While Dwight Howard certainly isn't polarizing in terms of marketability and likability (he is annually a league leader in All-Star votes, has a massive amount of Twitter followers, and is in national commercials pretty much every day), his skills and value are.
There is no doubt that Howard is an elite player but many will argue if he is elite simply because his position as a center is hardly challenged by other 'true' centers. Some either qualify that DH12 is the best center in the league or just say it outright. His stats are there but key mechanical issues are not (or so it is argued). Either way, Orlando fan or not, everyone seems to have an opinion on how good Howard is: Elite? Great? Pretty good? Only a defender? Only a rebounder?
In a league where the flashy player is king, Howard is never quite given the benefit of the doubt since his offensive game is relatively (or on the surface) one dimensional. And though he doesn't have any shiny rings on his fingers yet, players as offensively, shall we say, 'boring', are consistently shut out of the limelight of respect. Fans come to see points, not blocks.
But as Howard's offensive game has been in constant development, he has remained amazingly consistent in almost every other area: defense, rebounding, passing, intangibles, leadership, team improvement, playoff advancement, you name it. Here are ten games in which Howard, through the years, has shown that he is truly elite and that he isn't declining anytime soon.
Scoreline: Raptors 108 Magic 129
DH12's Stats: 15 pts, 20 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 stls, 2 blks, 7/9 FT, 2 fouls
Analysis: Only 14 games into Dwight's career he was establishing himself as a dominate center with a well rounded game. In those first 14 games, capped off by this performance against Toronto, Dwight had 12 double figure rebounding games, one of the single digit nights being 9.
Not that significant? Well, Dwight was asked to be the face of the franchise the instant he put on a Magic jersey and he immediately set to the task playing massive minutes, starting every game, and becoming the scoring/defensive focus. This game, so early in the season and his career, was the first of many dominating performances and the first of many times he was asked to carry the load.
Scoreline: Thunder 125 Magic 124
DH12's Stats: 39 pts, 18 rebs, 2 blk, 17/20 FT (85%)
Analysis: Despite the loss and the team's generally poor defense, Howard continued 2010/2011 as the go-to guy for the team. In a previous OT loss to the Hornets before this match with the Thunder, Howard was dominate everywhere, especially in OT. . .except he missed two key free throws that could have swung the game in the Magic's favor.
Versus Oklahoma City, Howard continued his dominate ways on offense but remained focused on fixing the free throws. His 17/20 shooting (tying a career high in makes) from the line kept the Magic in the game until the very end. At one point OKC had to abandon the 'hack a Howard' routine because he was too much on the money. Obviously this was only one game and Howard still has an immense Achilles Heel with the free throws, but if he can stay that focused and get that good at the line. . .well, this game was an example of how overwhelming DH12 truly is when clicking on all cylinders.
Scoreline: Bobcats 89 Magic 98 (Magic 1-0)
DH12's Stats: 5 pts, 7 rebounds, 9 blocks, 5 fouls, 27 minutes
Analysis: Dwight couldn't stay on the floor, managing only 27 minutes of playing time. Whether that was from questionable refereeing or because Dwight was doing needless things on the floor is in the eye of the beholder.
But what can be proven is that when Dwight was able to play he made sure to make his presence known. His nine rejections virtually killed any Bobcat offense when he was on the floor. Even more telling to Howard's value, in the time he was off the court, Charlotte had no game plan for Orlando's small ball, putting all their effort into Howard.
In the end, whether on the court or not, Howard influenced the Bobcats mindset. . .into a loss.
Scoreline: Bobcats 102 Magic 107 (OT)
DH12's Stats: 45 pts, 19 rebounds, 8 blks, 1 stl
Analysis: At an impressive 37-13, the Magic faced a struggling but tough Bobcat team at home and came out with the close victory in OT. Howard certainly did his part to secure the win basically scoring a point a minute (45 pts in 46 minutes) and shooting a fantastic (for him) 72% from the line.
Howard's impressive scoring output was, and still is, a career high.
Scoreline: Thunder 92 Magic 109
DH12's Stats: 30 pts, 19 rebs, 10 blks, 3 asts, 1 TO
Analysis: Since Howard is either the go-to guy on offense or provides the kick out pass that leads to a hockey assist, it is not often DH12 can get close to a triple double in the traditional way. But his defensive prowess allowed him to get that triple double by blocking 10 Thunder shots.
The triple double remains his only one on his young resume but he has flirted with that esteemed box score highlight many times with seven, eight, or nine blocks.
Scoreline: 76ers 97 Magic 102
DH12's Stats: 28 pts, 26 rebs (9 off), 2 stl, 1 blk, 9/14 FG (64%)
Analysis: Besides the 26 rebounds becoming a career high (which still stands), Howard and his young group of fellow teammates were putting on a show and gelling. Though the Magic were a lowly 35-44 at the time of this match they had put together seven straight victories and were making a push for the 8th playoff spot.
This win made it eight in a row (and 12 out of 13) against an equally struggling but talented 76ers squad who was part of that playoff push. With Howard as the anchor, Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu excelled alongside Howard during those impressive 13 games, giving us glimpses of regular season and playoff success in the future (not to mention Howard's leadership and value to the offense/defense).
Scoreline: Pistons 97 Magic 93 (Pistons 4-0)
DH12's Stats: 29 pts, 17 rebs, 2 asts, 2 stl, 10/15 FG (85%)
Analysis: Like many stars before him, Howard could never quite get over the Detroit hump though it was never from a lack of trying. The severely over-matched Magic, as the 8th seed, went into a Detroit series expecting nothing but defeat.
But it was the first time the Magic had made the playoffs in four years and Howard needed to prove himself. In the four game sweep he had many great games statistically but games 1 through 3 were almost entirely in Detroit's control. But in this game, even though the writing was on the wall in the series, Howard took over for Orlando and made sure Detroit remembered his name and got the win with a few bruises.
Scoreline: Raptors 94 Magic 109 (Magic 3-1)
DH12's Stats: 19 pts, 16 rebs, 8 blks, 3 ast, 1 stl, 9/12 FG (75%)
Analysis: When you are the leader of a franchise and your team hasn't won a playoff series in 12 years, it is up to that leader to deliver. . .and Howard did. Even though the Magic carried a 2-1 series lead, the Raptors were looking far tougher then their 6th seed positioning and were making life difficult for the Magic.
Howard, who had better scoring days in this series, had to dominate in what was, in terms of the franchise's outlook, a 'must win' game. Howard was virtually perfect from the field and destroyed the Raptors on defense and knocked them down a step, leading the Magic to an easy victory and a 3-1 lead.
Though Dwight would eventually average 22.6 PPG, 18.2 RPG, and 3.8 BPG in the five game series (which the Magic won 4-1), Howard had a lot to prove with this game. He had improved the Magic's record every year and took them a step further then the year before for three years. The Raptors were stubbornly making his playoff outlook difficult. . .but in Game 4 he delivered and brought the franchise another win.
Scoreline: Lakers 99 Magic 91 (OT) (Lakers 3-1)
DH12's Stats: 16 pts, 21 rebs, 2 ast, 9 blks
Analysis: Dwight Howard played poorly in many areas in game 4 of the NBA Finals (41% FG, 42% FT, 7 TOs) but unlike the way the media had portrayed him in 2009 (not serious, can't win big games), Howard remained stubborn enough to will his Magic into contention even when the going was very tough.
The Magic had secured an impressive Game 3 victory after suffering a blowout loss in Game 1 and an OT thriller in Game 2 (also a loss). The series was up for grabs if the Magic could find a way to win. And though they didn't, Howard proved his doubters wrong by yet again being the go-to guy in OT and recording an NBA Finals record (still stands) nine blocked shots.
The reason this isn't number one on Howard's resume of impressive games is because his poor FT shooting allowed the Lakers to get back into the game and force OT. However, Howard led a constantly under-appreciated Magic team to the final round of the playoffs. Though it was a loss, it was a loss at the highest level which means something.
Scoreline: Cavs 90 Magic 103 (Magic 4-2)
DH12's Stats: 40 pts, 14 rebs, 4 ast, 14/21 FG (66%)
Analysis: Doubting the Magic (and Howard) was par for the course in the 2009 playoffs. Some pundits had the sixth seeded 76ers knocking the Magic out in the first round (Magic won 4-2). Many figured the Celtics would in round 2 (Magic won 4-3). And despite taking a 3-1 series lead over the 66-16 Cavaliers, who had destroyed previous opponents in the first two rounds in eight easy games, the media assumed LeBron and company would mount the greatest comeback ever!
But despite a Game 5 setback, Dwight Howard was not interested in making the doubters correct: he simply destroyed the Cavs in Game 6, adding a little 'umpf' to the third straight round of doubt. The 4-2 victory, capped off by Howard's playoff career high in points, proved that Howard could win the big games, deliver Conference titles to his team, and be a leader all the way to the NBA Finals.
It was funny how little you heard about Howard's 'seriousness' after upsetting the #2 and #1 seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs. This game is Howard's best. . .and I'm sure he'll love to change that in the future.