The Wizards want to play faster and believe Dwight Howard could be the key

Chase Hughes
NBC Sports Washington

Scott Brooks has a vision. He has seen the scenarios play out in his head.

Dwight Howard rips the rebound from above the rim and hits John Wall with a crisp outlet pass. Wall zooms up the floor with world-class speed. Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Jr. and Markieff Morris trail, seeking their hot spots around the perimeter. 

Whomever on the opposing team gets back in time has to pick their poison, as one of the fastest and most gifted transition passers in the NBA goes to work. That is if Wall feels like passing because he is also a threat to finish at the rim, perhaps with a trademark left-handed slam.

The Wizards have worked towards becoming one of the best fastbreak teams in the NBA ever since Wall was drafted in 2010 with varying levels of success. But with Howard in the mix, Brooks hopes some nitrous can be injected into their already-potent scoring attack.

The Wizards haven't had a rebounder as gifted as Howard since, what, the 1980s? Moses Malone back in those days could certainly stack up to Howard, but not many in NBA history can. 

Howard is already 15th all-time in total rebounds. Last season, he surpassed Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal. He has long since eclipsed Dennis Rodman, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Ben Wallace.

Howard is objectively one of the best rebounders of all-time and he hasn't slowed down much, if at all, from his younger days. Last season, he grabbed 12.5 rebounds per game, good for third in the NBA.

If Howard can keep that up with the Wizards and get Wall out in the open court a second or two quicker than in the past, the Wizards could be uniquely dangerous.

"He's the best rebounder in the league. It creates offense for our guys that can play fast and can shoot," Brooks said. "We want to play fast. How do you play fast? You don't play fast by getting the ball out from the net. You've gotta get it off the rim and get it out and run."

Brooks has talked about playing faster ever since he took over the job as head coach of the Wizards, but the numbers suggest they have trended in the other direction. Their pace factor - measured as possessions per 48 minutes by Basketball Reference - was 96.6 last season, down from 97.4 the year before and 98.5 in 2015-16, the last year with Randy Wittman in charge. Their pace relative to the rest of the NBA has gone from +2.7 to -0.7 in the last two years.

The Wizards' pace was surely hurt last season by Wall missing 41 games, but the trend began with the 2016-17 campaign. One result has been fewer shots being attempted and fewer shots going in. Both the Wizards' field goals attempted and made went down by 1.4 per game last year from 2016-17. That's part of why they scored 2.6 fewer points per contest.

Fastbreak points have also taken a nosedive under Brooks. In 2015-16, the Wizards ranked second in the NBA behind only the Warriors with 18.6 fastbreak points per game. In the past two years, they have finished fifth (15.9/g in 2016-17) and 15th (11.6/g in 2017-18), respectively. That's a difference of seven points in just two years.

One fair question amid all of this is how Howard can help beyond getting the fastbreak started. At 32 years old (he turns 33 in December), can Howard be a factor in the open court? If he can also trail Wall, the potential is there for some easy buckets.

"I know I've gotta be able to keep up with John and Bradley and the rest of the younger guys. I'm looking forward to it. I'm in the best shape of my life. This is the healthiest I've been," Howard said. "My dad was a track coach, so my whole life all I did was run. That's what I've been doing all summer."

Brooks has been saying for a few years now he wants the Wizards to play faster. Perhaps Howard can help that goal become reality.

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