Things are looking up for Dwight Howard and his L.A. Lakers
Of course he does, even though he already is the most dominant big man in the game.
You never stop learning, and you can always improve. For the league's top defensive player and newest addition to the great tradition of Lakers centers, he can learn from some of the best to have ever played the game.
Howard isn't in Los Angeles just to make an appearance on Ellen. He's here to help the Lakers win a 17th world championship and perhaps sign a long-term extension next summer so that he might take his place among the iconic centers who have worn Purple and Gold.
Certainly there have been tremendous centers throughout NBA history who did not wear a Lakers uniform: Bill Russell, Hakeem Olajuwon, Moses Malone and Willis Reed, to name a few. But there were three Hall of Fame talents (and a fourth who will be) who did wear a Lakers jersey, and all could teach Howard a few things to move his game even higher than it already is.
George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O'Neal all starred for the Lakers and left enormous imprints. Each one of these superstars brought something unique to the game and set standards that previously had not been seen.
Which former Laker center can Dwight Howard learn the most from?
Mikan was the first big center to play and star for the Lakers back when the team was in Minneapolis and the NBA was in its infancy. Known as "Mr. Basketball," the 6'10" Mikan literally revolutionized the center position.
His ambidextrous hook shot was exciting and helped change basketball from a small man's game to a big man's game. He led the Lakers to the fledgling league's first title in 1950. Mikan helped the Lakers win four of the NBA's first five championships.
Mikan was all-world for his era, so you have to take what he meant to the game within that context. Howard could learn leadership skills from Mikan, who played six seasons in the NBA, all in Minnesota. He averaged 22.3 points, 13.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game and helped build a young league when it needed star players.
Just as Mikan was winding down his career, a young Wilt Chamberlain was learning how to dominate on the collegiate level at Kansas. The 7'1", 275-pound athletic marvel dominated from the moment he hit the pros with Philadelphia in 1959.
Howard often gets into foul trouble. Chamberlain never did. Ever. To play 14 seasons in the NBA and never foul out of a single game was one of Wilt's greatest achievements when you consider his size and physical type of play.
Chamberlain's career averages were eye-popping: 45.8 minutes, 22.9 rebounds and 30.1 points per game. He averaged 50.4 PPG in 1961-62 with Philadelphia and scored 100 points in a single game, remarkable even if he was so much bigger and taller than most of the league.
Chamberlain was 32 when he was acquired by the Lakers. He was 35 when the 1971-72 record-setting Lakers (33 straight wins) won a championship but still averaged 42 minutes and 19 rebounds a game for the world champions.
D12 can definitely learn from the Big Dipper: how to play big, dominate and stay out of foul trouble, something that has plagued Howard from time to time.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played 20 seasons in the NBA, this after starring at UCLA for four years. There is no doubt Howard can learn a lot from the former captain of the Lakers, especially on the offensive end of the court.
Abdul-Jabbar was the most fluid, smooth-shooting center of his era and perfected a sky hook that was virtually unblockable. The No. 1 pick (Milwaukee) in the 1969 draft, Abdul-Jabbar was a can't-miss rookie who averaged 28.8 points in 82 games his first year with the Bucks.
Abdul-Jabbar came to L.A. in 1975 and played 14 seasons for the Lakers, helping them to five world championships, all in the 1980s. Howard tweeted earlier this month that he wished to meet Abdul-Jabbar and learn from the most prolific scorer in NBA history. There was instant mutual admiration.
Abdul-Jabbar was responsible for teaching former Lakers center Andrew Bynum how to be more effective in the paint, and he can do the same for Howard. Kareem knew something about footwork and positioning, and that is an area that Howard could use help on since he scores most of his points now with dunks and very short jumpers near the basket.
Although they have a lot in common, there is no love lost between Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard. Upon being traded to the Lakers this summer, O'Neal told Los Angeles Times reporter Mark Medina:
I have three sons and I always tell them that if you want to call yourself big, then you have big shoes to fill. Anybody who calls himself big has big shoes to fill. Right now, (Howard's) off pace. He has to get himself on pace if he wants to call himself big.
Howard and O'Neal both played in and left Orlando without winning championships. Shaq won three in a row with the Lakers (and another with Miami) before retiring in 2011. He may not want to admit it, but Howard can learn what it takes to win titles from the Big Diesel.
Abdul-Jabbar and Chamberlain have their jerseys retired in the rafters of Staples Center. O'Neal's No. 34 will go up this season, and George Mikan was the centerpiece of a successful Minneapolis franchise and pioneered his position with grace, poise and remarkable basketball skills.
At 26, Dwight Howard is just entering his NBA prime. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, sources say Howard plans to be ready to play in the team's season opener October 30 despite serious back surgery earlier this year.
Howard can learn from the former greats who played center for the Lakers. But in the end, "Superman" will be left to his own devices, and something tells me that will be more than enough.