NBA All-Star Game 2014: Dwight Howard makes good with 8th straight appearance

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Another year removed from back surgery, Howard is still one of the best centers in basketball. SB Nation 2014 NBA Slam Dunk Contest Coverage

Dwight Howard joined the Houston Rockets last summer, putting the future of his career in the hands of Daryl Morey and James Harden. It's been a highly dramatic few years for Howard, filled with rumors, foot-in-mouth moments and discord. Even throughout the ups and downs in his career since his trip to the NBA Finals in 2009, he's remained as one of the NBA's best centers and earned his eighth straight All-Star trip this year.

Howard's numbers aren't dissimilar to his lone season with the Los Angeles Lakers. If you compare them side-by-side, it'd be difficult to say his play has vastly improved with another summer of rehab since undergoing major back surgery. This isn't a knock on his game.

His post-up numbers are as raw as ever. He averages 0.76 points per play in post-up attempts, according to Synergy Sports Technology. The team is posting him up for 52.6 percent of his shot attempts, making it a point to give him an opportunity to work in the low block.

Howard has been excellent, as usual, when he rolls after setting a screen. He's ranked fourth overall in pick-and-roll points per play, averaging 1.35 points when he dives to the paint. He's also demolishing teams by lurking around the rim and cutting to the basket. As a cutter, he's sitting at a phenomenal 1.69 points per play, good for second-best in the NBA. His ability to finish at the rim makes him a perfect target for Harden to dump off to after he drives into the paint.

Get Howard the ball when a defender is drawn away from him and he'll flush it down.

The Rockets got exactly what they anticipated, a phenomenal player to pair with Harden. Still, while Houston is surging and is now the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, there's some question as to whether or not the team is a legit title contender. It's clear that Morey's work isn't done, but it's just impossible to project what the final form of this potential superpower team will look like.

The first order of business in Houston will be figuring out what to do with Omer Asik prior to the trade deadline. The team flirted with the idea of playing Howard and Asik together, but it failed miserably. Terrence Jones as the starting power forward was a cork-in-a-leaking-hole solution, but in the long run, the Rockets may prefer a player who can better spread the floor out to the three-point line while Howard anchors down low.

Other pressing issues include the future of Chandler Parsons and whether Jeremy Lin can be a championship point guard. Whether those players end up being part of the Rockets' long-term core remains to be seen, but they're both integral to what the team does right now. The key, ultimately, will be figuring out who can be that third star player next to the impressive duo Morey has already assembled. Expect the trade rumors to continue through the Feb. 20 deadline.

Howard may be a limited player, one who won't quite reach his old peaks of the Orlando era, but his impact cannot be understated. When he's on the court, the Rockets outscore opponents by 7.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com, compared to just 1.2 points when he's off the court. Howard's already helped push Houston from pretty good to very good -- now he just needs a little more help to make some playoff noise.

Another appearance at the All-Star Game is a good start for everyone involved, though, and the resurgent Howard we've seen over the past few months is a pleasant surprise. Back injuries remain one of the biggest mysteries, and overcoming those issues only adds to the impressive nature of his performance. Still, we've seen Howard dominate and earn accolades before. It's great, but we're wondering if there's more.

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