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Dwight Howard feels his game is still changing and adapting to NBA's new era

Dwight Howard feels his game is still changing and adapting to NBA's new era

Dwight Howard has the potential to solve several of the Wizards' problems and add new dimensions to their team, most notably with his ability to block shots and play above the rim on offense. But, much like his predecessor, Marcin Gortat, Howard has shortcomings in his game that are increasingly magnified as playing styles in the NBA change.

Howard has been living in the paint since he was drafted first overall by the Orlando Magic in 2004, but much has changed about the center position in the decade-and-a-half since. Many teams favor a different brand of big men, ones that can shoot and guard smaller players on defense. 

The Wizards have a stated goal to play more positionless basketball, to have lineups where they can switch from spot to spot and match the versatility of their opponents. Howard doesn't exactly help that cause.

He himself knows the game has changed.

"When I came into the league, I was playing against the [Shaquille O'Neals], the Alonzo Mournings and Jermaine O'Neals. It was more of the physical, I'm going to see who the strongest guy in the paint. It was like an arm wrestling match for the big guys. Nowadays, it's not the same game," Howard said.

Howard, though, believes he is still adding to his game, even at 32 years old. He has posted many videos on Instagram of his workouts this offseason and some have included shooting threes and off the dribble jumpers around the free throw line.

Doing something on a practice court is very different than bringing it to an actual NBA game. He may never get to showcase those skills for the Wizards, but that won't stop him from trying.

"It's grown since I've been in the NBA," he said. "It's evolve or die or get left behind. For me, I plan on playing this game for another good eight years. In order for me to do that, I really have to change my game. It started last season. Last season was probably the most confident I've been in my career as far as just doing everything on the floor; handling the ball, shooting, being more of an offensive threat in iso situations and stuff like that. I'm going to continue to work on that stuff."

Howard attempted only seven threes last season and that tied a career-high. It's unlikely to expect his range to even stretch past the free throw line, given his track record and the Wizards' litany of outside shooters.

It will be up to head coach Scott Brooks how Howard is used and he thinks the eight-time All-Star is just fine the way he is.

"Definitely,  the game has changed, but a lot of times with that change it still remains the same. You need a big and when you have a talented big, you use him," Brooks said. "He brings a skillset and a talent that only a few guys in the league that can do."

Brooks went on to mention how a lot of the best big men in the league are young and still learning, perhaps a reference to Joel Embiid of the Sixers, who many figure to be a force in the Eastern Conference for years to come. In the East, there are a host of versatile young bigs between Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks, Myles Turner of the Pacers and Lauri Markkanen of the Bulls. The Western Conference has even more of them between Anthony Davis of the Pelicans, Karl-Anthony Towns of the Timberwolves, Nikola Jokic of the Nuggets and DeAndre Ayton of the Suns.

Those players represent a new age of basketball where big men can shoot threes, switch onto forwards and guards if needed and even attack the paint off the dribble. Some call them unicorns and they are phasing out guys who play Howard's style.

Brooks has spoken glowingly about his evolving roster in recent years and the newfound ability to play with small-ball lineups. He has talked about going even smaller in the future as the team continues to add players with positional versatility like Tomas Satoransky and Troy Brown, Jr.

Howard may throw a wrench into those plans. For Brooks, the biggest adjustment will be on defense.

"The challenge is how you're going to be able to guard smaller guys, but the smaller players have trouble guarding smaller players. There's a lot of good shooters in this league that open up a lot of difficult situations to be in. My job is to figure it out and his job is to perform in a night in and night out basis," Brooks said.

Offensively, Howard will likely be tasked with simply taking what Gortat did to the next level. He is better than Gortat at finishing around the rim and can probably take on a larger scoring role in the offense.

That said, he will need to replace what Gortat did uniquely well and that is being the table-setter for John Wall in the pick-and-roll. For as much grief as Gortat received over the years, he was one of the best in the NBA at freeing up his teammates. That takes both skill and commitment, knowing it isn't the flashiest part of the sport.

"My whole focus is to do whatever on this team is needed," Howard said. "I know how to set screens. That's not something I need practice on. I've been doing it my whole life. I know that me setting screens and rolling and doing whatever is asked is going to open up the paint and threes for everybody else."

There are reasons to believe Howard can help take the Wizards to new heights on both ends of the floor. But he does come with limitations and the Wizards will have to manage those as they add him into the mix.

Tyler Byrum contributed to this report

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5 things to know about new Wizards guard Gary Payton II, also known as 'The Mitten'

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5 things to know about new Wizards guard Gary Payton II, also known as 'The Mitten'

The Wizards are set to add guard Gary Payton II on a 10-day contract to fill their 14th roster spot. Here are five things to know about the Wizards' newest player...

1. Payton II is the son of NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton Sr. His father made nine All-Star teams, nine All-NBA teams, won a title with the Heat on 2006 and is considered one of the best defensive players of all-time. Payton starred for the Seattle Supersonics in the 1990s, so naturally Payton II is originally from Seattle.

2. His father also had one of the best NBA nicknames of all-time. He was known as 'The Glove.' So, according to Basketball Reference, Payton II is sometimes referred to as 'The Mitten.' 

3. Payton II, a point guard, is listed at 6-foot-3 and shoots left-handed. He has appeared in 29 total NBA games split between the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. He was Thomas Bryant's teammate in L.A. 

Payton II also spent time with the Portland Trailblazers in 2018-19 training camp before getting released in October. Since then, he played with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the G-League where he averaged 19.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3.4 steals in 13 games.

4. Just like his father, Payton II played his college ball at Oregon State. With the Beavers, Payton II became the first player to win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year twice. He averaged 2.8 steals per game in college.

5. Payton goes by Payton II, not by Payton Jr. That's because his half-brother is Gary Payton Jr. Payton Sr. named two of his sons after himself. There is also a third Payton brother named Julian, according to Payton II's college bio.

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Wizards vs. Pistons: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

Wizards vs. Pistons: Time, TV Channel, Live Stream, How to Watch

After a dramtic victory in London over the Knicks, the Wizards (19-26) return home Monday afternoon to take on the Pistons (20-25). 

Washington has won three of its past four, fighting hard every night to get into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Wizards are currently sitting three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

Detroit is in a similar positon, just ahead of 10th place Washington in ninth and two games out of playoff contention. The Pistons seem to have righted the ship somewhat after a four-game losing streak, winning three of their past five. 

Here's everything you need to know about Wizards vs. Pistons.

WIZARDS vs. PISTONS HOW TO WATCH

What: Washington Wizards vs. Detroit Pistons, 2018-19 NBA Regular Season Game 46

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 2:00 p.m. ET, Jan. 21, 2018

TV Channel: The Wizards vs. Pistons will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington (Channel Finder).

Live Stream: You can live stream Wizards vs. Pistons on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and on the MyTeams App.

Radio: Wizards Radio Network, 1500 AM

WIZARDS vs. PISTONS TV SCHEDULE

1:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders
1:30 PM: Wizards Pregame Live
2:00 PM: Wizards vs. Pistons 
4:30 PM: Wizards Postgame Live
5:00 PM: Wizards Outsiders

WIZARDS vs. PISTONS INJURY REPORT:

Wizards: Dwight Howard (Out, lumbar microdisectomy procedure), John Wall (Out, heel), Markieff Morris (Out, transient cervical neuropraxia) 

Pistons: Ish Smith (Day-to-day, groin), Andre Drummond (Day-to-day, concussion), Jon Leuer (Day-to-day, illness)

WIZARDS vs. PISTONS PLAYERS TO WATCH

Bradley Beal, G, Wizards: Since John Wall was shut down for the season, Beal is averaging 29.3 points and 6.3 assists a contest, asserting himself as the Wizards' go-to scorer and floor general. He's more than deserving of an All-Star spot, and perhaps even All-NBA consideration if he keeps it up.

Blake Griffin, F, Pistons: In a mediocre season for the Pistons as a team, Griffin has been nothing but exceptional, averaging 25.7 points, 8.1 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. With the likes of Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris injuried, the Wizards will have their hands full trying to keep Griffin quiet. 

WIZARDS vs. PISTONS SERIES HISTORY

Number of all-time Meetings: 290 games (8 playoff games)

Regular Season Record: Pistons lead 160-130

Playoff Record: Pistons lead 6-2

Last Meeting: Pistons win 106-95 on Dec. 26, 2018

Last 10: Wizards lead 6-4

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