Dwight Howard may never have fully developed that go-to post move or mid-range jumper that mid-to-late 2000s hoops pundits yearned for, but the Philadelphia 76ers center was a monster finisher.
During the 2007-08 season, Howard set a league record by racking up 269 slam dunks. It was a mark that stood for more than a decade before Utah Jazz center broke it in 2018-19. And while Howard’s best days are long behind him, he has largely continued to punish rims around the Association.
This season, though, the 35-year-old has scuffled at times to produce points near the basket with the same efficacy.
Stat geeks and overly-critical fans weren’t the only ones to notice, either. Howard himself clearly wasn’t satisfied with the way he was finishing (or, rather, not finishing) close to the basket.
So, the eight-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer got to work — and the results have been impressive.
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Dwight Recommits and Rediscovers His Best Offensive Skill
On Friday, Howard almost resembled the player who was drafted No. 1 overall by the Orlando Magic way back in 2004. With the Sixers squaring off against the Atlanta Hawks for the second straight game, the big man scored a team-high 19 points in just 17 minutes of play to help Philly to a blowout win.
He got there by making eight of his 11 shot attempts, all of which came at point-blank range.
According to Howard, the outburst was the result of his recent recommitment to being a beast down low.
“The last couple of, I would say weeks, I’ve been really working on finishing in the paint in practice and stuff like that,” Howard said, via Sixers Wire.
“All that hard work has paid off, I just want to continue to be aggressive in the paint, go back up strong, and finish, and force those guys to have to foul me, and just play as hard as I can.”
Howard Sustaining Success Down Low
Howard isn’t blowing smoke when he talks about weeks of hard work paying off. The numbers show a clear shift in his ability to punish opponents near the basket recently.
Through March 31, he was connecting on 61.4% of his field goal attempts in the restricted area. While that’s not a terrible conversion rate, it’s middling at best for a player of his size and far below what we have come to expect from Howard.
By comparison, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle — both of whom are under 6-foot-8 — were among the cadre of players making a higher percentage of shots in that range.
More recently, though, Howard has flipped the script.
Since April 1, his restricted-area field goal percentage has made a sizable jump to 72.7. That mark is second only to Paul Reed on the Sixers, and Howard obviously has a more substantial sample size.
Much has been said and written about Howard’s defensive impact this season. Without him acting as a paint deterrent for the second unit, Philly may not be fielding a top-three defense right now.
If he can continue making a similar impact as a finisher, though, the Sixers will be that much tougher to contend with during postseason play.