provide the structure Superman has been looking for since he took it for granted in Orlando.
- ESPN TrueHoop Dwight Howard Q&A: Superman Returns?
- Bleacher Report Dwight Howard Discusses Motivation, Desires to win a Championship with the Hawks