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20 Days, 20 Questions: Josh Howard, the unofficial newcomer

With the first day of Wizards training camp coming, Bullets Forever is asking 20 questions about key issues with the team in 2010/11.

Four games.  Just four games.

In case it wasn't clear, that's how long Josh Howard's tenure with the Washington Wizards has been.  I feel the need to point it out because, as great as those four games may have been, they represent a very, very tiny sample.  As much as we all want to do it, it's pretty much impossible to glean any relevant trends from a sample equal to less than 1/20th of the regular season, especially when many of the players on the roster then aren't on the roster now.  

So to me, Howard's basically another newcomer on the roster.  This inevitably leads us to our next question in this series.

How will Josh Howard fit in with this team next year?

My answer is ... I don't know.  

On the whole, Howard has historically been a productive and useful player.   His season numbers from 2005 to 2009 were pretty consistent, topping off in 2006/07 and fading just a little the next two years.  Last year was a major decline, but Howard began the year hurt, and he also played the entire year out of position.  The Mavericks signed Shawn Marion before the season, which meant Howard had to often play with him or off the bench.  It was an odd transition, and I don't think his game is well-suited to playing with other players like him.  He needs to be running around the floor doing all sorts of random things to be in his element, and those are the same things Marion needs too.  In D.C., he'll be firmly a small forward, and he won't be asked to simply stand around and space the floor.  That should help him return back to his old way.

Obviously, the knee injury is a concern, especially if it doesn't heal as soon as his camp is saying.  But I'm confident Howard is at least capable of being a good, productive player again. 

Will it happen with this mix, though?  I'm not sure.  

I've always felt Howard is a far more unique player than people think.  We hear a lot about how NBA teams often like to punch the ball inside to their big men to "get them off early" (oh god, this sentence will be mocked. Oh well).  Back in the day (and even recently), the Mavericks used to do the same thing with Josh Howard.  They would feed him the ball all the time in the first quarter, knowing that if they got him some early touches, he'd play harder defensively.  As recently as 2008/09, Howard's last full-ish season with the team, he was second only to LeBron James in first-quarter scoring average.  Look at that list, and you tell me which player is the outlier.  You have many of the top scorers in basketball that year, and then, you have Josh Howard.  Strange, right?

It makes Howard a somewhat tricky player to slot.  When Howard is on, doing his thing, he's a true two-way player.  He's not a lockdown defender, but his length and activity causes players to be uncomfortable on that end.  It doesn't always affect the best of the best (Howard's just as defenseless against Kevin Durant as anyone else), but against most others, Howard's tough to deal with.  But when Howard is off, you get a lot of what happened last year in Dallas -- lots of missed shots, so-so decision-making, the whole 94 feet.  (That's a play on "the whole nine yards," in case it wasn't clear).

This also explains Howard's high usage rate with middling efficiency.  Since 2005/06, Howard has ended 22.9, 25.2, 25.9, 26.7 and 24.8 percent of his teams' possessions, respectively.  Those are really high figures for someone with true shooting percentages of 53.6, 54.8, 53.4, 53.2 and 49.6.  Howard's Dallas coaches were willing to accept that Howard would need to shoot some so-so shots early so that he would be engaged late.  

Will Flip Saunders and the Wizards accept that?  The problem here is that the Wizards project to have three "rhythm" players like Howard.  Gilbert Arenas, historically, has needed touches and points early so that he could be effective scoring late in games.  Last year, Arenas mentioned to reporters several times how he was having trouble scoring in the fourth quarter because he had been instructed to get his teammates going early.  It was an adjustment for him, and he struggled with it.  Meanwhile, I suspect Andray Blatche will need touches early too, because he was only able to reach his full potential when he got touches at the end of last season.  Is there really room to get all three the early touches they need?  Can we really put this big responsibility on John Wall right away?

I'm not sure if we can, which is why I'm not sure how to answer this question.  Hopefully, one of those three players can be effective without getting early touches.  Since he's the least efficient of the three, I hope it's Howard.  If Howard can do that and be the spirit of the team off the court, he'll be a big help in the rebuilding effort.  If not, maybe the team should have let someone else help him revive his career.