Let's get something out of the way from the outset: it will be a long time before we ever see another Shaq (if we ever do).
The Diesel was a mammoth of a man with the quickness of a cat and the power of an elephant. He was also highly skilled with better footwork and touch around the paint than he's ever been given credit for.
Dwight Howard, for all his tremendous physical ability and fantastic skill set, is not Shaq. Dwight is, however, the best center of this era and the next great Lakers big man.
This fact inherently leads to comparisons, especially since Dwight is following in the footsteps of the man his career has most mirrored thus far.
This actually isn't a bad thing for Dwight. Just as Kobe incorporated parts of Michael Jordan's game to help him reach the level he has, Dwight can mimic parts of Shaq's game to help him reproduce some of the success his predecessor experienced in Los Angeles. Let's explore how.
The Power Game
Like Shaq was during his time, Dwight is the premier power player in the game. He possesses natural strength that he consistently uses to knock his defender off balance and gain advantage.
Just as Shaq did, Dwight can best use his power game when working the low post, where he can get off a variety of shots. Howard loves the low left block because it gives him a chance to go the middle of the floor with his dominant hand and finish with either a hook shot or a thunderous dunk.
As you can see above, Howard uses his large frame to establish position on the left block and then holds off his man to make the catch. He then uses a power dribble while simultaneously dipping his shoulder into his man's chest to knock him backwards. Then, of course, he lowers the boom with authority.
Few players in the history of the league possess this type of ability. Shaq was one of them in his day and Howard is one now.
What often separates very good big men from the great ones are their quickness and agility to go with their size and power. This is what separated Shaq from his peers and what makes Howard special in comparison to his own.
While Dwight is more than capable of simply barreling into a defender to knock him backwards, he actually prefers to turn and face his man and then use his quick first step to either get by him entirely or make him overcompensate to allow an opening.
In essence, Dwight turns into a perimeter player working out of a triple-threat position while playing from the low block. And because he's starting closer to the basket and possesses great size and athleticism, you get plays like this one:
As you can see, once Dwight makes his catch he turns and faces Amar'e Stoudemire. Howard then takes a hard dribble with his right hand to get a step on the defender and force him to overplay the middle of the floor. Once Dwight senses he has an advantage, he quickly and instinctively spins back to the baseline and finishes above the rim.
You'll see variations of this move every night from Howard, and it's one of the reasons he's so effective as a post player even though he's not the most "polished" tactician. Using his quick first step he can set up a variety of primary moves and then counter off of them when the defender adjusts.
This arsenal predicated off quickness isn't very different from the ones Shaq used when in L.A.
Aesthetics and Finishing Ability
One of the main ways Howard can mimic Shaq's game is by taking their common traits—size, power, quickness, athleticism—and using them in an open court setting rather than only relying on them in the half court.
If you only saw Shaq during the tail end of the Lakers' championship years and beyond, it's easy to forget how he excelled in the open court and how well he ran the floor. Shaq had no issues sprinting out ahead of the pack and finishing with a ferocity that only he could.
Dwight thrives in these same type of situations because he's quicker and faster than most of his counterparts. Howard consistently puts pressure on the defense by running hard to the front of the rim to get easy baskets.
Sometimes that will mean running a post-lane sprint to score an easy bucket on a delayed fast-break. Other situations call for filling the lane like a wing and finishing with power. And sometimes, when the play offers just enough freelancing, we get the types of finishes that live on in infamy.
Howard may never reach the level of sheer dominance that Shaq did in his career. However, Howard has already shown that he possesses similar skills and style to be very effective in his own right.
If Howard can harness those tools to mimic Shaq in the winning department, Lakers fans will be even happier.