“That’s how I can get better every day, is by serving my teammates. Being the best that I can be, talking and communicating with them on every possession,” Dwight Howard said after training camp on December 11th. “You know, when I mess up, I’m letting them know that, ‘Hey, it was my bad. I’m gonna do better.’ Just pushing guys, you know. That’s how I get better, is by making sure that every day and every possession and every moment that we have on and off the court. You know, I’m helping these guys and pulling the greatness out of them,” Howard added. The veteran big man is very aware of the way his career has gone, and the downs have drastically affected his outlook.
“Sometimes you gotta give up everything.”
Howard, once the undisputed best center and a perennial all-star in the league, has come to grips with the fact that his fall from greatness was caused by a lot of his own doings. He has learned from his past mistakes, and has approached his opportunities in Los Angeles (the second time) and Philadelphia from a different angle.
During his introductory press conference on November 25th, Howard told reporters, “Sometimes you gotta give up everything. Sometimes your role is required of you to give up the things you want to do the most. I would’ve loved to be that guy to score all the points, to grab all the rebounds. But, my team needed me for a specific purpose. That was to provide the spirit and energy, on and off the court. I think I did a pretty good job at it. Whatever this team asks me to do, I’ll do it.”
“For me, it’s just pushing him and pulling greatness that’s inside of him out, you know.”
Just a few short months ago, Howard finally captured the joy of winning a title, and he has made it known that that feeling is paramount. With the revised mindset having been validated with the Larry O’Brien trophy, Howard’s outlook has continued to mature. So far, it looks as though he has delivered on his word, seemingly buying into the “veteran leader” role off the court.
During that December 11th post-camp availability, Howard talked of how he can help Joel Embiid: “For me, it’s just pushing him and pulling greatness that’s inside of him out, you know. That’s an every-day process, you know. He’s been preaching about trusting the process. This is a part of that process and journey for him. So right now, you know, me getting better every day is just by pushing him. To bring out the best in him.”
Common practice and logic would dictate that Howard might work exclusively with the big men. With Howard, it appears his wisdom is helpful to more than just Philly’s big man depth.
“Don’t allow the defense to dictate, you know where they want you to go.”
Tyrese Maxey made his unofficial NBA debut at the opening of the fourth quarter, and played the entirety of the period. Rather than being overwhelmed and passive after a slow start, Maxey showed an impressive level of calmness the rest of the way home.
When asked about Maxey after Thursday’s practice, Howard said, “Oh man, I really like young fella. When he first came in the game, you know, I thought he was kind of moving a little bit too fast. They were pressuring him a lot. At the timeout, I kind of pulled him to the side and just told him ‘You need to slow down, you know. It’s okay to be fast, but don’t be in a hurry. Don’t allow the defense to dictate, you know where they want you to go. You’re the ball-handling point guard, you control everything on the floor, so slow down and read the play’.”
Reflecting on how that final quarter played out, Howard offered endorsement of how Maxey’s development prepared him for that moment.
“So, I really like where his head is at. He’s very eager to learn, very disciplined, he’s always in the gym working on his game.”
Howard continued the story with his own observations of Maxey after the timeout: “He went back out there, he slowed down. He started making plays, he got a couple of floaters off some good passes. He got off the ground smoothly. So, I really like where his head is at. He’s very eager to learn, very disciplined, he’s always in the gym working on his game. So, we’re very happy to see the progress that he’s had. He’s had, you know, a short training camp, but also with having no type of summer league or anything like that.”
Prior to the timeout Dwight referred to, Maxey registered a pair of assists, a turnover, and a foul. After Howard’s pep talk, Maxey immediately found a rhythm. The rookie poured in 8 consecutive points for the Sixers in a 3:41 span. On one particular play, he showcased the downhill talent that made him a first round pick. He navigated a pick-and-roll with ease. Upon rounding the screen, he changed speeds at the appropriate moment. Then, he dazzled with a Euro-step and finish at an awkward angle at the rim. Particularly refreshing to witness was his proficiency at putting supreme downhill pressure on the rim with his scores. His off-the-dribble touch is something the Sixers haven’t truly had at their disposal in years. Maxey has a very strong start to build on and grow from. Howard’s sagacious comments helped him build that foundation in his first preseason game.