By John Schuhmann

DALLAS, June 7 -- LeBron, Carmelo, Chris Bosh, D. Wade, T.J. Ford, Kirk Hinrich, Chris Kaman, Boris Diaw. The class of 2003.

Darko Milicic, Brian Cook and Luke Walton were the first members of the class to make to the NBA Finals. Carlos Delfino was on the Pistons last season, but was not on the playoff roster.

Dwyane Wade was the first star of draft to make it, and much was made of that fact after the Heat put the Pistons away in the Conference Finals.

A day later, he was joined by Josh Howard.

You can certainly say that Milicic, Cook, Walton and Delfino aren't nearly on the same level as Wade, but you would think twice before you say the same thing about Howard.

"On his good nights, he's our No. 2 player," Mavs assistant coach Del Harris said. "As the season progressed, it became obvious that, when Howard was good, we were really good. Sure enough, everytime he gets 20 and some rebounds, we win."

To be exact, the Mavs are 25-0 when Howard scores 20 points or more this season.

He has emerged as one of the best players in that much heralded draft, perhaps just a step below the big three. He doesn't control the ball nearly as much as they do, but he is a huge factor in the Mavs' success.

Howard's consistency has made Johnson's job easier.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
LeBron, as we all know, was selected No. 1. Carmelo was No. 3 and Wade was No. 5. Howard? No. 29. The last pick of the first round. That's a bit unusual for the ACC Player of the Year. Since 1978, only two ACC Players of the Year have ever gone lower in the draft (Chris Carrawell - No. 41 in 2000 and Rodney Monroe - No. 30 in 1991).

"When you're the ACC Player of the Year, that's like having an Academy Award and nobody every hearing of you as an actor," Harris said. "That's about as good as it gets in college."

So, you might say that Howard has had something to prove since he came into the league.

"They kind of downplayed my college career," Howard said. "I had a great college career and for me to go as low as I did, it hurt my feelings. How many ACC Players of the Year dropped to the 29th pick? It hurt my feelings, but it made me stronger."

For the Mavs, they knew that they were lucky to get him at 29, but they didn't realize exactly what they had, even before this season started.

"We knew we got a player, but we didn't see All-Star in him," Harris said. "We didn't see somebody that might be invited to the Olympics. At the beginning of this year, we figured he'd probably be a starter and we were kinda counting on him, but we didn't see him as, in general, our No. 2 player."

For head coach Avery Johnson, it has been Howard's ability to produce every night that has been the most important part of his development.

"He's consistent at what he does," Johnson said. "He's a slasher, he rebounds, he initiates the offense for me, and again, he plays through pain consistently. So that's what we love about him."

And Harris believes that Howard's success has come from more than just a desire to prove himself after being picked No. 29.

"I think there's that situation where you want to show somebody, but in the end, I think those things kinda go away, and it's that inner drive for greatness in and of itself as opposed to just showing somebody."

Either way, Howard will have another chance to prove something in the Finals. He will likely be guarding Wade for most of the series, one of the toughest assigments in the league.

"He's in the top three (of the toughest matchups)," Howard said. "Kobe, T-Mac are also in there."

But he's not conceding anything.

"He's thinking about me just like I'm thinking about him ... It's going to be a great matchup."

You could certainly do a lot worse with the 29th pick.