It has become common and accepted knowledge that Dwight Howard is one of the biggest game-changers in the NBA today. Despite what you think about his ego or leadership, his ability to completely alter a team defensively is unparalleled right now. Finding the next Howard is a tall order, but you can bet many NBA general managers are trying to fill it.
An important thing to remember is that being a good big man is not enough. Howard has a very specific style and set of skills. There are certain players that could never be the type of big man that he is, especially defensively.
There are very specific components that such a player would have to have. Supreme athleticism and length are musts, as Howard uses those tangibles to protect the rim and anchor the defense. Rebounding is vital on both the offensive and defensive boards. Offensive ability is not a prerequisite, as Howard can score but is not all that skilled offensively.
There are many young players in the college and NBA ranks who look like they could have the raw potential to be the next incarnation of Howard. However, pinpointing which players actually have what it takes is hardly a science and is why it is so hard to run an NBA team these days.
Weight: 265 pounds
2011-12 Stats: 20.6 points, 14.5 rebounds, 2.1 blocks
Dwight Howard is a beast. He is long and athletic and can score just based on his sheer athleticism and ability. His primary role is as a defensive anchor and rim-protector, roles that he plays better than anyone else in the game of basketball today.
Any young player who wants to be the next version of him must be able to defend, both one-on-one and in a team sense. They must also be athletic and have length.
Weight: 255 pounds
2011-12 Stats: 3.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.0 block
I know what you are probably thinking, but at least let me make my case. Omer Asik has shown us very little of himself thus far in his career, but that career has only been for two years and he has never played more than 14 minutes per game.
Last season, he played 14.7 minutes per game and averaged the above statistics. That may not seem like a big deal at first, until you put his performance into context. Dwight Howard played 38.3 minutes per game last season. If you stretch out Asik’s stats to those minutes, it comes out to him averaging around eight points,13.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. Now can you see what I am talking about?
Granted, Asik is not as athletic as Howard and you cannot assume he could keep up the same pace for that amount of minutes. Still, Asik is long and he has shown that he can rebound, block shots and defend the rim. Those are the key ingredients and Asik has most of them. Am I saying he will be the next Dwight Howard? Probably not. However, do not be surprised if Houston’s signing of him looks a lot better later on than it does now.
Weight: 225 pounds
2011-12 Stats (College): 6.0 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.1 blocks
Alex Len might not be a big name yet, but give him time. Despite his somewhat meager stats during his freshman campaign at Maryland last season, Len will more than likely be a lottery pick in next season’s draft. The reason is because of the massive potential he has, which is the same reason for his appearance on this list.
Len has many of the qualities that we are looking for in a Dwight Howard-esque player. He has great length at 7’1” and gets off his feet very well for his size. He is deceptively athletic and can block shots and protect the rim. Len is also a very hard worker and has a decent jumper, which is something that Howard has never really had.
As with many of the other players on this list, Len is still very raw in his game. He still needs to refine his game a bit, but that should not be a problem given how hard he works. The Ukrainian-born center will be in the NBA in 2013, and he could very easily be on his way toward being the next Howard.
Weight: 230 pounds
2011-12 Stats (College): 15.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.2 blocks
The younger brother of Tyler Zeller, Cody Zeller has shown that he will probably end up being better than his brother has been. A likely top-five pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Zeller is the most skilled big man in the 2013 class, which warrants inclusion on this list.
His frame and athleticism are big time, and he has the length to play great defense down low. Zeller has not learned quite yet how to be a huge difference-maker in protecting the rim, but the potential is there. He also runs the floor extremely well and has no trouble against the fast break. His offensive game is very good already, which is an advantage he has coming in over Howard.
However, the athleticism and length being there is not enough. Defense requires more than that and being a great defender like Howard requires even more. Zeller has the potential to be that type of player, but he must show a bigger commitment to getting better on defense.
Weight: 290 pounds
2011-12 Stats: 13.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 0.7 blocks
The Minnesota Timberwolves were a much improved squad last season, and while much of the credit does and should go to Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic is really the unsung hero of that effort. In just his second NBA season, Pekovic was able to put up incredibly impressive numbers, acting as an anchor for Kevin Love and Minnesota.
Pekovic does lack some of the athleticism that Howard has, but the length and defensive presence are there. He is not a great shot-blocker, but that is not as important as protecting the rim is. That last part is especially important when playing with a power forward like Kevin Love, who likes to roam around outside.
Pekovic is athletic in his own way, but he does lack some speed. It would probably do him well to lose some weight, as 290 pounds is a bit too big.
Still, the potential is there. Pekovic has proven himself to be worthy of the starting spot at the center position and he should remain there for the Timberwolves for the foreseeable future. He could end up being the next Dwight Howard, but only if he gets a bit lighter and continues to be a good defensive presence inside for Minnesota.
Weight: 270 pounds
2011-12 Stats (College): 10 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.7 blocks
There is one reason that the Detroit Pistons drafted Andre Drummond with their lottery pick in the NBA draft this year. They did it because Drummond shows all the physical abilities to be the next Dwight Howard in the NBA.
Much like Howard was when he entered the NBA, Drummond is a superb athlete. He can run, jump and block shots with the best of them. He also has great length and has shown the ability to use that length to guard the rim. Those are also the things he will be called upon to do in the NBA for Detroit, so it should not be a terrible transition for the former UCONN standout.
Also like Howard was, Drummond is incredibly raw. While the defensive game will require a difficult shift for Drumond, the offensive one definitely will. It could very well be years before he is all that skilled on that end of the court. However, he has an advantage in that area that Howard did not have. He will get to play with a very good scoring big man in Greg Monroe.
Weight: 252 pounds
2011-12 Stats: 11.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.2 blocks
Being traded from the Washington Wizards to the Denver Nuggets might have been the best thing that could have happened to JaVale McGee. In the positive environment he is in now, McGee has the chance to become one of the best centers in the league, and even the next Dwight Howard.
Two words that you need to remember from this slide: length and athleticism.
They are important for any player that wants to be the next Howard and McGee has both. His ability in those areas has already made him one of the league’s best shot-blockers. McGee’s rebounding has not been stellar, but he has shown he can do it when given the minutes. He also shot an incredible 61 percent from the field as a Nugget last season, which proves that he can get the high percentage shots that Howard does.
McGee does need to continue to work on refining his game. Athleticism is great, but if you are unable to channel it into something that is positive for you and your team, it is pretty much worthless. McGee is learning how to do that right now under George Karl.
As he earns more and more minutes in Denver, he and his numbers will get better and better. He could potentially become the next Howard, but we will have to wait and see how much of that potential he can fulfill.
Weight: 248 pounds
2011-12 Stats: 8.8 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.0 blocks
There may be some who are surprised to see Derrick Favors on this list. If you fall into that category, you have not been watching him play. That is not completely your fault. Last season, Favors played in a career-high 21.3 minutes per game. Now look at his stats again. Yeah, he is averaging those numbers as a backup who plays less than half of the game.
I applaud the Utah Jazz for bringing Favors along slowly, but they need to realize that they have a potentially great big man on their hands. Favors has the skill to play the power forward or center positions. He rebounds well (18th in the league last season among centers) and he could block multiple shots per game if given more playing time.
Favors has the height and length that are necessary to become a Dwight Howard-esque player. He also appears to have a bit more offensive ability than Howard did at his age, which certainly does not hurt his chances. If he gets the minutes he deserves this season, he will be an All-Star within a few seasons and the centerpiece of Utah’s future.
Weight: 260 pounds
2011-12 Stats: 12.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks
The max contract that the Indiana Pacers gave Roy Hibbert will put pressure on him to challenge Dwight Howard as the best center in the league. He has the size and skill to do it, but there are some key areas he needs to improve in.
He is nowhere near the defensive presence that Howard is. That is not to say that he is bad on that end of the court, but he really does not protect the rim as well as his size and athleticism indicates that he could. With the way his team is currently made up, he may never get to where Howard is scoring-wise, but his rebounds and defense can certainly improve.
Hibbert does not have the length that Howard does, despite being three inches taller. He is bigger and not quite as fast either. That could be a problem, especially against running teams, but it should not be problem in the halfcourt. Hibbert has one of the best chances to become the next Howard in the NBA, but he has work to go.
Weight: 235 pounds
2011-12 Stats: 9.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.7 blocks
Serge Ibaka has clearly established himself as the preeminent shot-blocker in the NBA today. He blocked almost twice as many shots as Howard did last year, which seems like a number that would favor Ibaka. It does on some levels, but it also could tell the story of how players shy away from Howard and the rim so much.
Ibaka made first-team All Defense last season, but it was not as deserved as many thought. His shot-blocking prowess aside, Ibaka is still light years away from recognizing his full potential on the defensive end. He still has much to learn in the way of on-the-ball post defense and his propensity to block shots can put him out of position at times, leaving the basket wide open.
However, there is one big positive with Ibaka that outweighs those negatives. That is his age. Ibaka will be just 23 years old by the time the season starts. He has so much time to refine and hone his game that there is no way of knowing how good he can be.
Ibaka’s athleticism and rim-protecting abilities make him a clear contender for this list. His rebounding and scoring are not anywhere near Howard’s, but that is largely a product of his youth and the players he has to share the court with (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden).
Weight: 285 pounds
2011-12 Stats: 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks
Could anyone else have claimed the top spot in this discussion? Andrew Bynum does have a pretty big advantage over the others players on this list in that he is the only player who has nearly played as many years in the league as Howard. Despite being only 24 years old, Bynum has played in just one less season than Howard. His experience and two titles alone make him a favorite.
Bynum distinguished himself last season as the second-best center in the league. His performance was really outdone only by Howard, but it will be interesting to see what happens to the duo now that each is on a new team. While Howard will have to share the ball more than he ever has before, Bynum will be able to play the freest he ever has.
Statistically, Bynum primarily falls behind Howard in terms of defense and rebounding. The rebounding deficiency could be due to the fact that Bynum has always had to share that duty with Pau Gasol, who could also average double-digit rebounds, while Howard has had to do it all on his own. Bynum also averages nearly the same amount of blocks as Howard.
Athleticism and rim-protection are also areas in which Howard beats Bynum. The latter does not have the speed or leaping ability of the former, as he is more of a traditional center. Much like Roy Hibbert, Bynum will struggle against the fast break, but he should have no problem in the half court.