“Playoff Dwight” Has Arrived Early For The Atlanta Hawks

Mar 26, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) drives to the basket against the Brooklyn Nets in the second quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 26, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard (8) drives to the basket against the Brooklyn Nets in the second quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Hawks are on a quest to stay in the playoff race. They’re getting some help from the big man in the middle.

There is an old NBA adage about the great players having “another gear” to shift into once the playoffs come around. Dwight Howard is one of those players, and it seems like he is getting there a little early this season. Below are Dwight’s career regular season per game statistics in seasons where he played in the playoffs.


Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/27/2017.

Throughout his career, Dwight has routinely improved upon his regular season numbers in the playoffs. Whether it be during his years with the Magic, Lakers, or Rockets, he has stepped up when it mattered most. Below are Dwight’s playoff per game statistics.


Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/27/2017.

When you think of Dwight Howard, the first thing you think of is rebounding. In seven of the nine years Dwight has made the playoffs he has increased his rebounds per game in the playoffs. Most notably in 2015 where after his worst rebounding season since his rookie year at 10.5, the number jumped to 14 per game.

After rebounding, you think of defense. Blocks aren’t the definitive factor that makes you an elite defender, but expect Dwight to keep swatting shots. He has averaged at least two blocks per game in the playoffs six times, including two with at least 3.4 per game.

“Playoff Dwight” has never been more evident than during the 2014 playoffs. He was clearly the best player on the floor every time he stepped on it in the first round series against the Portland Trail Blazers. In the series, he averaged 26 points, 14 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game. He also shot 63% from the free throw line and posted a double-double in all 6 games.

Atlanta Hawks fans are no stranger to this phenomenon. In the 2011 playoffs, Dwight Howard was a force against the Hawks. In the series, he averaged 27/15.5/1.8 including a massive 46 point, 19 rebound Game 1 performance. Despite his best efforts, the Hawks won the series in 6 games.

Some people will cite playoff performance as one of the reasons they prefer Dwight Howard to former Hawk Al Horford. Al has been accused of “disappearing” in the playoffs in recent years. Most notably for only averaging 3.5 rebounds per game in the 4-0 sweep by the Cavaliers in the 2016 playoffs.

Unfortunately, the Hawks are not winning right now. As this is written, they have lost seven in a row. They are 5-12 since the All-Star Break. No one should be blaming Dwight for this recent skid. In fact, we should be praising him for trying to pull the Hawks out of it.

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In March, Dwight Howard is averaging 13 points and 13 rebounds per game. He has pulled down double-digit rebounds in 15 straight games. In this time, he has 12 double-doubles. Sadly this has only translated to 4 wins.

Dwight is looking like a different player lately. Without Paul Millsap, the Hawks are looking for a leader. Dwight is stepping into that role. The Hawks are looking to him for offense when they need it. He has been not only active but also vocal on defense.

Arguably Dwight’s best stretch of the season has come at a time when the Hawks desperately needed it. Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore have missed five straight games. Thabo Sefolosha is missing games now as well. Dennis Schroder is in the midst of probably the worst stretch of basketball in his life, shooting 57-134 (42%) over the seven game losing streak.

Dwight Howard’s first season in Atlanta has been one of highs and lows. It has been a season full of long winning streaks, as well as long losing streaks. When the Hawks are playing at their best, they are capable of beating anyone.

There is no reason this can’t be true in the playoffs. Dwight’s game is going to keep improving as we get deeper into the season.

Next: Schroder's Rank Among Young Point Guards

The Eastern Conference lacks centers who can compete with Dwight’s size. If Millsap can get healthy, Dennis can return to form, and Dwight can improve his game like he always seems to, the Hawks have a real chance to pull off some upsets.