Over the next few weeks Orlando Magic Daily will be taking a look at the things that went right and wrong this season as Orlando ended its season with a disappointing first-round loss to Atlanta.
No analysis of the 2010-11 season for the Magic can get anywhere without first talking about the season Dwight Howard had.
A lot of things went wrong for the Magic this season. A lot. And Dwight Howard's future hangs like a dark cloud over everything the Magic do. But he had one hell of a season. An MVP season. Derrick Rose will be officially named the MVP later this afternoon, but Howard helped spark a rather heated debate among NBA circles about the value of statistics compared to what the eyes see.
Howard's statitstics were absolutely stunning this year as he posted a career year and became a true leader on the team.
Howard averaged a career-high 22.9 points per game and a career-best 113 offensive rating while on the floor and a 94 defensive rating, according to Basketball-Reference.com. He grabbed 14.1 rebounds per game (a number great than he did the past two years), blocked 2.4 shots per game, shot 59.3 percent from the floor and shot 59.6 percent from the free throw line (his best mark since his rookie season).
He stepped up his game even more in the Playoffs. With Atlanta opting to throw single coverage his way and stick to the shooters, Howard had a field day inside. He averaged (AVERAGED) 27.0 points per game and 15.5 rebounds per game while shooting 63.0 percent from the floor and 68.2 percent from the free throw line. He tied a team record with 46 points in Game One and was pretty much the only consistent offensive option throughout the series.
While the statistics and metrics community got behind Dwight espousing his career-high 26.2 PER (good for second in the league) and his defensive impact, it was very much the intangible things that made Dwight Howard have an incredibly special year.
Howard is still very much fighting a battle of perception. For whatever reason, people still see him as an offensively limited child who does not know when to get serious and scowl. They see him as a defensive wonder, but not a defensive linchpin who changes the game by his very presence. They fail to see the improvements he has made this season and how far he has developed.
A lot was made about Howard's workouts with Hakeem Olajuwon over the summer. Those sessions with the NBA great certainly helped Howard gain more confidence in the post and more patience with his post moves. But a lot of the credit should go to Howard himself. He put in the work and implemented it all.
He displayed a stunning array of offensive moves and saw his usage rate skyrocket as the Magic set up more post plays for him. His career-high 27.2 percent usage rate puts him among the superstars of the NBA for high-usage guys. He also cut down on his turnovers -- from an 18.7 percent rate to a 16.2 rate.
What was more impressive was his patience in the post and how he expanded his offensive game.
Howard took 50 shots from 16-23 feet this season according to HoopData, two more than he had taken the last three years. He converted on only 32.0 percent of those shots. Howard also took a career-high 91 shots from 10-15 feet, converting on a career-best 39.6 percent of his shots from that range. The added confidence to take that shot consistently throughout the season showed how much more comfortable he was.
It was a lot of the subtle things that set Howard apart this season from every other.
Having watched Dwight develop from the time he was a bouncing rookie, playing on pure, raw athleticism, this season was like seeing the completion of a transformation. Or near completion. Howard obviously can improve.
But he is entering his prime now and is only going to continue to improve in all these areas. His leadership skills might be questioned now after this first round exit, but he is still improving those (and if he stays in Orlando, he will continue to grow in that respect). Howard is still young and learning how to be the example his team should follow.
The spotlight will be on him in 2011-12 with his free agency season and a likely MVP campaign.
In 2010-11, Dwight Howard WAS the Magic. And without his career season -- his first truly complete season on both ends of the floor -- Orlando would have been nowhere.Photos via DayLife.com.