NBA Finals: Dwight Howard Needs to Step Up
Here is Dwight Howard’s chance. If he really wants to be considered one of the of the elite players in the NBA, there is no time like the NBA Finals for him to prove himself. Sure, LeBron James didn’t win any games in the 2007 NBA Finals either, and no one knocked him. But Howard is not facing a dynastic basketball team, and his team certainly can match up with the Lakers on any given night, as Game 2 served to prove. So if he wants to convince the world that he isn’t the NBA’s next Vin Baker, then he better get it together.
I know what you’re saying. It’s not fair to compare Dwight Howard to the next Vin Baker. Vin Baker was a star turned bum, who’s game evaporated over night after a horrendous playoff outing in which he missed a series of clutch free throws to lose the game and the series for the Sonics. Of course, Baker had off the court issues as well, but his inability to perform in the playoffs, after reaching new heights in his career just before the lockout season, seemed to knock him off course for the rest of his career. Nobody saw that coming. Alcohol issues aside, the man knew how to play basketball, and as long as he could do that, there would be someone there to give him a second chance.
Nevertheless, the chances faded as his skills seemed to diminish.
I know what you’re saying: What the hell does this have to do with Dwight Howard?
Not to say that Dwight Howard will embark upon a precipitous decline that sees him turn into a journeyman center that can’t hold on to a roster spot, but if he doesn’t show up in these playoffs eventually, one has to begin to wonder exactly what that would do his psyche.
Howard could do one of two things. He could go the route of Shaquille O’Neal, who was schooled by Hakeem Olajuwon in the 1995 NBA Finals. Hakeem’s Rockets swept O’Neal’s Magic that year. However, Shaq learned from it, and we even saw growth from him in that very series. And after the series, Shaq developed his game, changed his attitude, packed his bags, headed West, and became one of the best centers of all time.
Howard could do what Shaq did. Or he could become Vin Baker; a player who saw almost immediate success in the NBA, making the All-Star team in his 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th seasons in the NBA, only to see it all fade away so fast and so hard that his career seems like a blur now.
Of course, as many people read this, they will say that I’m crazy. They will say that there is no way that Dwight Howard’s confidence and game could dissipate like that. Yet that’s the same thing they said about Baker—that is, until his game actually did dissipate.
Believe me, I want to see Howard become one of the most dominant players in the league. I think he is the perfect person to fill the hole that will soon be vacated by Shaq’s eventual retirement. However, I have to see growth. I have to see a player who doesn’t take losing at the game’s highest level lying down.
In the 2007 NBA Finals, despite being swept, LeBron James bounced back from averaging less than 20 points in the first 2 games, to averaging 24.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 7.5 apg to end the series. And in the 1995 Finals, despite also being dominated, Shaq averaged 28.0 ppg and 12.5 rpg.
Right now, through the first 2 NBA Finals games, Howard is averaging a paltry 14.5 ppg. He’s coming through with the rebounds at 15.5 rpg, but unless he’s vying for becoming the league’s next Dennis Rodman, I would like to see his basketball prowess take over on the offensive end as well. And if he doesn’t take over there, I at least want to see signs that he can. Because if he can’t step up in the NBA Finals, he’s not the guy everyone is making him out to be, myself included.
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