Celtics

New Hornets center Dwight Howard lauded for basketball IQ

celtics_hornets_jaylen_brown_dwight_howard_100217.jpg

New Hornets center Dwight Howard lauded for basketball IQ

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.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

While the Boston Celtics remain tops in the NBA in defensive efficiency with a rating of 100.7, there’s no escaping the reality that they have had some slippage lately which is why the Celtics are 3-3 in their last six games.

Plugging the team’s defensive leaks won’t get any easier tonight against an Indiana Pacers team that has been among the better offensive clubs in the league this season.

The Pacers come into tonight’s game averaging 108.2 points which ranks seventh in the NBA.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens attributes some of the Celtics’ struggles recently to a lack of consistent effort, a sentiment that’s shared among his players.

“We definitely need to play with better effort more consistently,” Boston’s Semi Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “There’s really no excuse for it. We know we have to better, going forward.”

Especially against a Pacers team that’s playing with a chip on its shoulder this season.

Predicted by many to be among the worst teams in the East after trading away Paul George in July for Victor Oladipo and Domantis Sabonis, Indiana (17-13) comes into tonight’s game in a tie for the fourth-best record in the East.

Boston beat the Pacers 108-98 earlier this season, but Indiana was without Oladipo who was out with a bruised right knee.

His availability tonight and his team-leading 24.4 points per game, will certainly have an impact on tonight’s outcome.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between Boston and Indiana.

INDY POINTS OFF TURNOVERS

Boston’s transition defense which has been up and down lately, will be challenged early and often by an Indiana team that likes to get out and run especially off of turnovers. They come into tonight’s game averaging 19.0 points off turnovers which ranks fourth in the NBA. Meanwhile, Boston is giving up 14.3 points off turnovers this season which is second in the league. Boston has given up 13.3 points off turnovers in the last six games, but it ranks just ninth in the league in that span.

SABONIS’ LOVE FOR THE CELTICS

Domantas Sabonis’ father Arvydas, spent his entire NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers. But according to Domantas, his father was a huge fan of the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird.

Oh, there’s more.

“His favorite color is green, so he loves it even more,” Domantis said shortly after his workout for the Celtics in 2016. “Just everything about the team, the tradition, the winning … everything.”

ARON BAYNES

Teams with physical, smack-first, ask-questions-later-type centers, have given the Pacers problems this season; specifically, Andre Drummond of Detroit and Steven Adams of Oklahoma City, both of whom gave the Pacers major fits while each finishing with a double-double of 23 points and 13 rebounds. Baynes has provided a much-needed presence around the rim for the Celtics, and has a defensive rating of 94.9 which is tops among all NBA players averaging 15 or more minutes played per game.

INDY’S PULL-UP GAME

There really isn’t any time when the Celtics can relax defensively against a Pacers team that has shown itself to have a diverse set of skills when it comes to scoring. For example, when it comes to pull-up shooting, they rank among the league’s best in several categories. According to NBA.com/stats, they are shooting a league-best 42.8 percent on pull-up shots which generates 21.9 points per game which ranks fourth in the league.

JAYSON TATUM

The Celtics have won three of their last five games, with each win followed by a loss in that span. There are lots of factors, but one that jumps out is the scoring of Jayson Tatum. In the two losses, he scored four and seven points, respectively. But in the three wins, the 19-year-old reached double figures in each game, scoring at least 11 points. For the season, he’s averaging 14.4 points while shooting 53.9 percent on 3’s and 53 percent from the field when the Celtics win. In losses, his scoring drops to 11.6 points per game while shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 40.9 percent on 3’s.

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

stream-celtics-pacers.jpg

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pacers in Indiana. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don't make

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE