Note: This article was written prior to the January 18th Game @ Detroit.
After the Atlanta Hawks were once again swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2016 Eastern Conference Semifinals, rebounding was identified as a major issue that held the team back. Former Hawks Center Al Horford did not grab a single offensive board over the course of the entire Semifinals, and never grabbed more than six defensive rebounds. It’s hard to win basketball games with a lack of presence on the glass.
Perhaps the lack of rebounding wasn’t Horford’s fault, as the 3rd overall pick from the University of Florida is a natural Power Forward at 6′ 10. But it is an unacceptable for the starting center to be held to one total rebound in a playoff game.
The Hawks addressed this problem by signing Dwight Howard to a three year, $70 million contract. This signing unfortunately led to Horford opting to not re-sign with Atlanta and to take an offer from the Boston Celtics. However, Atlanta arguably did not need Horford now that they had a center known for his rebounding ability.
While Howard’s resume is impressive: 8x All Star, 5x Rebounding Leader, 3x Defensive Player of the Year, among other accomplishments, many fans were still doubtful of what Howard could bring to the Hawks. Was he still a locker-room cancer as perceived in his time with Houston and Los Angeles? Would he buy into Coach Budenholzer’s system? Could he once again be a dominant presence in the paint as he was in Orlando?
Now with the NBA season about half over, let’s evaluate the play of Howard and see if the concerns of fans were correct.
Statistics through 36 Games Played in 2016-2017 Season:
.640 FG% – .551 FT% – 13.9 PPG – 13.3 RPG – 1.2 APG – 1.3 BLKPG
This statline is certainly impressive, especially as he currently rebounds above his career average of 12.7 RPG. His rebounding, putbacks, and scoring ability in the paint almost guarantees Howard a double-double each game he plays.
However, Howard does not posses the shooting ability that Horford did, causing the offense to be more one dimensional and sometimes stagnant against teams with complement defensive big men. Now, the offensive struggles of the Hawks are not all to blame on Howard, as Dennis Schröder is adjusting to the starting role and Kent Bazemore has only recently found his rhythm.
Also, while the Hawks rebounding has overall improved, it has not improved by great margins. Last season Atlanta averaged 42.1 boards a game, this season the team averages 44.0 boards a game.
As for the team’s scoring, the numbers are virtually unchanged. Last season, the Hawks averaged 102.8 PPG, and now they average 103.0 PPG.
So what’s the bottom line? Are the Hawks better off with Howard than they were with Horford? Does Howard’s rebounding and defense outweigh Horford’s reliable offensive game?
The Hawks are on pace to finish with 48 wins, the same as last season. Howard has energized the team as a great catalyst in some games, but in other games it seems like he’s just grabbing a few rebounds and that’s it. And from a statistical standpoint, it doesn’t look like the Hawks are that much better off than last season.
The Hawks sit at 24-17, the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference. Lately, the Hawks have been on quite the hot streak and hopefully they can continue their momentum as playoff seeding tightens up.
Time will tell if Howard is an improvement, or if the aging superstar is too far past his prime to make an impact for his hometown team.