Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Dwight Howard Is No Superman
Dwight Howard is a great player. Having just recently turned 24, in his sixth year out of high school, he has already been named All-NBA three times (first team twice, third team once), All-defense twice (once each first and second team), won a Defensive Player of the Year award and been the centerpiece of a team that went to the Finals. In the past two seasons his team won 52 and 59 games, and so far this season they are 24-10. Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy has devised this killer inside-outside offense in which Howard is the key. Orlando surrounds him with four shooters, and is able to survive playing only one non-perimeter player because Howard can handle all of the rebounding and shot-blocking responsibilities by his lonesome. Anyway you look at it, he is one of the league's most valuable players, a true franchise guy, one of the top three guys in the league that you would most like to build your team around.
But the thing is, they call him the league's new Superman. We all know who the original was, and I'm here to tell you all that, Dwight Howard, my friends, is no Superman. He's simply not worthy of the title, at least not yet. Howard can rebound and block shots with anyone in the past 10 years - in particular I think he is the best natural rebounder since Dennis Rodman. But as far as being a dominant offensive force, as Shaquille O'Neal was in his heyday and as Howard should be to truly earn such a nickname, Howard is far from it and I'm starting to doubt that he ever will be.
Through five seasons, Howard has never averaged more than 20.7 points per 36 minutes, and (through Monday) this year is averaging only 17.5 - that's his lowest average in that department since his second year. By comparison, Shaq averaged 22.2 as a 20-year-old rookie - followed 26.5 at 21, 28.5 at 22 and 26.5 at 23. An excuse is often made that Howard doesn't get enough touches, that his teammates don't pass him the ball enough. There is certainly an argument to be made for this - per 36 minutes, Howard has never taken more than 12.5 shots a game, and this year he's taking only 9.3, his lowest since his rookie year. Recently on TNT, Chris Webber made the point about Howard's lack of touches, and when Kenny Smith countered by pointing out Howard's deficit of post moves Webber replied that young Shaq didn't have many post moves, either, and still managed to get his touches. This is true, also.
I think the difference is two things. For one, Shaq was the kind of overpowering force that Howard is not. For all of the comparisons, we must remember that Howard is listed as two inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than Shaq has been listed at in any point in his professional career. At 6'11" Howard is written down at 265, at 7'1" O'Neal never less than 305. He is clearly outsized by Shaq, and is no bigger than the size of man Shaq ate for breakfast and got remnants of stuck between his teeth during his prime. Granted Shaq did that to everybody, to men bigger than Howard (see Sabonis, Arvydas), but still.
Of course with that being said, Howard is the most physically impressive and overpowering force in the game today. He is not at the level of O'Neal, but he is the closest thing we have - I concede that. He is a man amongst boys, and people tackle, er, foul Howard to prevent him easy layups and dunks in the same way they did to Shaq in his prime. But - here comes difference number two - Howard lacks the personality of a dominant offensive player. Something tells me if he really wanted that ball, I mean if he really wanted it, if he had that gene that great big men scorers have, he would be getting it. He might say he wants it, but men like O'Neal demand it. Their games insists upon it, and their personalities do, too.
Howard reminds me of Kevin Garnett. Like Garnett, Howard is a dominant rebounder and defender but not a naturally dominant offensive player. In Garnett's case the skills were there, but as with Howard not the mindset. Garnett was always somewhat reluctant as Minnesota's top offensive threat. He always would have been better off in the situation he's found himself in in Boston, with other, more natural scorers around to equally share the load (and carry the crunch-time responsibilities). He doesn't have to worry about being The Man there, not in the traditional sense; he can focus first on being the complete, all-around menace that he is and think about scoring second. This was the key to Boston's title run two years ago - finally Garnett was put in a situation that best suited his immense talents. And while the Big Three shared the credit (and rightfully so), it was Garnett who was most pivotal to the Celtics' success.
I wonder if Howard is the same way, if maybe we need to reconsider how we think he should be used. Maybe he will peak as an S-class (Shoefly lingo) big man who gets 18-20 points a game rather than 25-30, but protects the rim and rebounds like no other and still wins multiple championships, the modern day Bill Russell rather than the second coming of Shaq. No one would complain about that scenario taking place; in fact I'd rather see the next Russell than the next Shaq, because there hasn't been anyone like Russ since Russ, and Russ retired 40 years ago.
As an offensive player, David Robinson was further along at this stage in his career than Howard is in his. Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon were, too, albeit by lesser margins. I can honestly say that, best case scenario, I don't ever see Howard averaging more than about 23 points a game. But whatever happens in the future, and whether or not we need to recalibrate our expectations for Howard, for right now the least we need to do is put a moratorium on calling him Superman. I suppose it really doesn't matter, but technically it is inaccurate to call him that.
And if the nickname doesn't fit, we must quit.