[Wizards 2010-11 Player Preview Index: Gilbert Arenas, Hilton Armstrong, Andray Blatche,
Trevor Booker, Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard, Yi Jianlian, JaVale McGee, Kevin Seraphin,
Al Thornton, John Wall, Nick Young.]
-by Kyle Weidie
I reflected upon Josh Howard and his past a little bit the other day, now I’m going to do it some more.
Might Josh have a little too much hope? Again, I’m not here to be a killjoy. In all likelihood Howard has met with Ted Leonsis, and in a sense, projects the ultra-optimistic hope of the new Wizards owner. Washington sports fans don’t yet realize how lucky they are to have an owner who is endearing to the team’s players, and not like those who control the Clippers or Dodgers or countless other inept owners in sports past and present.
Then there’s the rub. Howard is proclaiming that the team sees him as a “natural-born leader” … when he’s only played 91 minutes in a Wizards uniform. No, I won’t rehash Howard’s past relationships with weed, street racing or the National Anthem here, but I will remind you that in April 2008 he handed out fliers for his party in the locker room after a playoff loss to the New Orleans Hornets that put the Mavs down 3-1 in the series. One who hasn’t necessarily been a leader in the past does not become a “born” leader in about an hour and half on the court with his new team, even if the slate was wiped clean. The time frame and leadership claims are not intrinsic pairs.
Yes, Howard’s performance off the court, which has been glowing by most accounts while he’s been turning over a new leaf in Washington, has surely been judged, considered, and accepted via the Wizards signing him to a contract. But it’s on the court during games that counts … for the most part (because here in America we more easily forgive if one is able to excel in athletic competition).
Then there are the other issues, notably from Howard’s recent interview with HoopsHype. He says he’ll be back in October or November (also keep in mind that along the way he’s often claimed that he’s ahead of schedule). David Aldridge, however, reports a more conservative recovery timeline on NBA.com — November at the earliest. Aldridge writes, “Right now the Wizards are saying December looks possible, but a return from an ACL injury usually takes a year at least.”
The sense that the Wizards want to be much more guarded with Howard’s knee arises, which is understandable considering the past criticism the team’s medical staff has received, and Leonsis is surely aware of this. But Josh himself seems a little anxious to get past the setback. He told HoopsHype when asked if he was going to be conservative with his knee or if he was going to force the issue, “I’ve been forcing the issue right now as far as rehab so when I come back I will be confident and do the things that I’ve been doing.”
Can you gather the developing contrast? Or is this something created by me? (The answer is no, I don’t have that much power.) Maybe these little, tiny, minuscule things I notice will turn out to mean absolutely nothing. There’s nothing wrong with hope, but have too much of it and you might lose a grip on reality. Just let it happen. Don’t force the issue.
-by Adam McGinnis
After the Wizards declined a $11.8 million team option on the final year of his previous contract, Howard became an unrestricted free agent. He flirted with Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls before eventually signing a one-year incentive laden deal back with Washington for around $3.75 million. The Wizards also offered him the most money along with playing time.
J-Ho has long given back to his local and hometown communities with his Josh Howard Foundation. The noble cause provides financial support for scholarships, after school youth programs and assistance for seniors. This Summer Howard hosted his annual basketball camp in Dallas from July 26th to July 30th and participated in Big Tigger’s charity Aids Awareness basketball event. Footage of both can be found at Josh Howard’s website in the video section.
Howard was also honored at halftime of a Wake Forest football game earlier this season for donating $100,000 to an endowment at the school, which will be called “The Josh Howard Scholarship.” This led Kyle Weidie to famously poke fun of his outfit and get called out by Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. (More on this here and here.) For the record, I loved J-Ho’s lid, and he downright dazzled in it.
-by Arish Narayen
For Howard to have a successful 2010-11 season, he must improve his shot from beyond 10 feet, rebound a bit more, and fully recover from the surgery on his left knee. Sounds easy enough, right? Like warming up a HotPocket and putting a diaper on so you can blog all night, right? No. It won’t be that easy.
It seems clear that in any sport, players who tear their ACL take X amount of time to return to peak performance. Obviously, the value of X can vary greatly, as some players recover quickly, and others never return to their former selves (see: Carson Palmer. I’m not bitter the Ravens lost or anything). Given Howard’s limited history of leg problems, and the amount of stress basketball puts on the legs, I’m betting it will take at least a month or two for Howard to return to form. The effect of this injury? Howard will likely be attacking the basket less, and may have to rely more on his mid-range game.
Looking at Josh Howard’s shot location data from HoopData.com, Howard’s eFG% sharply declined last season prior to getting traded by Dallas. Outside of a 43% FG clip from 16-23 feet in 2009 (and a slight uptick in his 3-pt% that year), Howard’s ability to make shots from outside 10 feet has simply declined since he broke into the League.
As defenders are probably going to dare Howard to drive past them and test that knee, Josh will have to pull up for more shots. Increasing his accuracy from beyond 10 feet would go a long way in ensuring an efficient Wizards’ offense.
The Perfect Play.
-by John Townsend
John Wall (#2) and JaVale McGee (#34) run a flare screen near the top of the three-point line: Gilbert Arenas (#9) sets an off-ball screen for Josh Howard (#5) along the baseline.
Wall passes the ball to McGee, who holds until Arenas is able to come off Blatche’s screen.
McGee swings the ball to Arenas and cuts to the basket. In the meantime, Blatche sets a backdoor screen for Howard; then curls back out toward the top of the key.
Arenas dumps the ball to Howard for an ISO in the post on the left wing (where he’s more comfortable). The ultimate goal is to give Howard the ball close enough to the basket so he doesn’t settle for the long two-pointer, but still has enough room to use his athleticism to make a play. During his 31-game tour with the Dallas Mavericks last season, Howard averaged 1.11 points per possession (PPP) in the post — 8th best Post-Up PPP in the NBA.
-by Stephen Riley
It wasn’t that long ago when Howard was considered a top talent in the NBA. But those days have since gone up in smoke (pun intended). Howard isn’t expected to play until after November, at the earliest, but if healthy, his return will add another strong scorer to Washington’s roster.
He’ll struggle for shots behind Gilbert Arenas, John Wall and Andray Blatche, but his length and defense will be featured assets on a young team. Howard should be fine playing the third and fourth fiddle considering the backseat he often took on some loaded Maverick teams. During his best Dallas days, Howard was a pesky defender and sneaky scorer. He provided athleticism, rebounding and one-on-one skills that were effective in the half court. His attitude has always been subject to criticism, but when focused, he’s performed in solid fashion.
For it to work this year for the Wizards, it really all depends upon how Howard responds following his knee surgery. He’s battled injuries throughout his career and has always seemed to bounce back, but he’s never dealt with an ACL injury before. Underrated explosiveness was a big part of his game so it will be interesting to see if Howard’s knee injury zaps that from him. In a worst case scenario, Howard and Al Thornton will form a semi-solid small forward rotation. At best, Howard can regain his former All-Star form and dial up a season that helps him cash in on what should be his last big pay day after his contract closes.
-by Beckley Mason
Josh Howard has never been an Iron Man. In fact, he’s appeared in 70+ games only three times in seven seasons. At this point in his career, Robert Downey Jr. circa 2001 is an appropriate analogy to the former Mavericks semi-star.
In 2005, Howard was a madman. He crashed the boards, sprinted lanes, attacked off the dribble, blocked shots, and generally created and thrived on mayhem all over the court. He was, somewhat like Shawn Marion, a player who epitomized the modern small forward. Able to fill gaps and find creases all over the court, Howard was an exciting player because his talents would manifest themselves in unexpected moments.
Downey Jr. seemed to epitomize a new breed himself, coming up in the brat pack in the 1980s and 90s (2003 NBA draft?!). He showed a precocious subtlety early in his career and seemed sure to one day claim his destiny as an elite talent. Downey’s subsequent struggles with drugs are well documented. In the years leading up to 2000, Downey would be in and out of drug abuse clinics and jail, his personal life and career in tailspin.
The root of the breakdown in Howard’s game is a bit more mysterious. As his ankles weakened and he decided he was born to be a triple threat, jab-and-fake shooter, Howard became, for lack of a better term, lame. As his play slipped, his entire persona came under fire—he was a bad locker room presence, he didn’t heart America, he didn’t play defense.
After Howard’s knee exploded, he did the same thing Downey Jr. did in 2001: rehab his body and his image. When Downey returned to the limelight, he traveled via TV sitcom and clever semi-indie flicks like A Scanner Darkly and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. He didn’t try to be the hero, but he crushed the roles he chose, and before long, he was a bona fide star with his own Marvel franchise.
Howard’s comeback will need to chart a similar course. If he can contribute again as the X-factor wing threat he was three years ago when he averaged 20 points and seven rebounds per game, it won’t be long before he’s back in a featured role.