Atlanta’s first move of the offseason was signing the illustrious Dwight Howard to a three-year deal. Howard returns to his hometown looking for something to prove after a disastrous final year in Houston. The eight-time all-star posted his lowest scoring total since his rookie season in Orlando and at many times looked disinterested in what was going on around him. A lot has been made over Dwight Howard’s character since his departure from Orlando. He has gotten the reputation as a distraction or a cancer. His greatness that took the league by storm has been forgotten and now he turns to his hometown to rekindle the fire.
Howard is not going to be asked to do it alone. For this first time in his career, Superman has a superstar sidekick in the post with him. Paul Millsap is coming off undoubtedly the best season of his career and his third straight all-star appearance. Millsap and Al Horford combined to be one of the most dominant frontcourts in the league last year. Their versatility on both offense and defense was a terror for opponents. However, their lack of size in the paint left a glaring hole that opponent’s feasted on. The Hawks finished 28th in total rebounds per game. That number got even worse when it came to offensive rebound per game, where the Hawks ranked dead last. That hole will no longer be their with Howard running the paint, and him and Millsap will combine to be the most deadly frontcourt duo in the NBA this year.
Rebounding is going to be a strength for Atlanta this season. Millsap led the NCAA in rebounding for three consecutive seasons at Louisiana Tech. That tenacity on the boards has translated in the NBA even though he is somewhat undersized. His brute strength make him a monster to keep of the glass for 48 minutes and he led the Hawks in rebounding a year ago. Bringing Howard will make it even easier for Millsap to crash the glass. Even in the midst of Howard’s worst season as a professional, he was one of the best rebounders in the game. Those 8.3 offensive rebounds a game the Hawks collected as a team on average, Howard was getting nearly half of that himself (3.4). It is going to take not one, not two, not three, not four, not five… Maybe I am getting ahead of myself, but it is going to take multiple bodies to box out the behemoth that his Dwight Howard. This will make plenty of room for other Atlanta Hawks to crash the glass and create extra possessions. This something the Hawks have not had in years, and it is time to get used to seeing a lot of extra possessions.
Rebounding is going to be a strength, but what is going to help the Hawks on the boards as well is their new defense with Howard as the anchor. Atlanta really switched their forte around on us last season. They were no longer a terrific offensive team, but they were one of, if not the best, defensive teams in the league. It might be hard to imagine that after the offensive display Cleveland put on the Hawks, but it is true. Atlanta ranked first in defensive efficiency by a large margin after the all-star break and finished second overall behind the San Antonio Spurs. One of the things a Cleveland player mentioned about why Cleveland was able to score so easily against Atlanta was the Hawks lack of a true rim-protector. Paul Millsap and Al Horford were versatile, but nobody on Cleveland was looking over their shoulders for one of them to block their shot. Because of this, Atlanta had to crash a lot of defenders in the paint and it worked to a degree. Cleveland could not get a shot in the paint, but Atlanta left everyone open at the three-point line, where the Cavs shredded the Hawks. With the addition of Howard, the Hawks have that true-rim protector that can protect the paint on his own. There are questions whether Howard is the defender he once was, but a motivated Howard can still be one of the great enforcers in this league. If Howard is truly motivated to be in Atlanta, him and Millsap will be the best defensive duo in the NBA.
The biggest question mark upon the arrival of Dwight Howard is his offensive game. Atlanta has made nearly everyone on the floor a shooter over the past few years. Al Horford shot 129 threes last year and made them at a 34% clip. That is not going to be the case with Howard, but the notion that everybody on the Hawks has to shoot is misconceived. Atlanta has enough guys who can stroke the ball from behind the arc. What they did not have last year was a guy who could roll to the rim and play above the rim. Howard is terrific in the pick and roll. The speed of Dennis Schroder combined by the sheer size and athleticism of Howard is going to be almost impossible to stop. Howard will also get many more touches in Atlanta than he did in Houston. He may not be a terrific low-post player, but his size makes him hard to deal with one-on-one. The combination of size and strength that Millsap and Howard are going to bring is going to create major problems for opposing teams. Howard’s scoring numbers are going to go up, and the two of them will average close to forty points a game this upcoming season.
In a league where the guards have become the stars, the big men down low have really began to go under the radar. The importance of having two big men who can control the game on defense and the glass has become a really underrated aspect in today’s NBA. When it comes to talented frontcourts, there is only one that can compare to Howard and Millsap right now. That is the Clippers’ duo of Griffin and Jordan. Griffin is coming of a rough year, but when healthy those two are human highlight reels. But if Howard can rekindle the fire he once had in Orlando, those two cannot even compete with what will be the deadliest frontcourt in the NBA in 2016.