I recently started a thread on an Orlando Magic message board asking fans where they think Dwight Howard will rank amongst the all-time greats once he finishes his career. Obviously it's impossible to know for sure - there are too many unknowns such as potential championships... or potential injuries. However, it still led to some interesting discussion.
The range of responses were typically diverse. In order from best to worst-case scenarios, here are some of the predictions from Magic fans:
- Top 10 if he wins 3+ championships.
- Similar ranking to Moses Malone (who is 14th on my all-time list).
- Top 25 if he wins a ring or two.
- Top 40 if he continues collecting DPOTY awards.
- Top 50... but no higher due to limited offensive game.
So what did we learn here (other than some Magic fans - like all passionate fans - are massively biased)?
Well, firstly, the assumption is that Dwight Howard will win more Defensive Player of the Year awards than anyone in NBA history. That has to count for something. With 3 DPOTY awards, he is already just one away from tying Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo's record of 4 awards each. He has more DPOTY awards than Alonzo Mourning, Dennis Rodman, Sidney Moncrief and Hakeem Olajuwon, each of whom have 2 awards, let alone Michael Jordan, Kevin Garnett, David Robinson and others who have just 1 awards each.
(Interestingly, a well-respected basketball junkie recently did some research and estimated that Bill Russell would have won ten DPOTY awards if they had been given out during his career, which is yet another reason why he is ranked so high on my all-time rankings).
Howard is just 25-years-old. Last season, he received 114 out of a possible 120 votes for Defensive Player of the Year. Unless Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo break the 3spg barrier or someone like Javale McGee goes ballistic, the award is Howard's for the foreseeable future.
Of course, the dearth of talented centers in the League is one reason why Howard's trophy cabinet is growing so rapidly. He is almost guaranteed All-League 1st Team honours and a starting role for the Eastern Conference All-Stars every season. It almost seems a little unfair.
Things might be very different if Howard's career coincided with those of Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing. Perhaps things will be different in a few years if Andre Drummond and Jonas Valanciunas live up to the hype.
One criticism of Howard is that he lacks a polished offensive game. It is well known amongst NBA fans that Howard spent the 2010 off-season working with Olajuwon to develop his post moves. Currently, Howard relies a little too much on his athleticism and strength. Then again, so did Shaquille O'Neal, and it didn't stop him from winning four championships.
What will separate Howard from the likes of Ewing and other big men is championship success. He came close in 2009, leading the Magic to the Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1. Howard was just 23-years-old at the time. Big men typically develop later than guards and forwards, so it was a particularly impressive feat.
"That's been my goal and my mission since I've been in the NBA - to win a championship", declared Howard in June 2011. That same month, he rejected a contract extension with the Magic and, in doing so, opted for free agency next summer.
Howard is a strong candidate for Most Valuable Player this coming season (assuming there even is a season), especially in a contract year. If he finds a way to team up with Chris Paul or another superstar the following year, then I see no reason he can't go on to be regarded as one of the all-time great centers.
My prediction? Top 25 of all-time... with the lack of quality opposing centers forever held against him.