Who's the better franchise player: Dwight Howard or Blake Griffin?
Blake Griffin is known for his highlight-reel ravaging of rims.
Dwight Howard is known for his under-performance and dramatic losses.
At least that’s the portrayal of the two Los Angeles superstar big men from this past season.
Griffin is the marketable young Clippers dunk artist, a 24-year-old who is seeing team success but is stagnant in production after just three seasons.
Howard’s reputation has turned, but he's still arguably the game’s best center despite being seen as a distraction to team chemistry and impaired as a winner.
So it brings forth a compelling debate: Which superstar makes for a better centerpiece for a franchise?
Just by the Numbers
There's no clear edge in statistical averages between Howard and Griffin.
Here are their career numbers:
Also of note is that Howard played his first season in the NBA at 19 years old while Griffin played his at 21 after missing a full season with a knee injury.
Howard never averaged more than 20 points until his fourth season in 2007-08, when he scored 20.7 points per game. Griffin averaged 22.5 points in his 2010-11 Rookie of the Year season.
However, it's not clear that Griffin's production will continue to climb in the same way Howard's game did following his third season. Since his rookie year, Griffin's averages in points and rebounds have decreased in back-to-back seasons.
Despite stronger positivity surrounding Griffin than Howard this past season, Griffin's numbers were actually similar to to Howard's.
While Howard was more efficient with his shooting percentage and tallied more rebounds, Griffin added to his offensive game through his passing.
Who is a better by the numbers?
Griffin's player efficiency rating, his overall per-minute production based upon John Hollinger's formula, is also higher.
Both Howard and Griffin are miserable from the free-throw line, but Griffin was better at being awful this past season at 66 percent; Howard shot 49 percent. Howard is actually getting worse.
Neither Howard nor Griffin has a mid-range game, but Griffin has shown growing ability to create on his own in the post.
Griffin's overall offensive game shows more promise than Howard's stagnant abilities.
Winner: Slight edge to Griffin
The Defensive Element
Howard possesses a defensive gene that Griffin lacks.
Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, a rare center whose strength and athleticism clogs the paint.
Could Griffin ever be as good of a defensive player as Howard?
At 6'11", he no longer has the leaping ability of Griffin, yet his shot tracking and presence has made Howard one of the league's best shot blockers for years.
Within team defense, Howard creates an ideal help defender (when healthy), which makes him more valuable to his team than individually tracked stats.
While Griffin's offensive game is more than his high-flying ability, his defensive game is flat. Griffin isn't an engaged defender despite his athletic abilities.
The 6'10" Griffin isn't blessed with great wingspan, which limits his shot-blocking. His block totals are much lower than Howard's.
Winner: Strong edge to Howard
The Winning Effect
Howard once came within reach of an NBA title.
As the centerpiece, Howard led the Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009 and to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010. Howard averaged 15.4 points, 15.2 rebounds, 4.0 blocks and 1.2 assists in the five-game finals series loss to the Lakers in 2009.
Howard’s Win Shares, an approximate value that credits the number of wins contributed by an individual player, have decreased dramatically within the last two seasons.
Who is more likely to lead a team to wins?
His Win Shares reached 13.8 per game in the regular season of Orlando's finals run in 2008-09 and hit a peak of 14.4 in 2010-11. In his last season with Orlando, that value fell to 7.7 and dropped again to 7.6 this past season with the Lakers.
Howard's total Win Shares of 95.09 ranks him No. 85 all time. As a comparison, Tony Parker ranks No. 98 all time at 90.16 total Win Shares.
Meanwhile, Griffin has been a vital part of leading the Clippers into the postseason. In his second season, the Clippers advanced to the conference semifinals. This season, the Clippers again went to the postseason but fell in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Griffin's Win Shares in his first three seasons: 9.8 his rookie year, 9.2 his second season and 10.6 this past season.
He doesn’t have a heavy resume of Win Shares, however he ranked No. 10 in Win Shares this past season in just his third year.
The Win Shares figure reveals Howard’s significant contributions in his glory days with Orlando. But this isn’t about then; we’re talking now. Howard’s Win Shares are trending downward while Griffin’s are on the rise.
Ultimately, if the conversation is franchise centerpiece, Griffin has never proven he can do it himself, while Howard was once Orlando's lone superstar. Griffin wouldn't have made the postseason without Chris Paul.
Howard has proven a greater contributor to a winning team.
Winner: Slight edge to Howard
The Franchise 'It' Factor
A cornerstone of a team, as both Howard and Griffin have the talent to be, is relied upon to do more than produce statistically.
The great franchise players are capable of leading on and off the floor, and they are expected to remain healthy.
There's an obvious issue of age when it comes to the 24-year-old Griffin and the 27-year-old Howard. Athletic big men who haven't developed a mid-range game don't often have prolonged careers, and the recent injuries to Howard are an obvious concern.
For that, Griffin is a safer choice for the long run.
But who's the better leader?
Who features the greater characteristics of a franchise player?
Griffin is often seen chatting up teammates on the floor in an authoritative manner, albeit alongside the Clippers' true leader, Paul.
Still, Griffin seems to show a maturity when dealing with team issues, and in that respect he is far ahead of Howard.
It's not that Howard is a bad guy, he just doesn't seem to understand how to put basketball first.
In recent years, he has dealt with coach drama and recently teammate drama. He was too often seen arguing or whining with Lakers teammates last season and it seemed to bleed into the team's success.
There's something to be said for team chemistry, and the smiles and camaraderie of the Clippers were largely due to the personality of Griffin.
Additionally, Griffin brings an edge as a fiery competitor that Howard doesn't seem to possess.
Winner: Strong edge to Blake Griffin
Griffin is operating with plenty of benevolent momentum as part of the Clippers' first division title and the focal point of Lob City.
Howard, on the other hand, has never been more of a villain, and his past season with the Lakers was a complete disaster.
Both Howard and Griffin have potential to be the best player at their respective positions, but which one is a better franchise centerpiece?
It's still Howard.
Who's the Better NBA Franchise Centerpiece?
Griffin holds a slight edge over Howard on the offensive end, but Howard is such a superior defender that he is easily the greater overall talent on the floor.
If you throw away Griffin's dunks, he is far less important among the league's top players. His production has only gone down since his rookie season.
Howard has shown an ability to take his team to the finals while Griffin has yet to prove capable of moving the Clippers deep into the postseason even alongside a superstar like Paul.
Yes, Howard has been a pain to team chemistry, but he isn't evil or intentional with it. He just needs the right fit.
Howard can be the center of a team's success, but it's unclear that Griffin is fully there yet.