Posts Tagged ‘Hakeem Olajuwon’

Howard Debut Passes Dream Test

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HOUSTON
– After a warm, if not thunderous, welcome from his thousands of new fans in Texas, Dwight Howard received the positive feedback he wanted from his new teacher.

“He ran the floor, he established himself as a big man in the post and he made plays,” said Hakeem Olajuwon from his mid-court seat on the front row at the Toyota Center Saturday night. “This was just the first game, an exhibition game, but it was a good start.”

The Hall of Famer, who led Houston to back-to-back NBA titles in 1994 and 1995, has been tutoring Howard on low post moves in special sessions for the past several summers and the relationship has intensified since Olajuwon re-joined his former team as a part-time assistant coach working with the big men.

Howard scored 19 points, grabbed nine rebounds, dealt three assists and blocked one shot while playing 27 minutes in his Rockets debut, a 116-115 loss to the Pelicans. He shot 6-for-11 from field and 7-for-11 from the foul line.

“I’m especially glad that Dwight got to play as many minutes as he did tonight,” Olajuwon said. “It will do him good to build up his legs and his endurance was soon as possible, so that when the regular season begins he will be ready to dominate.

“What I saw from him tonight were many of the things that we have seen from Dwight earlier in his career. He was athletic. He was alive. But most of all, I think he looked like he is having a good time out there. He is happy and I can tell you from personal experience that means a lot. You need to know that your coach believes in you, that your teammates truly believe in you and that the city is behind you. I think after a couple of difficult seasons, Dwight has that again here in Houston.”

A crowd that was decidedly less than the full house that will be on hand for the Rockets’ Oct. 30 season opener versus Charlotte, was excited even when he lost the opening tip to the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis and moaned when Howard stepped to the free throw line for the first time and missed the first of a pair of free throws with 8:37 left in the first quarter. He made the second shot.

Howard’s first bucket in a Rockets uniform was a five-foot turnaround jumper that came off a feed from Jeremy Lin with 6:14 to go in the opening quarter. On the very next possession, Lin got the ball right back into Howard a slam dunk.

Midway through the third quarter, Howard received the ball paint and used his quickness to spin by Jason Smith and score on on a nifty reverse layup.

“Good move! Good move!” shouted Olajuwon from his seat on the front row. “Don’t hesitate when you see an opening. Take it.”

Howard went to the bench and was done for the night, drawing a defensive three-second call with 56.6 left in the third quarter.

Olajuwon shrugged off the criticism of his pupil from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who said Howard did not have a “go-to move.”

“Dwight has the fundamentals. He has the basics,” Olajuwon said. “What I am trying to help him with is to show him where there are certain things and certain spots in the defenses that he can take advantage of.

“What I did see tonight was him making his presence felt at the defensive end. He had it in mind at times that he wanted to dominate. That’s the way a big man has to think all the time.

“What I also saw were times when he passed the ball back out to a guard or someone else when he should have turned and taken the shot himself.

“I know he wants to fit in with his new teammates. I know this team has played a style where they ran and shot a lot from the outside. But the Rockets have a big man now. A real big man. An All-Star. The kind of big man who can dominate and take them places.

The significance of Howard entering his 10th NBA season is not lost on Olajuwon, who led the Rockets to a championship in his 10th year in the league.

“I can sit here and say that the team and Dwight can really think that way,” Olajuwon said. “It’s early. This is just a start.”

How Is A Championship Team Built?

The Miami Heat were able to acquire most of their roster through free agency.

The 2013 NBA Champion Miami Heat acquired most of their roster through free agency.

By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com

There’s been much discussion recently about the proper way for an NBA franchise to rebuild. Many of these discussions have been about teams who appear to purposefully build an inferior roster in order to obtain a high Draft pick. This concept, also known as “tanking,” inspired an entire series by the ESPN TrueHoop Network staff and an excellent rebuttal from Tom Ziller at SB Nation.

The key question raised by all of these articles: What IS the optimal way for an NBA franchise to construct a championship team?

The best way to answer this question is to look at how past champions were constructed.

Here’s a graph that breaks down the roster construction of the past 20 NBA champions (click to enlarge):

 Championship construction

And here’s how the top three players on each team were acquired:

championship construction 2

(EDITOR’S NOTE ON ABOVE TRANSACTIONS: Maxwell was sold to the Houston Rockets by the San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 20, 1990; James technically joined the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal that gave the Cavs two future first-round, two future second-round picks, a trade exception and an option to swap first-round picks with Miami in 2012 — which the Cavs passed on. Bosh technically joined the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal that gave the Raptors two first-round picks in the 2011 Draft and a trade exception.)

A few things of note:

  • The 2004 Pistons were incredible. None of their top three players was drafted by the team; Tayshaun Prince and Mehmet Okur were the only players drafted at all by the Pistons.
  • The Pistons and the 2011 Mavericks were the only championship teams over the past 20 years who acquired the majority of their players through trades.
  • The importance of the Draft is clear. Outside of those pesky Pistons, each championship team drafted either their best or second-best player. I labeled both Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant as drafted by their current teams even though they were drafted by other teams (Milwaukee and Charlotte, respectively) and traded on Draft night or, in Kobe’s case, shortly thereafter.
  • The Heat started a new trend of how to build a champion with the majority of their players being acquired through free agency. This has a lot to do with the roster purge they experienced during the summer of 2010 when they cleared significant roster space to re-sign Dwyane Wade and sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

Overall, the general construction of these squads seems to be quite basic. Draft a superstar, trade for players who fit well with said superstar, sign supporting role players and, boom … championship. Sounds easy enough.

But it’s obviously not that easy, considering only eight franchises have been able to crack the code over the last twenty seasons.

It’s clear, though, that the first and most important step in building a championship roster is acquiring a superstar. Unfortunately, superstars are rare. So for most franchises that are not located in a hugely desirable free-agent destination, or can’t swing a blockbuster trade, the only way to acquire one is through the Draft.

Where Have All The Shot-Blockers Gone?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The demise of the true center is typically lamented by the dearth of low-post skill on offense, but we can’t ignore its effects at the other end, too.

You know what they say about every action: there is an equal and opposite reaction. Among other things, the evolution of the face-up, jump-shooting “big”, and the age of the drive-and-kick 3-pointer have taken a toll on the art of shot-blocking. With seemingly fewer one-on-one, low-post defensive opportunities there is an equally diminishing chance to deliver an opposite reaction.

There are tremendous shot blockers in the league. Thunder power forward/center Serge Ibaka will attempt to become the first player to lead the league in shot blocking three consecutive seasons and average at least 3.0 bpg in three straight seasons since Marcus Camby did it from 2006-08. Ibaka’s 3.65 bpg in 2011-12 was the highest since Alonzo Mourning‘s 3.7 in 1999-2000.

Bucks rim protector Larry Sanders could cross the 3.0 barrier. Indiana’s young, old-school center Roy Hibbert made a significant jump last season to 2.61 bpg, fourth in the league, from 1.97. A healthy and happy Dwight Howard could surge to 3.0 for the first time in his career.

Still, today’s drooping block numbers are eye-popping when compared to prior decades. Blocks weren’t recorded as an official statistic until the 1973-74 season. That season, five players averaged at least 3.0 bpg, led by Elmore Smith (4.8 bpg), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3.5), Bob McAdoo (3.3), Bob Lanier (3.0) and Elvin Hayes (3.0). In the seven officially recorded seasons in the 1970s, two players averaged at least 3.0 bpg in a season five times.

In the ’80s, it was seven of 10 seasons, and at least three players averaged at least 3.0 bpg four times. Utah’s 7-foot-4 center Mark Eaton still holds the single-season record of 5.56 bpg in 1984-85. The ’90s — with shot-swatters such as David Robinson, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, Dikembe Mutombo, Shawn Bradley, Theo Ratliff, Shaquille O’Neal and Mourning – marked the salad days of shot-blocking.

Every season during the physical, hold-and-grab ’90s saw at least two players average at least 3.0 bpg. Eight times at least three players recorded 3.0 bpg or more. Four times the season leader topped 4.0 bpg, and two more times the leader finished at 3.9 bpg.

Those numbers haven’t been sniffed. Since the close of the ’90s, only four times in the last 13 seasons have at least two players finished a season averaging at least 3.0 bpg  (and largely credit Ben Wallace and Ratliff early in the 2000s for that). It hasn’t happened since 2005-06 when Camby (3.29) and long-armed small forward Andrei Kirilenko (3.19) finished one and two, respectively.

The lowest league-leading shot-block averages have all come since the turn of the century, and two of the three lowest have been posted in the past five seasons. Andrew Bogut‘s 2.58 bpg in 2010-11 is the lowest season leader of all-time. Howard’s 2.78 bpg the season before is the second-lowest and his 2.92 bpg to lead the league in 2008-09 is better than only the 2.8 bpg put up in 2000-01 by Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and Bradley.

Could 2013-14 be the season we see one, two or even more players join Ibaka in 3.0 territory? Sanders is trending that way and Hibbert and Howard are candidates, but it’s hard to envision Tim Duncan surpassing last season’s career-high of 2.65 bpg.

Maybe 3.0 is a stretch for most. Only five players averaged between 2.45 bpg and Ibaka’s 3.03 last season.

Here are my five players that could vault into this season’s top-5 (but may not necessarily get to 3.0):

1. Derrick Favors, Jazz: The 6-foot-10 power forward is going to see his minutes jump as he moves into the starting lineup with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap gone. Favors averaged 1.7 bpg in 23.2 mpg off the bench last season. He’ll go up against more elite front-line players this season, but it’s not a reach to suggest he could average 2.5 bpg.

2. JaVale McGee, Nuggets: With Washington in 2010-11, he finished second in the league at 2.44 bpg, but his minutes dropped dramatically the past two seasons in Denver under George Karl. The 7-footer should be in for quite a change with Brian Shaw taking over for Karl and ownership wanting to see McGee earn his money on the floor. More minutes are in his future. Are more blocks?

3. Brook Lopez, Nets: Last season was the first of his young career to average more than 2.0 bpg (2.1) and that number could be on the rise this season playing next to Kevin Garnett. If KG doesn’t teach Lopez a thing or two about defending the post, he might just frighten the 7-footer into protecting the rim at all costs.

4. DeAndre Jordan, Clippers: Potential is running thin for this 6-foot-11 center from Texas A&M. Entering his sixth season, it’s time to mature and play big in the middle for a team that will need it to contend for the West crown. He took a step back last season and under Doc Rivers he’ll need to prove he’s worthy of more minutes. He can do that by swatting basketballs.

5. Anthony Davis, Pelicans: The youngster just looks like a shot-blocker with those long arms and all. He’ll head into his second season healthy, accustomed to the NBA game, smarter and stronger. He’s got great natural instinct, athleticism and a desire to dominate defensively. During his one season at Kentucky, he averaged 4.7 bpg. The 20-year-old blocked 112 shots in 64 games as a rookie. Expect more.

Who Makes Your All-Time Top 3?




HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – LeBron James offered up his three greatest players in NBA history and before he finished talking he had to know that he was going to start debates all over the basketball world with his answers.

The Miami Heat star named Dr. J (Julius Erving), Michael Jordan and Larry Bird as his top three to Fox Sports, choosing those well-deserving Hall of Famers over the likes of say Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain, just to name three more worthy candidates.

It is perhaps the most difficult list to craft in sports, the three best NBA (or even basketball in general) players of all time. It’s a question that elicits nothing but subjective answers. So much depends on your perspective, what era you grew up in and your personal preferences and sensibilities about the game itself.

Football and baseball are games where you could argue for two weeks about the top three players at each position on offense and defense and never come to a consensus. But basketball is even tougher because you can throw out the positions and just judge players on their individual skills and the impact they had on the game during the primes or even the entire scope of their respective careers.

The choices that have to be made are extremely difficult. How do you put Magic or Bird on your list and not both, when their careers were so intertwined? And when judging the all-time best big man, how do you separate Kareem and Wilt from Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon?

My top three? Magic, Jordan and Kareem, with Wilt missing out on that third spot by a whisker. I don’t understand how anyone, even an astute hoops historian like LeBron, could keep Magic out of his top three. Magic and Jordan would seem to be locks on every list. But again, this is a totally subjective exercise and one’s perspective is everything when you are crafting an all-time list of any sort.

There will be a time when LeBron, Kobe Bryant and some other current player has a legitimate case for a top-three spot. But if we put you on the spot and demand your top three of all-time as of this moment, what say you?

Let the debate rage on.

Your top three of all time …

Summer Dreaming: Most Valuable Player

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HANG TIME, Texas – We’ve been to the beach to soak up the rays and the scenery. We’ve dove into a cool mountain lake at the end of an invigorating hike. We’ve got the adrenaline pumping with a whitewater kayak ride through rapids. We’ve taken our inner tubes down the river for a long afternoon float.

What else is left to do on these sultry summer days for relaxation except to lie back in a hammock and dream of MVPs who’ll heat things up on all those chilly winter nights?

While it’s still months away from the season openers, we’re taking off from the free throw line in our lazy naps and soaring all the way to April for the top five contenders on my ballot.

LeBron James, Heat – This is when the big fun and the vegetable throwing really starts as LeBron’s resume begins to more closely resemble that of Michael Jordan, which only means the worshippers at the Church Of His Airness will scream heresy, among other more unpleasant things. He’s averaging 27.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 6.9 apg through his first 10 NBA seasons and as he turns 29, only seems to be getting more comfortable in his own skin. When James again leads the Heat to the best regular-season record on the way to a three-peat as NBA champs, he’ll be moving into lofty air. Three consecutive MVPs will put him in a class with MJ, Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. A fifth MVP overall will tie him with Jordan and leave trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six). To think that he could be just getting into the meat of his career.

Kevin Durant, Thunder – As long as LeBron is upright, healthy and not getting bored of steamrolling everything in his path, KD just might have to get accustomed to a career as a great second banana when it comes to the MVP. Well, it did work out OK for Robin, Dr. Watson, Paul Shaffer and Chewbacca. There isn’t a thing anybody can throw out there to knock Durant, the most prolific scoring machine of this age. No shot is out of his range and he makes every shot look oh-so-easy. He’ll either win his fourth scoring title in five years or finish a couple of tenths behind Carmelo Anthony again. Unless Durant really elevates his OKC teammates above an strong Western Conference class of contenders, he’ll simply have to deal with being born at the same time as LeBron. But remember, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant were annually overlooked at MVP voting time, winning just one apiece. KD would likely be quite satisfied if he could get just a fraction of their nine combined championships.

Dwight Howard, Rockets – This is how he gets back at the Lakers and all those mean things they said about him. This is how he proves to everybody that he made the right choice by emulating Davy Crockett and settling down in Texas. Howard has already been spending time in the practice gym with his two Houston mentors, Kevin McHale and Hakeem Olajuwon. If just half of their knowledge and fundamentals of the game rubs off on him, the Dwightmare will be over. After two seasons of indecision that also included back surgery and a shoulder injury, Howard will go back to being fit and happy on the court. That should produce another season of leading the league in rebounding, putting a chokehold on another Defensive Player of the Year Award and upping his scoring average off the pick and roll with James Harden and Jeremy Lin. There will be a lot of voters with long memories that won’t want to forget his past childish acts. But if Howard lifts the Rockets to 55 or more wins and has them looking like true contenders by April, he’s in the MVP hunt.

Derrick Rose, Bulls – After 1 1/2 years, The Return will finally be more than just a TV commercial for Adidas. No more worries about juking this way or that on a surgically repaired ACL. No more wondering about whether he can jump off his left foot and dunk. No more having to listen to all the imbeciles who wanted him to risk perhaps the next 10 years of an All-Star career by getting out on the floor for a few games at the end of last season to prove his manhood. The Rose who returns will have questions to answer to his fans and to himself, but at 24 he’s young enough to come back even stronger and better than he was. Keep in mind this is a guy who already has an MVP trophy (2011) on his mantle. A lot has changed in the landscape since Rose collapsed to the floor in the 2012 playoffs. The Heat have won two titles and have found their identity. The Pacers proved they’re for real. The Nets are reconfigured and loaded. The East will be a beast, but don’t be surprised if Rose comes back with a roar.

Chris Paul, Clippers – You figure that maybe Paul deserves to be given a truckload of MVP trophies just for transforming the laughingstock Clippers franchise into not just the best in the Staples Center, but a real contender. Everybody knows his on-court talent — great handle, penetrating to pass, hits the jumper, steals your lunch with ballhawking defense — but it’s his fierce competitiveness and overall attitude that have lifted the Clippers. The Western Conference will be even tougher next season with Dwight Howard in Houston and Andre Iguodala boosting Golden State. But you figure that new coach Doc Rivers will grab the Clippers attention and make them more than just the Lob City sideshow. That means he’ll ask even more from CP3 and there’s little doubt that the little guy can deliver. They made not improve on last season’s 56 wins, but should shoehorn their way into another top-four seeding by winning the Pacific Division. Now that Paul has re-signed and committed to the Clippers, the real good stuff has likely just begun.

PREVIOUSLY: Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Olajuwon, Howard Work On ‘Dream Shake’

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From NBA.com staff reports

Roughly a month ago, as the Rockets were basking in the glow of landing Dwight Howard in free agency, plans to bring a Hall of Famer in to improve Howard’s post play started coming into place. Houston’s brass was diligently working to add Hakeem Olajuwon, the master of the “Dream Shake” and the man who led the Rockets to titles in 1994 and ’95, to its coaching staff.

Dream Shake 101 is apparently in session for Howard, as Jason Friedman of Rockets.com was on hand yesterday to watch as Howard got some post-move lessons from Olajuwon. Also in attendance was Rockets coach Kevin McHale. Known to make a post move or two in his day that left defenders befuddled, McHale surely had a couple of low-post pointers for Howard as well.

Enough talk, here are the photos of the workout you’re looking for:

As a member of the Magic, Howard was tutored in the offseason by Olajuwon. He also received instruction from Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing and well-regarded big man coach Clifford Ray during his Orlando days when those men were on the Magic’s staff (at different times).

How Howard is able to incorporate the fleet-footed moves of Olajuwon into his game — and how quickly he can do so — will go a long way in making life easier on the perimeter for James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and the rest of Houston’s crew.

Wizards’ Wall Working With The Glove





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Dwight Howard and other big men around the NBA haven’t been shy about approaching Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon for tutoring in recent summers.

We haven’t heard much about the point guards finding a Hall of Famer to serve in a similar capacity, until now. And that’s one of the reasons why I have no problem with the Washington Wizards putting their faith in John Wall (to the tune of the reported five-year, $80 million extension he signed last week).

Wall plans on learning from one of the best in Hall of Famer Gary Payton, according to J. Michael of CSN Washington:

Wall still plans to hook up with Gary Payton, a Hall of Fame point guard who was one of the best of his generation, in Seattle before returning to train with the Wizards on Aug. 20. Plus, he had ample time to watch the nuances of Tony Parker as he led the San Antonio Spurs to the NBA finals and the Memphis Grizzlies’ Mike Conley, who helped his team advance to the Western Conference finals.

“Footwork also, just like catching the ball and working on pivots and stuff,” Wall said about what he has done this off-season in addition to refining jump shot. “Floaters. Watched a lot of Tony Parker throughout the playoffs and I see how Mike Conley added to his game after I went to two of his playoff series.”

Wall also is going to lobby coach Randy Wittman to allow him to do something else.

“Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to post up this year,” he said.

That’s where Payton, who also stood 6-4 and could be too physical for opposing point guards, could help most. Like Wall, he wasn’t the best jump shooter to start his career but became a solid one. By his fourth season, Payton shot better than 50% from the field. He only was a career 31.7% shooter from three.

If Wall’s career is on a similar trajectory  to Payton’s at the same stage, the confidence Wall and the Wizards are showing in each other right now won’t seem nearly as far-fetched as it sounds to some.

“My main thing as a person, I’m not a follower. I like to be a leader,” Wall said during his news conference last week. “I feel like I would have had the opportunity to go anywhere. I feel like I’d be a follower trying to build a legacy somewhere else. I feel like I’m a person who gives my word and my commitment to where I started and that’s where I’d like to finish.

“We haven’t been to the promised land of winning a championship for years. I know we’re a long way from there, but that’s my main goal before my career is done, to win one here.”

Again, those are ambitious words from a youngster who has never been an All-Star or even been to the playoffs. But the fact that Wall is going down this path, in theory and in practice, bodes well for the Wizards and their fans.

Lots of guys talk about being leaders, of doing things the right way. Wall is doing his best to live it, to embody the leadership traits that an elder like Payton did when he became one of the game’s all-time greats.


Summer Dreaming: Defensive Player Of Year

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HANG TIME, Texas — These are the dog days of summer. They get their name from Sirius, the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog), which long ago used to rise just before the sun at this time of year.

The Romans believed that during the dog days, the sea boiled, wine turned sour and dogs grew mad, causing diseases, fevers and hysterics among men.

Today we just see them as a reason to pop open another cold one and pop open our imaginations to look ahead and come up with the 2013-14 NBA award winners.

Today we’re celebrating the dog days by barking out my top candidates for Defensive Player of the Year. Send me yours.

Dwight Howard, Rockets — Assuming he’s healthy, assuming he’s happy, assuming he wants everyone to put the bad memory of last season with the Lakers in the rear view mirror, this is one race that should be no contest as Howard reestablishes himself in Houston to prove a point. With no pains in his back, shoulder and posterior (compliments of Kobe Bryant) to hold him back, the former three-time Defensive Player of the year takes control under the basket for the Rockets and lets the world know that he’s back. Yes, there is all the buzz and excitement about what Howard can do off the pick and roll with Jeremy Lin and James Harden at the offensive end. Yes, he’ll work with Hall of Fame tutor Hakeem Olajuwon to try to expand his post moves. Yes, he’ll get to see up close every day in practice from his coach how Kevin McHale carved out his place in the Hall of Fame with solid fundamentals. But if Howard just goes back to being the monster who used to roam the middle for the Magic, he’ll be worth every penny of his four-year, $88-million contract.

LeBron James, Heat — After four MVPs, back-to-back titles and a pair of Finals MVPs, what is there left for James to do to polish his legacy? Why not win MVP award No. 5 in the same year that he is named Defensive Player of the Year? It’s a feat accomplished previously only by Michael Jordan (1988) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) and shows that level of greatness that James has achieved. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s fast, he’s quick and you don’t want to see his shadow coming from behind when you’re at mid-court with the ball and trying to get to the basket to finish. There are those who say he takes too many possessions off. There are those who criticize by saying he only gets the toughest defensive assignments in the fourth quarter. The truth is they are only picking nits, because that’s pretty much all that’s left to do. His competition now is strictly with the history books and if James decides to set his mind to being the best in the league at this end of the court, he could pull off the MVP-DPOY double.

Serge Ibaka, Thunder –  Three-time former winner of the award Dwight Howard said that it should have gone to Ibaka over Marc Gasol last season. His reasoning was that the guy who blocks the most shots is the best defender. Ibaka did set the pace with an average of 3.03 per game. The Thunder big man is clearly the best rejector in the league, at least and until Howard returns to form. In a league where quick, slashing guards are constantly trying to get to the hoop, rim protection is key for any would-be contender. But Ibaka really should improve on his help defense, rotations and overall court awareness in order to be considered the top defender in the league. For flash and the big block, Ibaka’s got everything but the Dikembe Mutombo finger-wave and that attracts the notice that will always have him among the top three on most ballots.

Tony Allen, Grizzlies — Teammate Marc Gasol received the votes, the notoriety and the award last season, but those closest to the Grizzlies and to inner workings of the game itself — i.e. head coaches — will tell you that it’s Allen who puts the real sharp edges and teeth into The Grind House. There is nobody in the league who relishes a 1-on-1 matchup more. He’s in your face, in your game, practically in your jersey, a nettle that becomes more painful and bothersome as the games get late. There is nobody who will throw himself into a defensive challenge more. If the Grizz are going to keep that defensive identity that was instilled in them by former coach Lionel Hollins, it’s probably going to be a result of Allen working the locker room, working the huddles and working his buns off on every defensive position. There is a reason that the league’s head coaches, who vote for the All-Defensive teams, gave Allen the highest number of first team votes, tying LeBron James.

Andre Iguodala, Warriors — If you were stitching together the ideal wing defender in a laboratory, the 6-foot-6 Iguodala with a 6-11 wingspan might be the product that would eventually climb down off the operating table. He gets plenty of credit for being one of — if not the best — on-ball defenders in the league with his size, speed and quickness. But that is also the end result of his excellent off-ball defense as he uses video study and his own sharp, calculating mind to deny players from getting the ball in positions where they want it in the first place. He understands angles, tendencies and rotations. Coach Mark Jackson has been preaching defense for two years with the Warriors and adding a ballhawk like Iguodala to a lineup that already includes Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson is going to produce turnovers, steals, transition buckets and a Defensive Player of the Year profile that could rise as the Warriors continue to improve.

PREVIOUSLY: Sixth Man of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

A Dream Tutor For Dwight In Houston



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – NBA big men working out with Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon during the summer is one thing. Having Olajuwon as your full-time tutor, however, is a completely different story.

For Dwight Howard, it’s a story that could produce results all big men dream of … dominating the game and winning titles the way The Dream did when he starred for the Rockets.

The Rockets are working on adding Olajuwon to the coaching staff, per the Houston Chronicle, a move that should benefit Howard and every other big man on the roster:

Olajuwon’s duties and title are being discussed, and he will spend much of the year at his home in Jordan. But he will work with Rockets interior players, as he does with big men around the NBA each offseason, as a team employee.

“We are going to bring him in as full-time as is possible,” Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said Sunday. “It’s not done, but we have mutual interest to get it done, and we’ve had some early discussions.

“We want him to work with Dwight and Omer (Asik), and he wants to do that.”

Olajuwon, 50, has worked with Howard in two offseasons, and Howard has spoken about training with him again, this time as the latest in the line of Rockets All-Star centers.

“He has improved so much,” Olajuwon said. “I like with the Houston Rockets he will get a chance to show his true potential. That’s exciting. The last two years, he has not really been given that opportunity to really, really express his game, his comfort level and confidence. Here he has a team that is willing to do that. They want him to do that.”

Howard’s physical tools are already there. Toss in some skill work with a master like Olajuwon and the Rockets have a chance to see the very best from Howard, who signed his four-year, $88 million free agent deal with the team over the weekend.

And, let’s not forget, Howard has worked with Olajuwon in the past.

Scores of players from around the league, a list that includes LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Josh Smith, JaVale McGee and others, have enlisted Olajuwon’s services in recent summers. Howard would have him watching his every move now and working with him on a daily basis.

Toss in the fact that Kevin McHale, one of the greatest low-post technicians in basketball history, is coaching the team and it’s clear that Howard will have the best big man mentoring crew on the planet.

That can’t be anything but a great thing for Howard and the Rockets.

It’s Up To Dwight Now To Get Serious

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –
Dwight Howard didn’t re-sign with the Lakers, never embraced the challenge of that franchise’s great legacy as I envisioned he would.

Now I wait with the rest of the basketball world, and especially the victorious Houston Rockets, not without reservation, to see if the big man with the biggest, most scrutinized smile in NBA history comes through on the second part of my prediction — that he wipes that smile off his face and shuts down the clown act.

The circus has pulled up stakes and left town forever. If Howard thinks by signing with the Houston Rockets he outran the heat of the spotlight, that it’s safe to resume his jokester ways, then he’ll simply add another sequel to the overdone Dwightmare series. Now, 27, the boyish Howard, playful and goofy (and, yes, even endearing to many not named Kobe) must grow into a man befitting his chiseled 6-foot-11 frame, seize the responsibility he too often shunned in Orlando and in L.A., and lead this young, promising Rockets team.

He will be expected to deliver nothing short of a championship in the seasons ahead, just like LeBron James when he left Cleveland for South Beach, just like Carmelo Anthony after he forced his way out of Denver to get to his hometown New York Knicks.

Howard got what he wanted. He completed his L.A. fadeaway and chose his own path on Friday afternoon. He couldn’t control the personnel with which the Orlando Magic front office surrounded him. He couldn’t control where the Magic would trade him — even though the Lakers were one of his three listed favored franchises. And once in L.A. he couldn’t control the strange and unpredictable circumstances or the hammers of criticism continually swung by ex-Laker greats Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal.

In free agency, Howard controlled all, allowing the Rockets, Hawks, Mavericks, Warriors and Lakers to practically beg him to play for them. The proud Lakers were left to grovel. Howard made his pick, choosing Houston and the young, emerging star in James Harden, who won’t swallow him whole the way a biting, often overbearing Kobe Bryant did. He has a low-post master as his coach in Kevin McHale, who will tailor last season’s 3-ball offense to maximize its new back-to-the-basket star. No longer will Howard scratch his head at Mike D’Antoni‘s insistence to play away from his greatest strength as an offensive force.

And Howard also now has the gentle Hakeem Olajuwon in his corner rather than the the oversized shadow of Shaq, who giddily ribs the sensitive Howard as he pleases.

So, yes, there’s plenty to smile about for the seven-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year. And, look, there’s nothing wrong with smiling. We fell in love with Magic’s smile and his overflowing joy playing the game. We appreciate athletes who have fun, who revel in their sport. But the greats understand time and place and professionalism. The goofballs rarely catch on, almost never succeed.

From here on out Howard must be all business for him to ever be taken seriously, for his team to contend, for his legacy to get up off the ground and dust itself off.

The second part of my prediction was that Howard would get all this. I allowed for his early return from back surgery, the torn labrum in his shoulder, Steve Nash‘s broken leg in the second game of the season, Mike Brown‘s dismissal after five games and D’Antoni’s stubbornness to be excuses for the awful season that Dwight, almost comically, described after the San Antonio sweep as a “nightmare.”

I believed that once his back returns to full strength, once this ongoing free-agency circus finally folds that Howard will be free of unwanted distractions. No more difficult decisions to make, no more guilt for whichever decision he would make. With only basketball again as his focus, I believed Howard will again become the dominant two-way force we remember, circa 2009 in Orlando, before this mess started spinning like an F-5 tornado.

I’ll have to see it to believe it.

It’s all on Mr. Howard. He has the talent to be great. He must prove he has the fortitude. He can join LeBron and Kevin Durant as the game’s biggest stars and lead his team to championship contention on a yearly basis.

Or he can smile his way through $88 million of the Rockets’ money, and provide his buddy Shaq with a lifetime of ammunition.