By Chris Le
A Beast. A Monster.
Is it just me or do you always hear one of the two being used when someone is talking about Dwight Howard? I mean, it’s fitting when you see him on the hardwood – or just standing stationary, for that matter – because he looks like someone made him from the best parts of the game’s top players. The NBA’s version of Frankenstein, if you will. And just like the beast, the monster, in Mary Shelley’s novel, Howard is feared.
In the very near future, however, you may be hearing a third descriptive phrase: the most dominant player in the league.
That’s what Kevin Durant declared when asked about the Orlando Magic center. Granted, being a rookie, Durant has seen barely over half of the league’s teams and has yet to appreciate the subtle nuances of the game. But his description of Howard isn’t that ridiculous or too far-fetched, is it?
At 6’11” and 265 pounds, with shoulders as wide as a mid-sized car, he is built like a tank. Mix in athleticism that makes about 99.9% of NBA players jealous, and you start to realize that “freak of nature” is really his only apt characterization. If you need proof, check out his warm up for the 2007 Dunk Contest, which includes jams having him literally kissing the rim – you know, generally stuff no human being on earth should be able to do. Like Kenny Smith says in the video, he has the hang time and agility of a guard, but the frame and power of a big. Just ridiculous.
In only his fourth season, Howard is averaging 23.2 points, a league-leading 15.1 rebounds, 3 blocks and shooting over .600 once again. This kid is such a force that I am no longer surprised by his 20-point, 20-rebound performances. It has become a norm for him; I now just expect those numbers from him on a daily basis.
The crazy thing is he’s still pretty raw. Yes, his post-game repertoire has expanded a bit, as well as his range, and he can now use his left hand to a certain degree (much of his improvement I credit to his experience with Team USA), but his go-to move is still the dunk. He’s dominating on sheer force, athleticism and size.
And because of his lack of polish, I can’t give him the title of the game’s most dominant player.
In fact, I’d still – for today; my answer might be different next week – take Yao Ming over Howard. Sounds crazy, I know, but let me explain. While not as awe-inspiring as Howard, Yao is a complete offensive player with deft finesse moves, an increasingly sweet jumper, and most importantly, a greater ability to pass the ball, especially out of double-teams (a facet of his game that really separates him from Howard). And let’s not forget that Yao is also a sure thing at the charity stripe, shooting 87.3% for the season, while Howard has taken a page from Shaquille O’Neal and Ben Wallace’s book and possesses a greater field-goal percentage (.610) than free-throw percentage (.608). Yao can control an offense, and at this point, by the slimmest of margins, is the better overall center.
I’m also hesitant to call Howard the most dominating physical presence in the NBA. D-Howard is probably the most physically intimidating post player in the league with his combination of hops and power. But, overall, taking into account every baller in the NBA, there’s still some “little” guy by the name of LeBron James.
As a 6’8”, 250-pound small forward, LeBron is as big and strong as some post players and faster than most guards. He is unstoppable off the dribble and has the unparalleled ability to make a poster out of anyone at any given moment. He’s among the 0.01% of the NBA that isn’t envious of Howard’s athleticism. But unlike Howard, LeBron combines his frightening God-given talent with a skill level to match. Until further notice, LeBron is the most dominant player in the league. Or, he’s 1.a. 1.b is Tim Duncan, who I believe when healthy still controls both ends of the court like no one else on the planet.
Here’s how I see it:
1.a. LeBron James
1.b. Tim Duncan
3. Kobe Bryant
4. Yao Ming
5. Dwight Howard
But check back in a year or two. I wouldn’t be surprised if Howard tops this list. If he continues to improve at his current pace, he could be a better, more impacting version of David Robinson. And that’s just…nasty. Last I remembered, David Robinson was a pretty decent player.
Howard could also top the list of players I’d most like to play as for a day. As of right now, this is how that list looks:
1. LeBron James
2. Manu Ginobili
3. Dwight Howard
4. Dwyane Wade
5. Allen Iverson
Can you imagine playing as Dwight Howard for a day, in the league or at your local playground? Now that would be fun. Swatting every shot without even having to jump. On every play, your teammates just lob it up, and you tea bag whomever happens to be in the way.
Oh, to be a freak of nature.