When Mike Budenholzer arrived in Atlanta, he was confronted with the task of getting his players, staff, and co-workers to buy into his system. Bud's coaching philosophy has been predicated on requiring all five positions on the court being able to space the floor. Fast forward three years later and the focal point remains the same. Now, after signing Dwight Howard this offseason to a three-year 70.5 million deal, it would seem that Bud will be faced with making some changes to his offensive scheme.
Plugging Dwight Howard into Bud's system of pace and space is like attempting to squeeze a square peg through a round hole—it just isn't going to work. He can't shoot from short, mid, or long range. He has attempted a whopping 54 three-pointers in his 12 year NBA career (most of which are full court heaves to beat the buzzer). Better put, Dwight Howard provides about as much spacing as a tin can packed full of sardines. I think it is safe to say that Coach Bud has zero intentions to use Howard in the same ways as he did with Horford. In fact, he has hinted that he plans on going back to his roots from his early coaching stint in San Antonio when he was an assistant for Gregg Popovich.
"Offensively, I think having a guy that can put pressure on the rim is big," Budenholzer stated at Hawks introductory press conference, "In a lot of ways, we've adjusted to who we've had the first three years and in some ways, it will be going back to what I know maybe even better and maybe even more comfortable with having someone who can put that kind of pressure on the rim."
It's no secret that Dwight often times seemed disengaged during games with the Houston Rockets. "There have been times I've been upset and I've taken myself out of games and out of situations," Howard told Charles Barkley on TNT's Inside the NBA show, "That's on me. I have to go and be a better player at that."
Dwight recorded an 18.4 USG% last season, lower than any year of his career except for his rookie season in Orlando, and also put up 8.5 FGA per game last season which is his lowest total since his rookie year. If Hawks fans want a happy Howard then Bud is going to have to find ways to get him more involved in the offense than what Houston was able to do. Perhaps we will see more early post ups, rim runs, and 1-5 pick and roll action with Schroder and Howard. I don't necessarily think he needs 10+ FGA per game but I do think he needs to touch the ball more—that is something the Hawks shouldn't struggle with given their swift, quick, pass-happy culture that they have established here in Atlanta.
So how will swapping Horford for Howard affect the rest of the team? For starters, Dennis Schroder is really going to miss Horford's screens. Horford is a wizard at disguising the direction of his picks and takes full advantage of it by turning the angle of them in a split-second. Now that Schroder is the lead orchestrator for the offense, he is going to be using the pick and roll with more frequency than any of his previous years. Hopefully, Schroder and Howard will develop chemistry early on, making that 1-5 pick and roll a thing of beauty. With the inclusion of Howard, the Hawks should see an uptick in second chance points this season—something the hawks severely lacked in last season by essentially swapping offensive rebound opportunities for getting back in transition to defend the next possession. Dwight's rebounding ability will be on full display from the get-go and something Hawks fans should be excited for as well.
Whatever the outcome may be, this season is going to be different to say the least. The Hawks have gone through a lot of changes in just a few short months. Horford bought a one-way ticket to Boston, Dennis stole Jeff's keys, and Dwight's homesick fever broke. Whether Coach Bud will be ready for all these changes remains to be seen, but one thing is certain, he will have everyone ready by opening night.