Top 50 NBA Players: #11-12 Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard

Marc Gasol
Resume: 14.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.0 steal (career best), 1.7 blocks, 35.0 minutes, 49% FG, and 85% FT (career best)… Team record in games played: 55-25 (1-1 without)… Playoffs: 17.2 points (career best), 8.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists (career best), 2.2 blocks (career best), 40.6 minutes (career best), 45% FG, 80% FT (career best), 8-7 record… 2nd Team All-Defense, 2nd Team All-NBA, Defensive Player of the Year

Dwight Howard
Resume: 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds (1st in league), 1.1 steals, 2.4 blocks (5th in league), 35.8 minutes, 48 double-doubles (2nd in league), 355 free throws made (7th in league), 721 free throws attempted (3rd in league), 58% FG, and 49% FT… Team record in games played: 42-34 (3-3 without)… Playoffs: 17.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 31.5 minutes, 62% FG, 44% FT, 0-4 record… All-Star, 1st Team All-Defense, 3rd Team All-NBA

Hold onto your seats folks, it’s about to get real. Believe it or not, it’s time for another Dr. Jack Breakdown. The topic today: we need to settle the debate on who is the best or 2nd best center in the league right now is (depending on what position you like to believe Tim Duncan plays). It’s Marc Gasol vs. Dwight Howard! Let’s get at it!

Oct 5, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) reacts after a play during the second quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at Toyota Center. The Pelicans defeated the Rockets 116-115. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Offseason news- Has there been any news related to Dwight Howard in the last year and a half that has been good news? If (500) Days of Summer is a movie about Tom meeting, falling in love with, and getting over Summer, then there needs to be a docudrama called (500) Days of Indecision where Dwight Howard says he wants to stay in Orlando, then demands a trade, proceeds gets his coach and general manager fired, has back surgery, then gets traded, then struggles to coexist with Kobe Bryant, then indecisively leaves Los Angeles for Houston. Only that movie would never get made because Dwight wouldn’t be able to figure out what low budget actor he wanted to play him.

In all seriousness, Dwight made bank in the offseason, inking a four year, $87 million contract even though he might have already peaked. In a valiant attempt to re-build his image, Dwight bought lunch for an entire Houston restaurant  soon after he signed with the Rockets. For as good as Marc Gasol is, I don’t know that he’s a big enough name to get a contract that large. Speaking of Gasol, I’m just going to assume that he and Pau had some serious one-on-one battles in the driveway of their childhood home.
Edge: Dwight Howard

Originality- Ultimately, this comes down to whether you prefer the poor man’s Bill Walton (Gasol) or the rich man’s Dikembe Mutombo. Oh, you think I’m crazy saying that Dwight’s comparison is Mutombo? Check out the numbers from Mutombo’s rookie year (his best) and Dwight’s 9th season (his worst since his 2nd season).

Mutombo, 1991-92: 16.6 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 3.0 blocks, 38.3 minutes, 50 double-doubles

Howard, 2012-13: 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.4 blocks, 35.8 minutes, 48 double-doubles

Statistically, it isn’t far off. And hold on a beat, shouldn’t a 27 year old Dwight Howard be hitting his peak right about now? Why does it feel like his best days are behind him?

Gasol gets the edge not because he’s stylistically, not statistically, similar to Bill Walton. Walton anchored the defense, served as the hub of the offense, and was more often than not the smartest player on the floor. The same can be said for Gasol who was awarded the well-deserved Defensive Player of the Year honor at seasons end and then proceeded to carry the Grizzlies offense in crunch time during the playoffs.
Edge: Marc Gasol

Size- Marc Gasol is an absolutely huge man (he’s listed at 7’1, 265 lbs., and was once over 300 lbs.) who also has very long arms, making him seem even bigger and allowing him to cover a ton of space defensively. In his younger/hairier days he could’ve been mistaken for the West Virginia Mountaineers mascot. I saw Dwight Howard in person when he was still a member of the Orlando Magic and two things stand out in my mind from that Sunday afternoon other than the fact that we blew a tire on the way to the game: How unimpressive Dwight was in the game,  but how impressive Dwight Howard’s size was. Cheese and rice, that man is a specimen to be admired. He could’ve been the inspiration of many ancient Greece sculptures had he come around about 2,500 years earlier.
Edge: Dwight Howard

Defensive Prowess- This one is pretty cut and dry. Marc Gasol won Defensive Player of the Year, and even if there was dispute over whether it was deserved (in my opinion the strongest cases against Gasol could’ve been made for Joakim Noah, LeBron James, and Tim Duncan, but I wouldn’t make a stink over it). Gasol anchored the best defense in the league, always finds himself in the right spot defensively, and is a solid one on one post defender. In case you were wondering, Dwight Howard finished 14th in Defensive Player of the Year voting, and only a little bit of it had to do with the Lakers being a below average defensive team.

From 2008 to 2011 Dwight Howard was the most destructive interior defender in the league, and you really couldn’t make an argument otherwise. There is good a reason why Dwight Howard finished 14th in Defensive Player of the Year voting. I hope you’re ready for this… he wasn’t that good. Last year he wasn’t even a top five defensive player at his own position, let alone in the league. If you have more time to spare check out this Zach Lowe piece on Dwight’s defensive struggles, then shake your head in agreement with me and let’s move on.
Edge: Marc Gasol

May 25, 2013; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) shoots the ball over San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) in game three of the Western Conference finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at FedEx Forum. San Antonio Spurs defeat the Memphis Grizzlies 104-93, and lead the series 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Nickname- You could argue that Dwight stole his nickname (Superman) from Shaquille O’Neal, but in fairness Shaq had more nicknames than Apollo Creed. Dwight is sometimes referred to as D12, but the initial/number thing is lame anyway. Marc Gasol went from being recognized as Pau’s Chubby Brother—is that a nickname, a title, or an insult… I’m not sure—to The Big Burrito, which if it catches on is the greatest nickname in the history of sports.
Major Edge: Marc Gasol

Late Game Chops- Even in Dwight’s absolute prime he was never a legitimate late game scoring option because:

A: He can’t shoot free throws. Teams know this and wouldn’t be afraid to exploit it. And let it be known that if Dwight Howard actually consistently shoots free throws with his eyes closed this season I will let my roommate smack me across the face with a sneaker and post it on YouTube.
B: He doesn’t have a large arsenal of post moves, which means even if he wasn’t an abysmal free throw shooter (he’s more abysmal now than ever), he wouldn’t be a guaranteed two points anyways.

In the 2009 playoffs Orlando actually went with a surprising Hedo Turkoglu/Rashard Lewis high pick and roll late in games, and boy was it effective. It actually caused me to throw my television remote directly into my closet… twice. Even though he had his way with—had his way with isn’t even good enough; he completely and utterly shredded— the undersized Anderson Varejao, the past his prime Ben Wallace, the past being past his prime Joe Smith, and the slow as molasses Zydrunas Ilgauskas, he wasn’t much of a factor late. And just so it doesn’t seem like I’m crapping all over Dwight Howard, let me just clear this up: For a three or four year period Dwight made chicken parmesan out of chicken poop in Orlando. He was the undisputed best big man in the world even if he didn’t have a consistent series of post moves he could rely on. I just wanted to clear that up.

After Rudy Gay was traded mid-season, the Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph combination was the primary means of scoring late for the Grizzlies. The versatility of Gasol allowed the either member of the duo to work in the high or low post, and it also allowed for some late pick and rolls/pick and pops with Gasol and Conley, which Gasol excelled at. If the Grizzlies wanted to get really simple with it, they could just throw the ball into Gasol on the block and let him go to work. Unlike Dwight, if Gasol gets sent to the line he knocks down free throws at an 85% rate. If I need two points in a game for my life and I have a choice between Dwight Howard and Marc Gasol to get me them, I’m taking The Big Burrito.
Edge: Marc Gasol

Reputation- Pardon me while I laugh hysterically.
Major Edge: Marc Gasol

Watchability- Yes, that is a made up word. Essentially, I’m asking who you would rather watch play basketball. You could watch Dwight—who last season didn’t look remotely as athletic as he did in Orlando— catch a few lobs and spend a lot of time back down defenders and unleashing a whole bunch of jump hooks. Or you could watch Gasol work the high post or low post with incredible efficiency; scoring or passing out of either spot, always making the right plays. His one legged grounded turn-around jumper is unorthodox but effective, and he is one of the only players in the NBA who can pull off a sweeping sky hook. Look, I’ve seen Dwight in person. I thought he would be fun to watch. He’s not. Take my word for it.
Edge: Marc Gasol

Final decision: Gasol over Howard. Ultimately, this debate can be settled by a series of quotes. First, a quote by Grantland’s Zach Lowe on Marc Gasol. Then, four different takes on the Dwight Howard as a Laker situation from four Lakers fans: my cousins Pauley and Phil, and my friends Corey and Collin.

“I’m not sure there’s a larger gap between the level of nationwide fan appreciation for a player and the level of appreciation from coaches/scouts/league executives for that player than the gap for Gasol. People inside the league adore this guy.” – Zach Lowe

“Well I never wanted him to begin with. His offensive game his average at best. He doesn’t have it in him to be a great Lakers center. He’s mentally weak.” – Pauley Clark

“I told you last year before they started playing I hated the move.” – Phil Ostroski

“The Dwight Howard era made me become a Wizards fan.” – Corey Edwards

“I would have been okay with watching Kobe handing the torch to Dwight and him becoming the new face of the Lakers. He could have taken the reins from one of the best to ever play. All he had to do was be patient. But that wasn’t good enough for Dwight. He wanted the team now. That pisses me off. What was he thinking??? Did he honestly think the Lakers were going to stiff Kobe? The team that wouldn’t amnesty him? The team that Kobe said ‘Pay me $30M this season’ who responded with ‘Deal’. He expected this organization to just fold on his whim? All it would have took was patience and Dwight could have been a big fish in a big market. He could have been the face of one of the NBA’s premier franchises. Instead I hope he gets stung by a scorpion in Houston and Marcus Camby takes his starting role. To conclude, F*** Dwight Howard.” – Collin Stucko

And there you have it.