By J.M. Poulard
As we get closer to All-Star weekend, the debate for players worthy of being mentioned in the Most Valuable Player debate only grows stronger for some, and becomes weaker for others. Several people will have you believe that there are no clear cut favorites for the time being but I would beg to differ. We have a group of players that have truly stood out so far this season with their play and they have been able to lead their respective teams to some great overall records.
And yet, rarely does anyone mention Dwight Howard. He’s been the league’s best big man by far this season (yes, better than Amar’e Stoudemire) and yet it’s almost as if he is an afterthought. He is probably a lock for the Defensive Player of the Year award, but fans and media members do not give him much credit as far as carrying that Orlando Magic team.
Howard faces the exact same problem that Shaquille O’Neal faced during his prime: the expectation of a more dominant big man. Indeed, no matter how good your center is, if the general public does not feel as though he is truly the most dominant force in the game, he will get a few mentions in MVP discussions, but rarely any serious consideration. Look at the winners of the award for the past 20 seasons:
2010: LeBron james
2009: LeBron James
2008: Kobe Bryant
2007: Dirk Nowizki
2006: Steve Nash
2005: Steve Nash
2004: Kevin Garnett
2002: Tim Duncan
2001: Allen Iverson
2000: Shaquille O’Neal
1999: Karl Malone
1998: Michael Jordan
1997: Karl Malone
1996: Michael Jordan
1995: David Robinson
1994: Hakeem Olajuwon
1993: Charles Barkley
1992: Michael Jordan
1991: Michael Jordan
If history is any indication, it is tough for a center to win the MVP trophy. In the past 20 NBA seasons, only three centers have won the prestigious award. During that time frame, power forwards have won the award seven times, shooting guards have done it six times, centers have done it three times while point guards and small forwards have won it twice a piece. Also, not to be a revisionist, but had Michael Jordan not retired that first time, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon might not have won MVP trophies.
But what does this mean in the grand scheme of things for Dwight Howard? Well, for one, the odds of him winning the MVP trophy seem somewhat slim. One would be poised to think that the Magic center would probably need to have some type of historical statistical season before anyone truly took his candidacy seriously; which is fine, except that he actually is. In the history of NBA, only eight players have ever averaged at least 22 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks per game for a whole season (these eight players combined did it a total of 16 times). Seven of these season long performances have led to these players being presented with the Podoloff trophy. Have a look below (players ranked by team record):
|Player||Team Record||Season||PPG||RPG||BPG||FG %|
That’s quite an impressive list right? Each and everyone of these players were worthy of the recognition they received in those respective seasons, however their production as well as overall impact on the game does help us put Howard’s play so far this season into proper context. Have a look at his numbers:
If the Magic maintain their current winning percentage, they would finish the season with a 52-30 record. Granted, they could finish with more wins or even actually less; but nonetheless if we base ourselves on this projection, Orlando should have one of the best records in the league thanks in large part to Dwight Howard’s production.
With that said, basketball purists will point to Howard’s 1.2 assists per game this season and use it as an argument to say that he fails to make his teammates better and thus should not be viewed as an MVP quality player. The assist numbers might be low, but anyone who has ever watched the Magic play can attest that the team gets a myriad of open shots specifically because of the presence of their star center. Indeed, the constant attention that opposing defenses dedicate to the post results in other players getting open shots.
Also, it would seem that the term “making his teammates better” only seems to apply on the offensive end for most fans. Given the fact that defense represents a pretty substantial part of basketball, it should be noted that Howard is perhaps the best human eraser in the league. Rarely do we notice the amount of times that Magic players get burned on the perimeter because Howard usually comes over to deter a player from continuing his attack to the basket, or he contests and/or changes the shot of the offensive player and thus is able to force a miss. Not so surprisingly, Howard has the second best defensive rating (estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) in the entire NBA at 94.9, trailing only Kevin Garnett.
Instead, some are more worried about the fact that Orlando’s franchise center does not have a more polished offensive game. Although it is a fair argument, perhaps we should stop focusing on his deficiencies and instead take notice of his contributions to his basketball team as well as his impressive and consistent production. Dwight Howard might not be the best player in basketball; but still, much like Derrick Rose, Amar’e Stoudemire, Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James, can’t he get a little love? Seems long overdue.