The Atlanta Hawks Should Probably Bench Dwight Howard
Even if it ruins his trade value and damages the organization down the road, Atlanta's only hope to beat the Wizards is benching Howard.
© Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Conversations about Dwight Howard are rarely positive, even when they can or should be. No matter what he does, even the NBA's greatest minds are jaded by old stuff. The awkward self-exile from Orlando. His inability to appease an unappeasable Kobe Bryant. An obsession with post-ups that made James Harden hate him.
Howard farts, giggles, collects rattlesnakes, and downs Crunch bars for lunch. These are pimples on a Hall of Fame career, not federal crimes. They don't need to be mentioned every time he snatches an offensive rebound or displays All-Defensive team-caliber work as a 31-year-old.
I write this, sadly, as a necessary prologue to the point of this piece: The Atlanta Hawks should probably bench him. This isn't a feeding tube for the popular narrative that whatever Howard touches turns to crap. (Two of the three teams he left are still reeling from his departure.)
But for all the positive qualities he brings to the defensive end, Atlanta's offense can't do anything right when Howard is on the floor. It was a slight issue when he first got there, but has since grown into a full-blown catastrophe.
Already down 0-2 to the favored Washington Wizards, the Hawks score 93.9 points per 100 possessions with Howard on the floor, and 107.1 when he sits. Mike Budenholzer benched his starting center for the entire fourth quarter in Game 2, even after the Hawks outscored the Wizards by 15 points during Howard's third stint.
He finished with six points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes. There were zero free-throw attempts, four fouls, and three turnovers. Why is this happening? Dwight...doesn't know.
According to Synergy Sports, he's yet to finish a single possession as the roll man. Not one possession! That leaves the Hawks with two options. They can never post him up and repeatedly run pick-and-roll action with three outside threats dotting the perimeter—a strategy that either forces Paul Millsap to be the ball-handler or lets his man stand in the paint—or they can bench him.
The latter seems like a smarter move. Mike Muscala can shoot, pass, and knows how to use verticality at the rim. Ersan Ilyasova is good to draw 78 charges per game and can space the floor. Neither will suck up possessions in the post or destroy driving, passing, and cutting lanes for Atlanta's wings.
It's a small sample size, but Atlanta's defense has also cratered with Howard on the floor. It's all so very hideous, and the most obvious adjustment—even if it obliterates his trade value and damages the organization beyond this series—is to let Howard watch the rest of this series from the bench.
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