Cohen: Howard Is Already In Elite Class

By Josh Cohen
February 19, 2011

LOS ANGELES -- Regardless of the number of NBA rings on their fingers and irrespective of longevity and other career accomplishments from some of the game’s renowned legends, Dwight Howard – in spite of being just 25 years old – deserves to be recognized as one of the best centers in NBA history.

I realize this is a very audacious proclamation considering it signifies that I believe Howard, a five-time NBA All-Star and reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year, warrants the same respect as all-time greats such as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal and Patrick Ewing.

I understand that among those legends there are 25 NBA titles to celebrate and honor and I value all of their achievements throughout their respective careers.

Some believe active players shouldn’t be compared to those that have retired – largely because it’s impossible to forecast a current player’s ultimate feats. It’s also iniquitous to a contemporary when there are always improvements to be made and a certain maturity level to still blossom.

Howard will be the first to confirm that he is not perfect and there are still adjustments he hopes to make as he attempts to lead the Orlando Magic to the franchise’s first ever NBA championship. You can point to his career 58 percent free throw shooting as one reason and his, despite vastly enhanced, jump shot as another.

But when determining what a center is “supposed” to be, we need to interpret it appropriately. In my opinion, a great center always rules the paint, denies opponents from effectively attacking the hoop and persistently serves as a main source of intimidation that causes adversaries to doubt their decision-making.

Superman, by this definition and interpretation, successfully fulfills this role. Aside from his elevated offensive repertoire and statistics this season – which has transformed him into a MVP favorite by some – Howard is a leader of seismic proportion.

It’s just a matter of time that D12 wins an NBA title. Just about all of the all-time elite big men have: Russell captured 11 championships, Kareem won six, Shaq and Tim Duncan have each hoisted the trophy four times and Wilt, Hakeem and David Robinson have each won twice.

Josh Cohen
Around the league, you get a feeling that players don’t really believe Dwight can be stopped. Sure, opponents can double or even triple team him all they want, but it is Howard’s knowledge that propels his status.

More noticeable than in previous years, D12 reads defenses with so much precision and awareness. Sometimes it seems like he has eyes spread around his head that permits him to just about always make the right decisions. He realizes that while it’s helpful if he can erupt for over 30 points a night like he has recently managed to do, it’s also imperative to make the suitable pass when necessary.

No disrespect to the other members of the Magic, who certainly are all fantastic supplements to the club’s way of playing, but let’s also get realistic, there is only one superstar in Orlando. The aforementioned centers, by and large, always played alongside other Hall of Fame like talent. Russell, for example, shared the spotlight with legends such as John Havlicek and Bob Cousy. Kareem, similarly, teamed with Magic Johnson and James Worthy. Shaq had Kobe Bryant in one stint and Dwyane Wade in another.

It’s only fair to evaluate Dwight as an individual and how he compares with other all-time big men. One can argue that among the best centers of all time, Howard is the most athletic one. Case and point: when have you ever seen a 7-footer sky to the rim and dunk with authority and creativity like Howard did when he participated and won the Slam Dunk contest? It’s actually unprecedented, especially in an era when players are so much stronger and quicker than ever before.

It’s practically superfluous to stuff a ton of math your way to try and scientifically prove Dwight deserves this recognition. He possesses the stats (now over 20 points per game, generally always in the top three in rebounds and blocks and lately among the leaders in minutes played).

I think gradually Howard will start getting the support from the national audience, who perhaps don’t get a chance to watch him on a regular basis. Although clearly one of the most popular players in the NBA today, I still don’t think Dwight receives the kind of attention he has earned.

It’s no disrespect to superstars like LeBron James and Derrick Rose, who I agree both deserve to be in the MVP discussion, but I am convinced that Howard, right now, is the clear-cut choice for the honor this season.

While around the other All-Stars in Los Angeles this weekend, Howard just stands out a little more than the others.

Let’s just end with this: If Howard can guide his team to an NBA championship this season, my thoughts in this article will likely be restated over and over and over across the basketball universe.

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