Posted: Tuesday November 14, 2006 12:39PM; Updated: Tuesday November 14, 2006 3:32PM
Grant Hill describes 20-year-old big man Dwight Howard (above) as the "definition of a man-child."
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
The one minimal flaw thus far has been turnovers. Howard ranked fifth in the NBA with 4.3 per game when Brian Hill made a bright adjustment at practice on Sunday. He reduced the number of teammates cutting to the basket, which opened up space for Howard to operate out of the low post.
"It's like disguising defenses against a young quarterback,'' Grant Hill says. "But it's not just a matter of Dwight getting used to double teams. It's also us getting used to how they're doubling him.''
On the Magic's first possession Monday in Boston, Paul Pierce drifted over and stripped Howard out of the left block. But that turned out to be a variance rather than a continuing theme. For the rest of the night Howard came corkscrewing up out of the painted area like Shamu doing backflips out of a swimming pool. He had 17 points (on just eight attempts), 15 rebounds and three blocks in the Magic's 92-89 win.
All of this was done amid the bellowing of Celtics assistant Clifford Ray, who previously worked with Howard during his rookie year in Orlando. "I heard him the whole time -- 'Don't let him do it! Box him out!''' Howard said.
Howard turned it over just twice more throughout his concluding 38 minutes. Instead of waiting to feed the cutters and inviting defenders to surround him, he was able to simply and relentlessly attack -- while still managing four assists.
"It helped me,'' he says of the adjustment, "because it keeps all the guys who are able to help on the outside. It gave me a chance to get into my move a lot faster, rather than having two guys cut at the same time and clogging up the lane.''
"It's just a matter of getting used to it and reading the defenses and rotations,'' adds Brian Hill, who (as Howard's luck has it) was also coaching the Magic for O'Neal's first four seasons in the league. "Shaquille went through the same thing -- he led the league in turnovers his rookie year.''
It is with grave sympathy that we inform Cleveland, Chicago and other future rivals that Howard has been developing a 15-foot jumper with the goal of further opening up the floor without taking him too far away from the basket. Imagine the Magic a year or two down the road with Howard at center, 7-foot Darko Milicic as a bookend shot-blocking power forward in the role of the modern perimeter-based big man, Jameer Nelson as the game-winning point guard (he scored twice in the final minute to finish off the Celtics) and a bunch of surrounding shooters and scorers ... including the max free agent that the Magic will be signing next summer who might go by the name of Vince Carter.
Howard represents the best of both the new up-tempo world and the old-school world of low-post play. The less his rivals focus on playing in the paint, the more they'll cede that territory to him.
"He's the only one,'' says Grant Hill, referring once more to Howard's rival young big men. "He's back-to-the-basket, shoot the ball in the paint, dropstep-dunk on you. Maybe he'll develop that faceup mid-range elbow jump shot, but his bread and butter is backing you down and using his power. He's the definition of a man-child.''