BOSTON – Kemba Walker prides himself on knowing what’s around the corner, but a recent conversation with new teammate Dwight Howard totally caught him off guard.
Howard approached the former UConn star and offered him some tips on of all things, Kyrie Irving’s game.
“He’s a really, really smart dude,” Walker told NBC Sports Boston. “He knows a lot of the personnel (in the NBA). He catches on to plays really, really fast.”
When it comes to Howard, seldom do you hear praise for his basketball intellect which has been a factor that has allowed him to be among the top centers in the NBA for the past decade.
But it didn't do him much good in his preseason debut with the Charlotte Hornets who were downed 94-82 by the Boston Celtics.
Howard finished with seven points and 10 rebounds, but turned the ball over a game-high six times.
Good or bad, it's never a good idea to put too much stock into how players perform in the preseason.
Regardless of how Howard played against the Celtics on Monday night, the 31-year-old big man will still be a major factor in Charlotte's push to get back to the playoffs after failing to do so last season.
And the experience he has gained from playing in the NBA for more than a decade, will help.
“As far as basketball IQ, that’s always been something that’s been in me,” Howard said. “I just think that a lot of times people see me getting technical fouls and the crazy fouls and they feel like I don’t have basketball I.Q. But when it comes to this sport … I’ve been playing it for a very long time and I watch. I study. I read. And I learn from those who came before me.”
That experience has paid off in what will be a Hall of Fame career when all is said and done.
Howard is an eight-time All-Star as well as a three-time Defensive Player of the Year award winner.
Hornets head coach Steve Clifford worked with Howard previously in Orlando when Clifford was an assistant (2007-2012) on Stan Van Gundy’s staff.
Clifford was among the first to reach out to Howard when the Hornets acquired him and the 31st pick in last June's NBA draft, in exchange for MIles Plumlee, Marco Belinelli and the 41st overall pick.
And while there are those who question how much can Howard still provide on the floor at this point in his career, Clifford is among those who are convinced that Howard’s talent – and his intellect as a basketball player – will enable him to still be an effective player.
“He’s really smart,” Clifford said. “There’s an old axiom in the NBA, ‘you never know a guy until you coach him.' There’s a total misconception about him, that his total game is based around his athleticism. It’s certainly a part of his exceptionality. He’s as smart a player with coverages as I’ve ever been around.”
Said Howard: “It’s just good to hear guys like him (Walker) and coach (Clifford) and the rest of the guys talk about it. Because it’s something that’s always been there, but to hear it is great. I never try to talk about it myself because that’s not who I am, but it’s a good feeling.”