Denton: Howard Having MVP Worthy Season

By John Denton
March 2, 2011


ORLANDO – Superstar center Dwight Howard just compiled the best month of his seven-year NBA career, re-igniting his candidacy for the Most Valuable Player award and casting eyes away from the Orlando Magic’s middle-of-the-pack record and onto his gaudy statistics.

But one way in which Howard could almost certainly vault his name to the top of the heap in the MVP race is to outplay his direct competition for the game’s grandest individual award. That starts Thursday night in Miami when Howard’s Magic face LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat and it concludes Friday night in Orlando against the Chicago Bulls and Derrick Rose.

Rose is considered by many to be the favorite thus far after steadying the Bulls when they were without Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah and leading Chicago to a 41-17 mark. James, meanwhile, has won the award each of the past two seasons and has the Heat (43-17) just one game back of the best record in the East.

The Magic (39-22) have kept pace with that group because of an incredible stretch of play from their superstar center. On Monday, Howard silenced some of the hype around Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire by pounding the New York Knicks for 30 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks while also becoming the youngest player in league history to reach 7,000 career rebounds.

Now, Howard sets his sights on James, Wade and Rose, and if his Magic can win those nationally televised games, he could very well find himself as the league’s top candidate to win the MVP award with fewer than 20 games to play.

``Most of the MVPs are picked before the season starts. That’s how it’s always been,’’ said Howard, who feels his rebounding and defensive work have never gotten enough credit in the MVP voting. ``Everybody knows that to be considered the MVP in this league that you have to be the guy who scores a lot of points. That’s usually how it’s been. The person who averages the most (points) in the NBA, they are the ones who gets MVP consideration. So nobody pays attention to rebounds or blocked shots or defense. It’s all about points.’’

Howard finished fourth in the MVP voting in the 2009-10 and 2008-09 seasons and he was fifth in 2007-08. But he’s improved his chances of winning the award this season by dramatically upgrading his offensive production.

Already the game’s best defender and rebounder, Howard has moved into the Top 10 in scoring (ninth at 23.3 points per game) with a career year offensively. He already has two 40-point efforts and 11 30-point games and nine outings where he’s paired 30 points with at least 15 rebounds.

He’s had at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in 11 straight games, the longest such streak of his career. He’s had double-doubles in 19 consecutive games and he can equal his franchise record of 20 in a row on Thursday in Miami.

And Howard was never better than he was during the month of February. In 11 games, he averaged 26.6 points, 14.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks while shooting an incredible 66.7 percent from the floor. And some of his best performances have come against the best competition. He put up 40 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks against Oklahoma City and 31 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks versus the Los Angeles Lakers.

``That’s a MVP candidate the way he’s playing,’’ said Magic guard Gilbert Arenas. ``What he’s doing every night, that’s very MVP worthy. He’s dominating every single (game) and every time out he’s the best player on the floor. That’s a MVP to me.’’

None other than Kobe Bryant, the 2007-08 MVP winner, said recently that Howard should be at the top of any MVP talk in the NBA.

``Of course he is (an MVP candidate). Every year he is,’’ Bryant said of Howard. ``He has a mid-range jump shot that he feels comfortable will now off the glass. His post moves and being able to turn his right shoulder and left shoulder are something that he’s clearly worked on. He looks really good now.’’

James, who hung a season-high 51 points on the Magic when the teams played in Orlando on Feb. 3, ranks second in the NBA in scoring (26.2), 26th in rebounding (7.5), 13th in assists (7.2) and 14th in steals (1.55). Rose, who recently had monster games on national television against the Heat and Spurs, is seventh in scoring (24.8) and 10th in assists (8.1). Wade is fourth in scoring (25.5), 33rd in rebounding (6.9), 30th in assists (4.4) and 21st in steals (1.39).

As a whole, Howard’s numbers are better than those for James or Rose. He is attempting to become just the 10th player in history to finish in the Top 10 in scoring (ninth at 23.3), rebounding (second at 13.9), field goal percentage (second at 59.7 percent) and blocked shots (third at 2.24). He’s the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year trophy for a third straight year, another NBA first. And head coach Stan Van Gundy thinks that nobody in the NBA affects more possessions on both ends of the floor than Howard.

``He’s still getting better all the time, even now. And there’s no question that he’s the best player in the league at his position,’’ Van Gundy said. ``He belongs in the very, very serious discussions for the MVP.’’

Howard that Charlotte small forward Stephen Jackson joked with him recently that if he was a better free throw shooter – he shoots just 59.2 percent from the stripe – that he’d ``average 40 (points) a night.’’ Howard hopes that at some point defensive and rebounding work becomes more of a factor in the voting for the MVP award.

But if it doesn’t, he still has his focus on another piece of hardware.

``That’s what I’ve been trying to change for years. But it doesn’t bother me,’’ Howard said, referring to voters overlooking his defensive prowess. ``I just want to win a championship. I’d rather have a championship trophy than a MVP trophy. You’ll always be remembered when you are a champion.’’

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.