You can't talk about Dwight Howard's second season in Houston without talking about his first season in Houston, and more specifically, his first playoffs in Houston. Opening night last year, in one of the 41 games Dwight played, TNT showed one of their pre-recorded interviews, in which Dwight said his goal was to "Bring in Playoff Dwight every single night."
Egotism and speaking in the third person aside, this was a lofty, if admirable goal. Say what you will about Dwight Howard, his first playoff series with the Rockets was something to see. Averaging 26 points and a ridiculous 13.7 rebounds while adding 2.3 blocks per game in what was ultimately a losing effort against the Blazers was unreal, especially considering how necessary it was in response to a lacking Harden series.
That said, as great as "Playoff Dwight" was, it is pretty hard for him to show up when Normal Dwight is on the bench. Like I said before, Dwight played exactly half of the 2014-2015 season, and, like we've all said before, the Rockets were still able to thrive thanks to an MVP-caliber season from Harden and from real improvement by other players across the board and yada yada yada. Much of Dwight's contribution in the regular season was stunted due to staggering minutes and getting back in game shape after returning from injury.
When he did play, he played just fine, averaging just under 16 points and just over 10 rebounds. A lot of Dwight's impact goes unmeasured as his presence in the middle of the floor deterred smaller player's shots, and his most valued quality from last season of simply not being Joey Dorsey is frankly immeasurable. Oh, and he also was a part of like three separate fights. For those keeping track at home, that's a fight around every 14 games. People don't like Dwight Howard, especially outside of Houston, but I'll return to that.
Dwight's role in the playoffs wasn't nearly as big in his second season. While he still did incredibly well rebounding at 14 per game, his scoring and minutes both decreased, as did his free throw percentage from 62.5% in 2014 to 41.2% in 2015. That said, he absolutely wrecked the Mavericks and he was vital in the defensive scheme against the Clippers. Of course, his series against the Warriors could've been better, just like every other Rocket. I'll let somebody else argue over whether or not "Playoff Dwight" was ever back. In the meantime, I'll just keep watching and reminiscing about that time Dwight caught lob after lob from Josh Smith, with whom Dwight played AAU ball (did you know they played AAU ball together?), because that's a lot more fun.
And now, let me say a lot of positive things about Dwight Howard before I say some negative things: Daryl Morey straight up stole him from LA two summers ago, and that was great for so many reasons. Not only did Houston improve, but the Lakers also imploded and they continue to implode in the wake of Dwight's departure. The kind of defense and defensive mindset Dwight Howard has brought to Houston has been phenomenal. He has objectively made the Rockets a better team, even if they managed to function without him for half of last season. The city of Houston has loved him.
As far as what to expect out of Dwight Howard in the upcoming season, I think it would be irresponsible to expect anything better than we saw last season, and it wouldn't be irrational to expect worse. Granted, he will (hopefully) play more games this year, but let's look at the numbers.
His last two seasons in Orlando, Dwight was an absolute monster, averaging 20 and 14. Then, in his one season with the Lakers, plagued by injury and bad blood, D12's statistics slumped, but really only for his standards, at 17 and 12. His points have remained around the same, but his rebounds have dropped in both of his seasons with the Rockets. He is still a good defender, but he is not nearly the defender he was in Orlando. I mean, look at this guy:
I just don't think that guy is coming back. He's only gotten older. He's only become more injury-prone. He's only decreased statistically in the last few years. There have been flashes, and of course there has been "Playoff Dwight," but he is not the same player he once was.
However, maybe he doesn't need to be. Next year's Rockets roster is arguably the strongest Dwight has ever played with, especially on paper. He doesn't have to be an MVP candidate because the Rockets already have one of those. He doesn't have to be a machine in the post because the Rockets already have one of those. He doesn't need somebody he played AAU with to throw him lobs because the Rockets get a new one of those.
I think the goal of "Playoff Dwight" on a nightly basis is a good one, but I think a better goal would be to have any Dwight out there. Period.