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Dwight Howard could make or break Otto Porter next season

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Howard, Porter must find way to co-exist for Wizards to succeed

NBA: Playoffs-Atlanta Hawks at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The last time Dwight Howard’s name had any relevance on the basketball court, he was nullified by Marcin Gortat and the Washington Wizards in a six-game series loss with the Atlanta Hawks in the 2016-17 NBA Playoffs. The following year, Howard missed the playoffs in Charlotte, got traded to the Brooklyn Nets, was waived – and, of course, landed in D.C. this off-season.

Howard’s existence in the NBA hasn’t had any bearing on the league’s success in quite some time, but he’s still a regular in the media. Since joining the Wizards, Howard has been on ESPN and YouTube doing interviews, where he’s discussed his off-season workouts (Howard is practicing shooting threes off-the-dribble this summer…) and his excitement to play alongside John Wall and Bradley Beal.

Whether it’s because of his unassuming playing style or general forgetfulness, the impact Howard will have on Otto Porter Jr. has gone unmentioned. Fans and pundits who rely heavily on advanced statistics would argue that Howard should be most thrilled to play with Porter, who’s arguably the team’s most reliable player. The argument could also be made that the addition of Howard will affect Porter more than anyone else, including Wall and Beal.

We can assume – and hope – Howard won’t start chucking threes next season, but it’s unclear what kind of role he’ll be willing to accept in Washington. Since being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012, Howard has reportedly been stubborn in accepting the idea of reducing his presence on the court.

At this point in his career, it’s unrealistic to expect Howard to develop an outside shot. After all, Howard has played 14 years as a pro and has yet to find a reliable stroke from the free throw line. Other centers that don’t have refined offensive games, like DeAndre Jordan and Clint Capela, have found alternative ways to contribute – and Howard must do the same. Shooting threes and one-legged floaters won’t keep Howard in the NBA, but protecting the paint, rolling to the basket with purpose and continuing to be a threat above the rim will.

Last season, Howard attempted 11.2 shots per game – the most he’s taken since his final season in Orlando – and he was third in total shots from the post, trailing only LaMarcus Aldridge and Joel Embiid (two players with exceptional offensive skill-sets).

Washington occasionally let Marcin Gortat isolate, which resulted in some horrendously memorable possessions – and even casual Wizards fans have lost sleep over watching him face-up, take one dribble towards the basket before either missing badly or getting stripped. Memories, though, often skew reality. It might’ve seemed like Gortat took and missed a ton of shots from the post, but he took 377 less shots from the post than Howard did last year.

What’s that mean? Unless Howard becomes accepting of a completely diminished role on offense, get used to watching him take – and miss – a lot of shots from the post in Washington. For his teammates, specifically Otto Porter, it could mean less of an opportunity to shoot.

Wall and Beal are still the first and second options on the team, and it will take a lot more than inserting Howard to change that. But for someone who’s already been knocked by his own coach for lacking aggression, it could make all the difference.

Washington isn’t paying Porter more than $100 million to remain an invisibly-productive role player. Some of the responsibility lies on the coaching staff, but the onus is on Porter to be more assertive when looking for his shot. Porter taking the step up from role-player to under-the-radar star could depend on his scoring output, and that might be determined by how he co-exists with Howard on the court.

Howard is going to take shots away from his teammates and he’s going to get touches inside – that’s a given. And while the thought of slowing the pace down for Howard is somewhat nauseating, it doesn’t have to be.

Porter does an excellent job at finding seams to the basket and getting open on the perimeter by moving without the ball. In his prime, Howard took the Orlando Magic – a team comprised mostly of shooters – to the NBA Finals by drawing the defense inside and finding teammates behind the arc. There’s going to be opportunities for Howard to play a similar style in Washington, even if he’s more willing to accept a new, lesser role on offense.

Porter was among the league’s best 3-point shooters and increasing the number of threes he takes should be one of the team’s priorities. With Howard on the court, Porter will have more of a chance to catch and shoot – something he rarely did last year when compared to other elite shooters. Robert Covington – a player with similar tools – took a league-high 6.4 threes off catch-and-shoot situations, and Porter only attempted 3.5 per game. Putting Porter out of his comfort zone and asking him to create more shots for himself is necessary, but the Wizards need to make sure they’re getting the most out of what he’s already great at before putting too much pressure on him. If Porter becomes the primary beneficiary of Howard’s post-ups, then he could take the next step without having to worry about being a ball-handler in the immediate future.

It’s going to take sacrifice from everyone included for this iteration of the Wizards to accomplish anything noteworthy, but if Porter’s production slips at the expense of reaching Howard’s post-up quota, it’s going to be to the team’s detriment. But if the two find a way to play off each other, the Wizards will add a game-changing dimension to the offense they wouldn’t have gotten without signing Howard.