ATLANTA — The Atlanta Hawks and Dwight Howard will hunt for a happy ratio in training camp between brawn and finesse.
The Hawks, who were last in the NBA in offensive rebounding in 2015-16, want a bully in the paint. Howard, 30, wants some wings and a fast pace where he can be a kid again.
“I don’t know if you ever saw me play in high school, I grew up playing point guard,” Howard says with a smile.
What this will look like is anybody’s guess.
The Hawks traded out centers and skill sets, acquiring 6-11, 265-pound Howard and losing 6-10, 245-pound Al Horford to the Boston Celtics in free agency. The two have different styles, with Horford stretching himself over the floor and Howard asked to control thepaint.
Atlanta, which also will have a new starting point guard with Dennis Schroder replacing Jeff Teague, will run the same pick-and-roll, passing-based offense. The floor will be spread and the ball will be shared on a team that is deep with wing players.
“I don’t know,” veteran forward Paul Millsap says when asked what the Hawks are going to look like this season. “It’s going to be interesting.”
Kyle Korver expects it to look “really cool.”
“Dwight is a different piece than what we’ve had in the past,” Korver says. “It’s exciting to everyone to see how we can evolve. I don’t think we’re trying to scrap our old way but trying to learn how to incorporate him and use his talents to what we do. I don’t think it’s going to be that different. Everyone just assumes we have to post him up all the time.”
Howard was adamant at the Hawks media day that he not be put in a box. He insists he can pass and face the basket and shoot jump shots.
The Hawks absolutely want versatility out of their new center. They want him to run to the other end of the floor, post up and immediately draw two defenders. They want him to stretch the defense and open the paint for Schroder to drive, but they need him to play on the rim, too.
“Playing with this team, they are not just going to keep me in a box,” says Howard, who signed a free agent deal July 12 after three seasons with the Houston Rockets. “They are going to let me be who I am and just let me play basketball. When you can just play and be who you are, great things tend to happen.”
Mike Muscala, a third-year forward/center, says he was surprised by Howard’s ballhandling and speed during summer open gym workouts. Howard gave lessons on post play to the Hawks’ younger big men, but Muscala says the eye-opener was Howard’s ball skills.
“In the open gym the couple times I played with him, he brought the ball up he had some really good moves,” Muscala says. “For his size, for a big man, it was really cool to see.”
The possibilities with Howard could be intriguing as Atlanta adds his muscle to a team of shooters such as Korver, Millsap, Kent Bazemore, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mike Scott.
The Hawks gave up steady, reliable Horford when it was obvious they had not closed the gap with the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. They also parted ways with Teague and handed the reins to quick and pesky Schroder.
Millsap, who is recovering from a non-surgical procedure on his knee, says he will not leave all the grind in the post to Howard. But he is thankful for the inside boost.
This is Howard’s 13th season in the NBA — he entered the league out of high school — but he insists his career is far from over. After turning down a chance to play in his hometown three years ago, Howard jumped at the second chance to sign with Atlanta.
“I have never been part of an organization like this,” Howard says. “This experience has been amazing. I think it is going to be awesome season. I want to stay here until I retire.”