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Dwight Howard providing big presence early for Atlanta Hawks

October 27, 2016 - Atlanta, GA, USA - The Atlanta Hawks' Dwight Howard gets high-fives from fans after a 114-99 win against the Washington Wizards at Philips Arena in Atlanta on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016 (Photo by Curtis Compton/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
Curtis Compton/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

There are a lot of things to be happy with for the Atlanta Hawks, who have won their first two games by an average of 23.5 points. The Hawks are shooting the ball well (49.7 percent from the field) and Tim Hardaway Jr. has come off the bench and provided solid backup minutes (averaging 17 points).

And then there is Dwight Howard.

There was some concern if the acquisition of Howard would fit for the Hawks. Offensively, Atlanta is a free-wheeling, motion-offensive team that moves the ball around and has options off of plays when the initial set isn’t working. Howard is at his best when his back is to the post or he is playing two-man basketball. At least that’s the case offensively.

Howard is not the focal point of the Hawks’ offense, at least not in the early going this season. He is averaging a paltry 6.5 points in Atlanta’s first two games.

But what Howard is providing to the Hawks is a legitimate big man who is still a defensive force and instilling a defensive mentality for 48 minutes that is permeating throughout the entire team. The Hawks held the Wizards to 19 fourth-quarter points, then came back against the Sixers Saturday with a better defensive effort. Atlanta held the Sixers to fewer than 20 points scoring for three of the four quarters, including a game-low 14 in the fourth.

Howard’s presence is a big factor directly and indirectly. If he is not blocking shots (he had three in both the season opener against Washington and in Saturday’s game against Philadelphia), then he is discouraging drives to the rim. He is a good help defender and is a rebounding monster. After holding the Wizards to 42.6-percent shooting from the field, the Hawks held the Sixers to 35 percent shooting for the game.

Now it is easy to dismiss this early success to the teams the Hawks were playing. Neither the Wizards nor the Sixers made the playoffs last season, and the Sixers had the worst record in the NBA. Yet, with the loss of Jeff Teague and Al Horford, many wondered how this new Atlanta team would play, especially early with Howard.

Howard ended the first game against the Wizards with 11 points and a ridiculous 19 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end. More so, Howard’s presence in the paint allowed the rest of the Hawks to play aggressive defense on the perimeter and make it tough on Washington shooters for the entire game.

He only played 19 minutes in Saturday’s game because of foul trouble as well as the flow of the game. Howard had two points and seven rebounds to go with his three blocks. But the Hawks outscored the Sixers by 15 points when Howard was on the floor, giving you another indication of his presence.

“He gives us a physicality at a position that we just haven’t had to really control everything around the basket,” Kyle Korver told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution. “He is just size that we haven’t had since I’ve been here. We have to learn to utilize that better.”

Korver is talking about using Howard more offensively. In two games, Howard officially has taken 13 shots. Once he gets comfortable in the offense, while he likely won’t be demanding the ball like he did in his younger Orlando days, he could still be a strong offensive force and make Atlanta even more dangerous.

“We do a decent job but we can get much better using his strengths and he has never played in a motion offense before,” Korver said. “He has to learn that there are three, four, five possible reads in pick-and-rolls in a possession. It has to keep going. That’s new to him.”

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