No More Mr. Nice Guy: Dwight Howard Has Emerged As an Unstoppable Power

Kyle WilliamsCorrespondent IMay 31, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 30:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic reacts after a play late in the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2009 Playoffs at Amway Arena on May 30, 2009 in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

When the Orlando Magic were on the clock with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft, the team had a decision on its hands.

Either draft Emeka Okafor, the proven star on the college level from Connecticut, or Dwight Howard, the high school superstar out of Atlanta, Georgia.

Orlando won just 21 games during their 2003-2004 campaign, resulting in its receiving of the No. 1 overall draft choice.

The Magic have to be thanking Doc Rivers for leading that Orlando team to a .256 win percentage, because without that season and that No. 1 pick, the team wouldn't be where they are today.

Orlando went on to draft the 6'11" Howard, a high school phenomenon who was known for his athletic ability. However, he did not have much of an offensive artillery.

Howard was a work in progress beginning in his rookie season as he averaged 12 points per game and 10 rebounds per game, which are promising numbers for a rookie with loads of potential. The then 19-year-old Howard led the Magic to 15 more wins than the previous season.

The work in progress followed his rookie season with a much-improved sophomore campaign. Howard averaged roughly four more points per game than the proceeding year and led Orlando to another 36-win season.

Howard's third season is when he really started to grow, physically and mentally. He added more muscle to his frame and began to emerge as a defensive dynamo. Howard bettered his points per game average by nearly three and averaged 12.3 rebounds per game. Howard was an All-Star reserve and led his team to a 40-win season, which was good enough for a playoff berth.

At this point in Superman's career, people often questioned how good he can be. With the obvious improvement year in and year out, how dominant can Howard be?

In Howard's fourth season, he really started to show how dominant he can be. He recorded season averages of 20.7 points per game and 14.2 rebounds, resulting in another All-Star appearance. Only this time, he was a starter for the first time in his career. The Magic also won 52 games during the 07-08 campaign, their best in nearly 14 years.

The Orlando big man continued to improve this season averaging over 20 points and over 13 rebounds per game. Howard led the league in All-Star votes. Leading the league in rebounds and blocks, Howard also won the Defensive Player of the Year award. And, as we all know, the Magic are in contention for their first NBA title.

With the exception of key roster changes, along with coaching additions and subtractions, Orlando's recent revelation has been due to Dwight Howard.

Throughout Howard's career, however, he has been the victim of harsh criticism. His offensive game is what many basketball experts thought was his Achilles heel. His lack of offensive domination to this point in his career was why many thought he was not yet great.

With the help of assistant head coach Patrick Ewing, Howard has been able to develop a solid offensive game. Besides his pure ability to dunk the ball, he now has a solidified hook shot.

During the playoffs, Howard has averaged 21.7 points per game, much of those points coming from Howard's new offensive capabilities.

Howard had an exceptional offensive series against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals, averaging 25.8 points per game, including a dominating 40-point performance in Game Six.

Along with Howard's defensive dominance, it is not evident that he has developed into an offensive power. He has gone from the guy who was known for just putting the ball in the hole to the guy who dishes out of the double-team to one of Orlando's amazing outside shooters.

"He's a load to guard down there," Cleveland Cavalier forward Wally Szczerbiak said. "You can't guard him one-on-one. We're trapping every time he catches the ball and putting ourselves a man down on the weak side. They've got great shooters all over the floor; they got a great rhythm in the flow. And they were just hitting us from all angles."

Howard is undoubtedly not just a defensive threat now. Critics can now speak of his improved offensive game, and correct themselves by saying he IS great.

The warm-hearted Magic big man has also been called out by Sports Illustrated Magazine for being "too funny", and that he couldn't lead his team when he is not serious enough.

"I've always been known as somebody who has never been serious or always playing around," Howard said about his style of play. "But I take the game of basketball very seriously. Every time I step on the floor, I may have a smile on my face, but my main job, my main goal is to go out there and fight for my team."

"And I can do that with a smile on my face."

Who says he is not serious now?

His team is in the NBA Finals.

The National Basketball Association has seen amazing big men ranging from Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. However, Dwight Howard has made a niche for himself in NBA history.

Howard has graced the NBA with his amazing size, strength, outstanding defensive capability, and unique scoring ability, which has never been seen in the league.

His style has led the Orlando Magic to its first Eastern Conference Championship since 1995, just the second in Orlando's history.

And with his ever-improving nature, who knows how amazing he can be.

Patrick Ewing has stated that Superman is only to 20-30 percent of his true potential.

Howard says he is only at 20.