By far the biggest and most controversial story of basketball’s offseason was the free-agency jump by Dwight Howard from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Houston Rockets.
Despite scoring 18.3 points per game, averaging 12.9 rebounds and appearing in seven All-Star games in nine seasons in the NBA, Howard is constantly criticized for having no offensive game.
It’s as if being the league’s best defender and one of its premier rebounders is not enough. He can’t just be Bill Russell and Dennis Rodman, he has to be Hakeem Olajuwon also.
So the Rockets hired Olajuwon himself to tutor Howard on the turnaround jumper and a few other scoring moves. Howard had to have cringed, though, when Olajuwon joined in the chorus belittling his repertoire. “He’s raw,” Olajuwon said.
More recently, Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar provided this assessment, on ESPN’s First Take: “Dwight is an extraordinary athlete and has incredible athletic ability. But basketball is a game where the most important muscle that you use on the court is the one between your ears. Dwight’s basketball IQ is not up to speed for him to be a dominant player.”
So now he not only has no game, he has no brain.
Naturally, Howard objected to the critique. He told the Houston Chronicle: “You can’t win three Defensive Player of the Year trophies and be stupid.”
He does have a point. Effective defense in the NBA requires intelligence, the ability to size up quickly the opponent’s intentions, to make the right move to the right spot, to know when to lunge for the ball or when to hang back. Howard consistently makes good judgments on defense while averaging 2.2 blocks per game.
Any NBA coach will tell you that his greatest challenge is to get players to play defense (especially on the road). For all his greatness, Jabbar was hardly a lockdown defender in the post. For most of his career, neither was Olajuwon. Most coaches would be happy with a defensive-minded center who seemingly by accident scores 18 points per game.
Last year Howard said he was hampered by injuries. Many doubted he was telling the truth. But Rockets coach Kevin McHale said a thorough medical exam did confirm he was less than 100 percent.
One has to wonder about Kareem’s motive here. When he was playing, he was one of the least outspoken of players. He rarely had any time at all for the media. Or for anybody else. Denver Nuggets coach Doug Moe called him a name that basically means “jerk,” but Moe used a saltier word.
Jabbar suddenly is Mr. Loquacious, at the expense of a current player, one who last year played for his former team. Perhaps Kareem is providing cover for friends with the Lakers who will be criticized if Howard blossoms in Houston.
Then again, Howard does have a way of making everyone think he wastes a large chunk of his talent.
The most recent evidence: He’s been trying to improve his free-throw accuracy, which last year was a deplorable 49.2%. Last week he challenged one of the league’s best free-throwers, James Harden, to a blindfolded contest. Howard won by hitting eight of ten from the line.
So what does that tell you?
The Dwight Howard enigma endures.
Spurrier miffed as Clowney bows out at last minute
Before this football season began, NFL scouts were projecting South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney as the No. 1 pick in the next draft, even though he’s only a junior.
But since then, many questions have arisen about his durability, his effort and his attitude.
As the Gamecocks were warming up to play Kentucky on Saturday, Clowney approached coach Steve Spurrier to inform him that he was not going to play because of a strained rib-cage muscle.
That was the first Spurrier or any of his assistant coaches had heard about Clowney possibly missing the game.
As Tony Barnhart of the CBS Sports Network put it: “Coach Spurrier was frustrated because that’s not news you’re supposed to get a few minutes before the game. . . Somebody’s probably telling him, ‘You don’t need to stress yourself too much.’ . . . The question now is how long does that go on before it starts to affect the locker room?”
Another question: How long before it affects his draft prospects?
After Saturday’s game, Spurrier clearly appeared unhappy with his star player’s commitment: “If he wants to play, we will welcome him to come play for the team if he wants.”
Because he’s anticipating a multi-million-dollar contract for turning pro, it’s understandable that Clowney is being careful not to risk serious injury. But he is missing considerable playing time with a variety of health issues that most observers do not consider all that serious.
He’s been out with a bone spur in his foot and a stomach virus, and Spurrier early in the season faulted him for being overweight and poorly conditioned.
Clowney further annoyed the head ballcoach when he blamed lack of production (few sacks and tackles) on the coaches misusing him.
The bottom line is that Clowney is doing much damage to his own bottom line by looking for excuses for not playing well or by not playing at all. There’s no longer much talk from scouts about him being the No. 1 draft pick.