Dwight Howard and Shaquille O'Neal are two of the top centers in the league: Shaq has been at the top for a long time. Dwight Howard is at the start of his career and Shaq is as the end of his.
They are both centers.
They were both drafted No. 1 by Orlando.
They are both tall, strong, quick, and skilled.
But they are leagues apart in terms of skill. Shaq is one of the top centers of all-time—Dwight is the top center of his time.
What are the differences? For starters Shaq is listed as 7'1" and Dwight is listed as 6'11". Shaq is listed as 325 pounds and Dwight as 265 pounds.
But what they are listed as doesn't matter. Go to YouTube and watch this film. It's about two minutes long and feature Dwight, Shaq and LeBron dancing. Shaq dwarfs Dwight Howard. He looks like he is three or four inches taller and considerably heavier. I mean 80 pounds heavier, at least.
Height matters in the NBA. Weight matters in the NBA. Shaq is 7'1" with an enormous wingspan. He will get more rebounds because of his height, shoot better from close to the rim, and block more shots.
LeBron James weighs 270 lbs and is 6'8". How can you be a dominant center when some power forwards in the league outweigh you?
And I haven't even mentioned statistics yet.
Dwight Howard is having his best season as a professional and wants to be mentioned as an MVP candidate. He clearly hopes to win the award some day. Let's compare stats between the two.
This season, Dwight Howard is averaging 21 points per game, 1.4 assists, 9.4 defensive and 4.3 offensive rebounds, and 2.9 blocks a game.
Shaq didn't score less than 21 points per game until his championship season with Miami. He had seasons of 29.3, 29.3, 29.7, 28.7, 28.3, and 27.5 pts a game.
Shaq averages 2.6 assists per game for his entire career. He had seasons of 3.8, 3.7, and two of 3.1. 3.8 assists is better than some guards! He is an under-rated passer to the public but coaches in the league know his is great and hits cutters.
He draws double-teams so consistently that he has learned how to pass to the open man.
Shaq hasn't pulled down as many rebounds as Dwight. That's one area that Dwight excels in.
Shaq has pulled down 3.7 offensive rebounds a game for his career including a season of 4.7 offensive rebounds a game. That is an incredible number!
And for his career Shaq has made 2.4 blocks versus Dwight's 2.0.
The statistics tell one story, but personal leadership and force of personality tell another.
Shaq is mean, Dwight is nice.
Shaq recently berated Robin Lopez and here is a quote from the tirade "Put somebody on their (expletive) back," O'Neal said. "Don't let nobody oopsey-doopsey layup on you, then be laughing at you. You ever see me get dunked on? No. Because I put (expletives) on their back."
Shaq has a lot of pride. This makes him lazy, arrogant at times, hurtful, and mean. But it also makes him a winner. He intimidates. He puts people on their backs. He doesn't get laughed at or he will come back at you with his 350 pound body and put the hurt on you.
He is so strong that he has broken backboards.
My point is this: Dwight Howard is the fastest, most athletic center of the year. But he is not great. And he is not dominant. Every season will have a "best" center, a "best" point guard, a "best" team. But it doesn't mean they are truly good. Every missed shot becomes a rebound.
Dwight Howard is a strong center, but on an absolute scale, he is nowhere near Shaq.
Shaq is mean, proud, and spiteful. He humiliates opponents. He swears and gets fouls. He can't shoot free throws.
But he is a winner. Through physical dominance and effort he wins games. He's a better scorer. He averaged over 30 points per game in three separate playoff runs.
No one wants a friend like on-court Shaq. No one wants to play a pick-up game against a guy like Shaq. Dwight will forever be friendlier, nicer, and more personable. He will never be like Shaq.
And he will never do what Shaq has accomplished.