Dwight Howard is a budding superstar in the NBA with loads of talent and potential spilling over onto the rest of the league. He is critical to the game’s future, the accepted best center in the game that has shot altering abilities. He is at once the next great thing in the league and a reminder of the greats of yesterday’s basketball. His considerable gifts enable him to succeed in the league despite the lack of refinement in his game. He can fly through the air with seeming ease, or he could brick an easy free throw that costs his team a victory. Dwight Howard is a man who means many things to the NBA.
He is everything defensively that Amare Stoudemire represents offensively: raw power and athleticism allowing him to get by where basketball intelligence fails him, his skills still largely unharnessed and not always to his disadvantage. His major failings lie in the offensive side of the game where his muscular advantage allows for the frequent dunk against the typically awkward centers in the Association.
He is the best center in the Association by default, more of a technicality than anything he has himself earned. Howard has no contemporaries that equal his exploits at his position, meaning that Amare is at his natural position of power forward (emphasis on power). However, that doesn’t make him dominant, which makes him the de facto best center in the league. He can be stopped, as was demonstrated when the Magic played against the Celtics and Lakers in the playoffs. But when he finds the right matchup, the other team is forced to swim against the current and fight an uphill battle trying to impede Dwight’s progression through the paint.
He is both the Orlando Magic’s savior and their tumultuous tantrum-throwing toddler, still very young and inexperienced on a grander scale. Drafted in 2004 straight from an Atlanta high school, Howard was the next generation big man who was to lead the Magic like Shaquille O’Neal had done nearly a decade before. Before Dwight arrived, the Magic were lead by the much maligned Tracy McGrady unable to advance beyond the roadblock that is the first round of the playoffs. Most recently, Dwight helped lead the Magic to the Finals alongside the incredible shooting of Rashard Lewis and surrogate leadership of Hedo Turkoglu.
Even with this knight in shining armor aura surrounding Dwight, his juvenile nature will at times harm his team and himself. He has a propensity to commit a foolish foul, and sometimes is called for fouls when he is as undeserving as Paris Hilton. The Magic have adapted and brought in Marcin Gortat to help fill in the void that Dwight leaves when he is plagued by early foul trouble. And sometimes, when he has played the game correctly and made a critical block, he is called for a foul because his large frame looks devastating when he goes against inferior opponents. He also has a tendency of picking up technical foul calls, nearing the point of suspension in the playoffs against the Cavaliers and Lakers.
He is a supernova in progress, just beginning his explosion into something so radiant and deadly that it has the potential to wipe out the rest of the league. Dwight has no hope of a jump shot; anything beyond 5 feet is finding no whisper of the rim. He has not developed anything offensively besides his dunking or setting a immovable pick, despite Patrick Ewing’s best efforts to impart his wisdom onto the young center. All of this and he still is the top center in the Association using just his natural gifts to guide him in the post.
He is the perfect teammate that Chris Paul could have: unselfish, enormous, and a receptive target of lobs and passes. Unfortunately, they don’t play on the same team with Paul on New Orleans and Dwight in Orlando. Dwight instead plays with Jameer Nelson, an All-Star guard in his own right who is more than capable of passing into the post for Dwight or pulling up for his own shot. Dwight plays offense the same way that Tyson Chandler played offense for the Hornets before his departure, only better and more determined. He ran up to the ball handler, set a screen, peeled off and ran towards the hoop like an exuberant dog chasing a Frisbee, hoping to receive a pass so that he can slam down the ball down with authority.
He is a cataclysmic shot blocker who alters more shots than a bartender. He patrols the lane, desperately seeking his next opportunity send a ball flying into the seats along with the shooters dignity. He approaches defense with the same zeal and vigor that many of the game’s superstars approach offense. He is not a terrific one-on-one defender, too focused on the potential of a mood-altering block that will rouse the crowd into frenzy. He plays the same way Ben Wallace did with the Pistons once he discovered his niche in basketball, only Dwight is younger, bigger, and more talented than Big Ben was. He hovers more than defends, often leaving his man and gambling on the opponent to not make the extra pass. But, even if they do, he has the speed and agility to make up for his mistakes and hinder the shot attempt.
He is a physical monster in the same stratum as LeBron and Amare. His strength is incredible and his bulging muscles more than amplify their effect on his game. Dwight’s shoulders look like cannonballs lodged beneath his skin, allowing him to muscle his way into the paint. This, coupled with his blinding spin move enables him to operate in the low post, much in the same way early Shaq did, but without as much success. His jumping capabilities are just dumbfounding, not that other players in the NBA can’t jump insane heights. This observation is just coming from his performances in the slam-dunk contests, dunking on a much taller than regulation sized hoop and placing a decal of his mug near the top of the backboard.
He is the opposite of Ray Allen in nearly every phase of the game. Ray is renowned for his three point shooting, his flawless form while shooting, and his inability to miss a free throw. Dwight has none of those things, often begrudged for his inadequate free throw shooting that makes Shaq and Ben Wallace look like Mark Price at the charity stripe. It is foolish to think that a man as large as Dwight Howard should be able to hit a three point shot, Dirk is the exception, but the occasional 10-foot jumper is not out of the realm of expectations.
He is what the Portland Trailblazers thought they were getting when they drafted Greg Oden in 2007. Howard has given legitimacy to the idea that an athletic big man is out there if a team is willing to devote time and scouts to the idea. Amare brought it back into popularity after the phenomenon of Shaq faded as he added weight onto his already massive frame. Dwight confirmed the idea started by Stoudemire, showing that an athletic big will ensure at least some level of success in this league. Al Jefferson, Andrew Bynum, and Greg Oden are all out of the same mold of Amare and Dwight, each with varying degrees of success.
He is a next generation throwback player. He is unique and the next logical step in the evolution of the center position. He can run with surprising speed, jolt with shocking agility, and jump as if he was playing on a trampoline. His athleticism is far better than most of his predecessors, sans Shaq, signaling a shift in thought about centers from being merely a presence in the paint with their bulky bodies and clumsy movements from one end of the court to the other. Still, he has the same mentality as some old school players; focus on the defensive side of the ball and score when given the chance. Scoring is not always the main objective of his game, often playing second fiddle to causing havoc for opponents as they hop into the painted area. However, he is not shy about getting his touches. His boisterous complaints made headlines during critical stretches of the season for the Magic, essentially calling out Stan Van Gundy’s coaching ability and decision-making.
Dwight is dedicated to improving his game through any means necessary, whether it is bulking up in the weight room or studying the art of the hook shot to allow for more scoring. His dunks gain more notoriety for him than does his forte of blocking shots and rebounding. He is a very accomplished basketball player despite his shortcomings, yet he receives less respect from refs when he locks horns with another superstar (Kobe, LeBron, Wade, etc.). He is the characterization of potential dominance. We can all see what could happen (mainly the Cavs series) yet it is not a forgone conclusion that it will become constant. Dwight is the prototype of future athletic big men, but more are not likely to follow. Future Defensive Player of the Year awards will surely follow, and selections to the All-NBA team are nearly guaranteed, but this is not surprising and has become the norm for Dwight Howard. Quite simply, Dwight Howard is a physical beast who has much to learn before he can be considered among the elite of the game.