During the 2012-13 NBA regular season, no player suffered as much of a setback in his reputation as Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard. Despite posting one of the best statistical seasons of anyone in the league, D-12 went from the biggest star at his position to a player that was universally criticized.
In 2013-14, expect Howard to separate himself from the pack as the NBA's greatest active center.
In a season that was expected to see the center role eliminated, countless players emerged as stars down low. Marc Gasol won Defensive Player of the Year, and six full-time centers were named as All-Stars in the same year that the position was removed from voting ballots.
Unfortunately for those who argue against Howard, the numbers tell a story that no one is even close to his level of play.
Dwight Howard is only player to avg 20 PPG/10 RPG over last 6 seasons (min. 300 games) ... #NBARank 52. Al Jefferson close (19.3/9.9)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 10, 2013
The phrase, "Statistics don't tell the whole story," only seems to be used when the stats favor an unpopular player.
During his supposed down season, Howard posted averages of 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.1 steals on 57.8 percent shooting from the field. He led the league in rebounds per game, was fifth in blocks and ranked second in field goal percentage.
Howard's down-year would've been a career-season for a vast majority of the active players at his position.
For all that's been made about Howard's lack of fundamentals, he's been one of the most productive players of his generation. Not only is Howard a dominant force defensively, he's one of the best offensive players, as well.
In 2013-14, he'll remind the world of that.
Legendarily Dominant Defense
During the 2011-12 NBA regular season, Tyson Chandler of the New York Knicks won Defensive Player of the Year for helping transform the culture of Madison Square Garden's own. In 2012-13, Gasol won the award for leading the Memphis Grizzlies' smothering defensive unit.
Before that, Howard had won the award in three consecutive seasons while playing on a team that was filled with lackluster defenders. In 2011-12, he missed 12 games due to a back injury, and in 2012-13, he played on a disappointing Los Angeles Lakers team.
Is Dwight Howard the best center in the NBA?
If there's one thing that wasn't disappointing, however, it was Howard's impact on the Lakers' defense.
Much has been made about the Lakers' struggles after they went 45-37 with a superstar-studded roster. It doesn't help that the Lakers ranked No. 22 in scoring defense, No. 14 in opponent field goal percentage and No. 14 in opponent three-point field goal percentage.
Here's what the detractors don't tell you: the Lakers' starting lineup was No. 6 in the NBA in defensive efficiency, per HoopsStats.com.
It's also worth noting that the Lakers allowed 97.8 points per 48 minutes with Howard on the floor and 107.2 points per 48 minutes when he was on the bench, per NBA.com. That's a differential of 9.4 points, which is about as telling a number as you'll find.
If those three Defensive Player of the Year awards tell you anything, it's that Howard is still the most dominant defensive player in the league.
Dominant Offensive Presence
When it comes to players who criticize D-12, the common theme seems to be that he's not a fundamentally sound player. Without a reliable mid-range game or a strong post-up approach, D-12's weaknesses are often mislabeled as a crippling aspect of his game.
If that's the case, then why has Howard posted career averages of 18.3 points on 57.7 percent shooting from the field?
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Howard is one of seven players in NBA history with career marks of at least 18.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game. Howard is also one of two players to post collective averages of at least 15.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks since 2004, per Basketball-Reference.com.
The only other is Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs.
Detractors can claim that other players are on his level, but D-12 has dominated like no one else during his generation. Now entering his prime, the only place for him to go from here is up.
With the Rockets, expect D-12 to do just that.
Despite lacking any form of an interior presence on either end, Houston was 45-37 with a ranking of No. 2 in scoring offense. Omer Asik was strong on the glass, but with Howard, Houston has become a multi-dimensional team that has the potential to compete for the NBA championship.
At the heart of those title dreams is the best center in the NBA: Dwight Howard.