Dwight Howard will be a force in the middle for the Charlotte Hornets this coming season, and NBA analysts have already taken into consideration the impact he will bring for his new team next season. ESPN has just released the win-loss predictions for every NBA teams for the 2017-18 NBA regular-season. The Hornets, who narrowly missed a playoff spot last season, are projected to have a better card this year.

The Dwight Effect

ESPN revealed its real plus/minus projections for the 2017-18 NBA season on Thursday. According to the latest estimates, the Hornets are set to win 44.1 games next season – which is an improvement from last season’s 36-46 record and good for no.5 seed in the Eastern Conference.

ESPN’s resident analytic Kevin Pelton pointed out Howard’s arrival as one of the key factors behind the Hornets improved win-loss projections. Charlotte sorely missed Cody Zeller’s inside presence as they went 3-17 for 20 games without their starting center last season. The Hornets addressed that problem after general manager Rich Cho pulled off a trade to acquire Howard from the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for in exchange for Marco Belinelli, Miles Plumlee and the no.41 pick in the 2017 NBA draft.

“The Hornets are primed to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. Despite going 36-46 a year ago, Charlotte outscored opponents by 0.2 points per game, which typically would translate to a 41-41 record.

Adding Dwight Howard should help Charlotte deal with any Zeller absences this season,” per Pelton.

Rebounding and Defense

Howard, who averaged 13.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game last season, is also expected to address the team’s need in rebounding (16th in the league at 43.6 rpg) and defense (13th at 104.7 points allowed per game).

Despite admitting that small-ball has significantly reduced his effectiveness in today’s game, Howard stressed that he’s open to adapt by expanding his range all the way to three-point territory.

Several NBA analysts gave the Hornets a good grade after getting Howard from the Hawks for virtually nothing. Pundits believe head coach Steve Clifford can bring the best out of Howard as an offensive player.

Clifford was part of Stan Van Gundy’s coaching staff during Howard’s time in Orlando Magic, giving him familiarity on how to use the big man’s strength.

"I know what he has to do to play well," Clifford said during the press conference introducing Howard as a new member of the Hornets. "He understands that I know him. I know his game. Being around him in different settings I have a feel for what he likes to do... There is no reason he can't get back to playing at a really high level."