He's a four-time All-Star, All-NBA First Team selection for the past three seasons, and is the two-time defending NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Howard is one of the biggest stars and best players in the NBA, especially if you believe the marketing hype.
The Magic have won the Southeast Division in each of the last three seasons, and have emerged as perennial contenders for the Eastern Conference championship. The Magic reached the Conference Semifinals in 2008, the NBA Finals in 2009, and the Conference Finals in 2010. They are also coming off back-to-back seasons with 59 regular season victories.
Entering this season, there is a bulked-up Miami Heat team looking to dethrone them in the Southeast Division, and improved teams in Boston and Chicago looking to make their own march to the NBA Finals.
More pressure than ever before is riding on the back of their star center.
The first overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft is still just 24 years old. He has an over-sized personality and a smile to match. He seems to derive great joy in singing, dancing, and other playful activities.
Many NBA fans have been waiting for Howard to at least appear to take the game of basketball more seriously.
He is six seasons into his career, yet his game is nearly identical to when he arrived in the league. Dwight will block shots, he will shoot a very high percentage from the field, he will miss a lot of free throws, and he will snare a lot of rebounds. This is Dwight.
If your center can put in 18-20 points per game, snag 13 rebounds, and block about three shots a game, you'd think you'd be pretty happy.
The problem comes in when that player is your franchise player. Your designated superstar. A player that people routinely rank among the top 10 in the league.
The problem comes in when your franchise center is putting up numbers that are virtually identical to David Lee, formerly of the New York Knicks.
Lee averaged a bit over 20 points and 12 boards last season in New York, shooting almost 55 percent from the field, but no one was calling him a franchise player. Not once did you hear David Lee called the best center in the game.
After six seasons, Howard should be better than he is right now. If Howard is to be considered one of the elite or superstar players in the league, he must get better than he is now.
Offensively, Howard is as limited as a seven-footer can be. He dunks the ball. That's it—the whole repertoire. Push Howard six feet from the basket, and he's pretty useless. Strong, technically-sound defenders like Kendrick Perkins can handle Howard one-on-one.
Howard should be embarrassed that some teams can play him with a single defender. Just plain embarrassed.
Where is the short jumper or bank shot from 10 feet that would make him a deadly scorer? It's not as if there is no one on the Magic coaching staff who can clue him in on what he needs to do to become unstoppable—Knicks legend Patrick Ewing, a pretty good center back in his day, has been on staff for the last three seasons.
How about a reliable short hook shot? With his height and strength, Howard would be indefensible if he learned how to reliably shoot a short hook with either hand.
How about some post moves? A reliable spin move off a basic entry pass that creates a short shot at the basket?
No, "Superman's" offense revolves around receiving a lob and dunking it, or getting an offensive rebound and dunking it.
Yes, Howard is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive side, one of the game's best, but with such a limited offensive game, it is tough to call him an elite player.
He even has weaknesses defensively. He, like way too many young players, go for the "Big Boom" version of the blocked shot, rather than simply keeping the ball in play and directing it to a teammate.
His rebounding is impressive, though his numbers are skewed slightly by the Magic rarely playing a traditional power forward alongside Howard, but there is room to grow there as well.
The best rebounders in league history have usually been equally adept at the outlet pass. The Magic lose way too many fast break opportunities while Howard is standing on the baseline flexing and squeezing the ball. Far too infrequently do we see Howard rebounding with his head looking up the court by the time his feet hit the ground.
Dwight is still a very young man. He has time to figure out what he needs to do to really reach the elite status that many people have already attributed to him.
Yes, he's a defensive beast and an excellent rebounder. I get that. When will Howard get the fact that truly elite players feel a responsibility to improve in the weak areas of their game? When will he understand that brawn alone cannot lift his game, and his team, to the heights to which they aspire?
Encouraging (to Magic fans) reports from early this past summer had Howard in Houston working out with the legendary Hakeem Olajuwon. Picking up just two or three moves from "The Dream" could turn Howard into an unstoppable force. We'll just have to wait for the season to start to see how diligently Howard practiced anything Olajuwon taught him. Hopefully, his visit wasn't just for show.
Howard insists that this season will be different. He swears that his days as Mr. Nice Guy are over. The sting of Orlando's embarrassing play in falling down 3-0 to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals is said to be sticking in Howard's throat, even more so than the puffed out chests of the Miami Heat fans.
A true attitude adjustment by Howard could be a very good thing for Orlando Magic fans. Even better would be dedication to improving the weaker areas of his game.
When evaluating players, I find it important to dismiss things like popularity. I also tend to dismiss how they rate against their peers. Just because Howard is one of the best centers in the game today doesn't mean he's a great center. It could just mean that there aren't many good centers in the game right now.
Howard is marketed as a franchise player. Until we see some real growth in his game for the first time, I ask you to remember these words from the legendary Carlton Ridenhour: "Don't believe the hype."
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