Which NBA Center Has the Brighter Future, Brook Lopez or Dwight Howard?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2013

Which NBA Center Has the Brighter Future, Brook Lopez or Dwight Howard?

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    Brook Lopez and Dwight Howard have only ever been mentioned in the same breath of trade rumors.

    Until now.

    Months removed from a seething Dwightmare, Lopez is having the best season of his career while Howard has been humanized considerably.

    Statistically, the suddenly durable Lopez is outperforming Howard. His 25.4 PER ranks fourth in the NBA, while Howard's 19.7 is a distant 28th. He's also the leading scorer on a playoff-bound Brooklyn Nets faction while Howard struggles to stay healthy enough to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to the postseason.

    But is that enough to conclude Lopez's outlook is brighter than Howard's?

    Absolutely not. Lopez has earned the right to be mentioned in the same sentence has Howard, but to truly answer such a question, we must delve deeper into the essence of their games.

    Much, much deeper.


    *All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted. 


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    Believe me when I say this comes down to more than just point-totals.

    Brook Lopez is presently averaging 18.7 points a night to Dwight Howard's 16.5. That said, his 52.6 percent conversion rate from the floor cringes in comparison to the latter's 57.7.

    Personally, I'm of the mind that Howard doesn't receive enough credit for what he does on offense. His 6'11", 240-pound build yields to no one and even after the back injury, he's one of the most explosive athletes there is off the pick-and-roll.

    Much of the criticism Howard receives, however, is validated. 

    For a guy who draws double–and triple-teams on a regular basis, the fact that he's never averaged two or more assists per game over the last eight-plus years is troubling. Bigs are so much more valuable when they're threats to pass, but Howard has an innate tendency to put his head down and impede his vision.

    The absence of an independent post game is also unsettling. Not only is Howard's range limited, but per hoopdata.com, less than 50 percent of his field-goals have come off assists just once in the last seven years. He also ranks 81st (via Synergy Sports) in points scored per possession (0.76) in post-ups.

    Howard is one of the best in the business at moving off the ball, yet his methods of attack are limited courtesy of that lack of range we discussed and a deficient handle on the ball. That he's averaged fewer than three turnovers a night just twice in his career is extremely telling.

    Lopez, on the other hand, is far more polished on the offensive end.

    He doesn't move about as freely or boast the same caliber of athleticism Howard does, but he can hit mid range jumpers and ranks eighth in points scored per possession (0.97) off post-ups.

    Not unlike Howard, Lopez needs to improve his court awareness. He has averaged more than two assists per game just once, unacceptable for another tower who draws as many doubles as he does.

    What's important when it comes to Brook, though, is he continues to evolve. His isolation sets continue to improve and his jumper is among the most reliable there is for centers.

    Nearly a decade into Howard's career, he's done little to improve his post game. His touch around the basket is far more balanced than it used to be, but given his potential, he just hasn't done enough.

    Brighter Future: Lopez


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    Dwight Howard is an elite defense for a poor defensive team while Brook Lopez toils with defensive competence on a stingy defensive unit.

    Lopez's timing and read on rotations has improved by leaps and bounds, and his career-high 2.2 blocks a night rank sixth in the league. 

    What continues to puzzle me, however, is how sporadic his efforts or rather, execution is. Specifically when having to body-up against opposing bigs with a back-to-the-basket game, Lopez is too often overpowered and out-maneuvered. There are times when his footwork isn't there, then there are times when he just appears lethargic.

    Big Brook ranks 97th overall in points allowed per possession (.81) and is holding opposing centers to a PER of 16.5 per 48 minutes. Far from atrocious though those numbers may be, Lopez still isn't someone you can trust to lockdown the 5 on defense.

    The same cannot be said for Howard.

    His 2.4 blocks per game are fifth in the Association and far more impressive than Lopez's 2.2 because they've come amidst bouts with shoulder and back injuries. He continues to play phenomenal help defense and is superb at keeping opposing ball-handlers outside of the paint.

    Los Angeles' big man ranks eighth overall in points allowed per possession (0.67) and is holding centers to a PER of 14, below the league average of 15. His ability to get back in transition is not to be understated either.

    Lopez's improvement on the defensive end is further proof of his continued evolution, but Howard has managed to maintain his status as a first-class defender despite playing alongside a slew of offensively-oriented comrades.

    Howard may be done evolving and even improving on that end of the floor, yet I'd take his defensive stylings over that of Lopez's any day.

    Brighter Future: Howard


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    Brook Lopez's lack of aggression on the boards is staggering for a seven-footer.

    His 7.2 rebounds a night double what he grabbed last season, but he hasn't averaged more than eight a game since the first two seasons of his career. Lopez's 14.5 percent rebounding rate ranks 48th in the league as well, just ahead of the 36-year-old Kevin Garnett.

    It takes but a cursory glance at Lopez's rebounding tendencies to see that he's not efficient at boxing out, nor does he always leave his feet to bring the board down. He seems to half-expect rebounds to just fall into his hands.

    And he's been that way for the better part of five-years.

    For Howard, he's averaging 11.9 rebounds a night, the second-lowest total of his career. His 18.5 percent rebounding clip also ranks fourth amongst all players who average at least 30 minutes a game and he's ninth in offensive boards with 3.4 a contest.

    That Howard is dominating on the glass during what many have deemed an off year is a testament to how relentless he actually is. His pursuit of rebounds is matched by few and though he's struggled to rise up and grab as many as in year's past, he's set to remain one of the most ferocious glass-crashers in the Association.

    Which is more than I can say for Lopez.

    Brighter Future: Howard

Free-Throw Shooting

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    There's really not much to say here.

    Watching Dwight Howard shoot free-throws is the equivalency of being tortured for information. Okay, maybe not, but you get my point.

    Howard is shooting just 58.8 percent from the charity stripe for his career, and just 49.6 percent this season.

    While he has reached out for help in the past and claimed he shot 90 percent from the line in high school, nothing seems to be working for Howard. 

    Given the size of his hands, it often looks like he's gripping a tennis ball when he steps up to the foul line, which can't help his accuracy. But neither does his inconsistent stance. Howard seems to be situated in different places every time he shoots.

    And while free-throws afford the shooter an opportunity to take a knuckle ball-esque approach, Howard's shots are especially flat or are released with far too much rotation. There just doesn't seem to be a medium.

    Lopez, though, is shooting 78.8 percent from the line for his career and 73.4 percent this season. He has a certain finesse to his game, so that undoubtedly helps with his touch from there.

    I wouldn't call his release the greatest, because sometimes it's as if the ball blocks his line of sight throughout the entire process, yet it does work.

    More so than Howard's anyway.

    Brighter Future: Lopez


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    Few players, let alone big men move about the court as well as Dwight Howard does.

    A bad back has stifled his mobility quite a bit, but he still navigates the hardwood better than any other big man in the NBA, save for maybe Tyson Chandler. Howard embodies physical perfection and as built as he is, he's also lean and moves with the ease of a point guard.

    Slashing toward the basket is another patented specialty of Howard's and his explosiveness inside of the paint is matched by almost no one.

    Personally, I've also been impressed with how Brook Lopez is traipsing his way up and down the floor these days. That ankle injury hasn't prohibited him from running the break (though the Nets don't do it much) and he's even cutting faster off pick-and-rolls.

    Lopez is far from out of shape, but isn't as lean as Howard; he's more bulky and simply doesn't move as quickly.

    He also does appear to favor his ankle when going up for rebounds or dunks. He's almost hesitant to leave the ground, visibly impacting his explosiveness, which was moderate to begin with.

    It's tough to assume that Howard will ever be as explosive as he once was, yet even a fraction of his athleticism offers more than a fully mobile Lopez.

    Brighter Future: Howard


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    Brook Lopez suddenly appears, well, durable.

    After missing 61 games last season in a losing battle with his ankle, Brooklyn's center has missed seven thus far this season. As previously noted, he doesn't seem to be favoring his ankle (much) and he's averaging nearly 29.4 minutes per contest.

    But are we really about to entertain the thought of him being more durable than Howard?

    Not at all.

    In eight-plus seasons, Howard has missed just 24 games (and currently counting). Lopez has missed 68 in four-plus years.

    Howard's back and shoulder situations are of some concern, but the man is still an ox (sans the excess weight). He wasn't supposed to return to the floor until January of this year, but has powered through—for the most part—and has yet to miss even 10 games . Not only that, but he remains one of only two players to be averaging (Joakim Noah) 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks despite such hindrances.

    Both Howard's back (and shoulder) and Lopez's have the potential to become re-occurring injuries. While I in no way want to belittle what the latter can do on the floor, Howard is more likely to get healthy and stay healthy.

    As well as continue to take the floor even if he's not.

    Brighter Future: Howard

Potential as a Cornerstone

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    Brooklyn's livelihood is largely dependent upon Brook Lopez's future, but not entirely.

    Like Dwight Howard, Lopez currently plays for a super team of sorts, yet his is one not built around him. It's built around Deron Williams.

    A strong (and accurate) case can be made that Lopez is second-in-command, but he's not the Nets' end-all. Not like Howard is, or is going to be, to the Lakers.

    Kobe Bryant continues to run the show in Hollywood, but Los Angeles brought in Howard with the intention of making him the face of the future, the player in which tomorrow's team would be built around.

    Can the same be said of Lopez?

    Not even slightly.

    Lopez hasn't proven he can lead a team to the NBA Finals like Howard did with the Orlando Magic, nor has he proved to be the consistently dominant force his counterpart has been his entire career.

    Remember, the Nets were prepared to trade Lopez in favor of Howard. And they arguably still are.

    For all Lopez does well, his is a success that can be attributed more to his environment than anything. I'm not saying he's not capable of being a leader, but we don't know because he hasn't been given the opportunity.

    Howard has, and we know he's able to handle that kind of pressure, more so than Lopez.

    Given that B-Lo isn't going to be afforded with the opportunity to prove otherwise anytime soon, this isn't going to change.

    Brighter Future: Howard

Championship Outlook

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    The Nets stand fifth in a stronger than perceived Eastern Conference while the Lakers are 10th in an overwhelmingly talented Western Conference. And yet, somehow, Dwight Howard seems closer to a championship in Los Angeles than Brook Lopez does in Brooklyn.

    I understand that the Nets have a better record and will wind up with a better seed in the playoffs. I also understand that the Lakers might not even make the playoffs. But this is about more than just this season. 

    It's about the future.

    Brooklyn isn't what you would consider an old team, nor is it a docile aggregate. Yet it is a capped-out one.

    Mikhail Prokhorov's Nets have at least $72 million in payroll obligations over the next four seasons, including a 2015-16 slate in which they owe roughly $69 million to just four players.

    Los Angeles' financial outlook is far from expensive, though. After next season, assuming they re-sign Howard, they'll have more than $30 million in annual cash to burn through. That opens the door for them to re-sign Kobe Bryant in 2014 (if they wish) while chasing names like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.

    With the Nets, what you see is what you're going to get for the time being. Unlike the Lakers, they don't have the flexibility necessary to completely overhaul the roster with top-tier talent.

    Which means that unlike Howard, Lopez's team isn't in a position to get much better anytime soon.

    Brighter Future: Howard

Who Has the Brighter Future?

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    Brook Lopez's future is bright; Dwight Howard's is brighter.

    Murky healthy bill and all, Howard is still the more dominant talent. Lopez exceeds his limited abilities on the offensive end and from the foul line, but Howard has the edge just about everywhere else.

    Durability is an issue moving forward for both stars, yet health is a luxury that appears to favor Howard. More importantly, Howard is in a better position to win.

    I could sell you on Los Angeles' reputation, but that's not really necessary. The Lakers have plenty of financial flexibility moving forward and Howard also has the option of searching for greener pastures upon season's end. This isn't to say that he will, but his outlook, unlike Lopez's, is one paved with options.

    Toss in his experience as a leader and potential for two-way fortitude, and you have a recipe concocted with dominance in mind.

    As for Lopez, supremacy isn't out of the question; he's already more talented than most of the centers and has the potential to get even better.

    Just not better than Howard.

    Brighter Future Overall: Howard