Resume: 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds (1st in league, career best), 2.1 blocks (3rd in league), 1.5 steals (career best), 38.3 minutes (5th in league, career best), 43 double-doubles (2nd in league), 572 free throw attempts (1st in league), 57% FG (2nd in league) and 49% FT… Team record in games played: 33-21 (4-8 without)… All-Star, 7th in MVP Voting, 1st Team All-Defense, 1st Team All-NBA
Over the last month and a half you’ve probably noticed a few not so subtle jabs at Dwight Howard. It should be no secret by now that I’m not Dwight Howard’s biggest fan. I don’t like the way that he wasn’t as harshly criticized for leaving Orlando as LeBron was for leaving Cleveland, even though what he did was roughly 25 times worse. Did LeBron ever ask for a trade during the season? Then take it back? Then ask for one again? Then take it back and sign a contract extension? Then ask for one again? Then act like he loved his coach and teammates? Then quit on his teammates and get his coach fired? Then take a smelly dump all over the organization and fans? Well, you could probably argue that LeBron did the last part based on the way he handled “The Decision”, but up until his last game in Cleveland (a triple double at Boston, which everyone seems to forget), LeBron never sold out EVERYONE IN THE MIDDLE OF A SEASON like Dwight did. For someone who is completely obsessed with people’s opinion of him, Dwight Howard managed to just about completely mangle his image in a matter of months, and I don’t feel bad at all.
I promised to be as unbiased as possible when ranking the players and that is why Dwight Howard sits at #3 on the list. I don’t think Dwight Howard is historically as good as he will likely be remembered. He’s playing in an era with no other truly elite center, and is reaping the benefits of that statistically. Is he really anything more athletic version of Dikembe Mutombo? If Dwight Howard came into the league in 1994 would we even be on the same level as Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson or Patrick Ewing. I think you could argue no. I saw Dwight in person. He is an absolute physical specimen. He legitimately looks like an Ancient Greek sculpture. He is a freak athlete. But for someone who has been in the league for 8 years and has every physical tool you could conceivably want for a big man (except he is a little shorter than most people realize), he is still incredibly raw as an offensive player.
Recently Shaquille O’Neal caught some criticism on NBA TV’s Open Court for saying that Dwight Howard was underachieving, should be averaging 28 points and 15 rebounds, and wasn’t even the best center in the league. For a man built like Dwight is, he could conceivably be putting up those kinds of numbers. If Dwight Howard had Tim Duncan’s offensive game we could probably give him the next 5 NBA titles and not even play the seasons. But he doesn’t. He still doesn’t have any consistent way to score other than catching lobs or off of offensive rebounds. You can’t throw the ball into him and know for a fact you are getting a guaranteed two points. It’s just not happening. But where Shaq went too far was when he said that Dwight Howard wasn’t the best center in the league. It’s safe to assume that a good portion of that comment comes from some bitterness on Shaq’s part, but saying Dwight isn’t the best center in the league is foolish. I wouldn’t even go that far.
You can knock the lack of evolution in Dwight’s offensive repertoire or even the way the league has changed since the days of Shaq, Hakeem, Robinson, Ewing, etc. but you can’t try to take away the title of best center from Dwight when for the last 6 years or so it’s belonged solely to him. Up until this year Dwight had been one of the most durable workhorses in the league (in his first seven seasons Dwight only missed 7 games), even though he gets hacked harder and more often than just about anyone in the league. No one in the league defends the rim or rebounds as well as Dwight. And I guess in Dwight’s defense, his post game has come along well enough that combined with his strength he does draw a lot of double teams. The ultimate sign of Dwight’s dominance in the current landscape of the league comes from something I mentioned back in February during my Eastern Conference power rankings.
He can turn chicken shit into chicken salad. Have you looked long and hard at Orlando’s roster? Ryan Anderson, Jason Richardson, Jameer Nelson, and a well-past his prime Hedo Turkoglu are the top non-Dwight Howard options.
Dwight Howard has upgraded and is now playing with talent that is equivalent to chicken parmesan. You’d think that he would appreciate this, fill in whatever role the Lakers need him to, flash that big smile that everyone love and stay happy as the Lakers roll through the regular season. As long as that is the case the Lakers are arguably the odds-on favorite to win the NBA Championship.