Since entering the NBA in 2004 as a long, stringy, 18-year-old rookie, Dwight Howard demonstrated that he was full of both promise and potential. After the Orlando Magic had traded away their marquee player, Tracy McGrady, the same summer they acquired Howard, he proved to be just the dose of talent that the organization needed.
Howard started each of Orlando's 82 games in the 2004-2005 season and became the only rookie to ever achieve such a feat. In his rookie year, Howard averaged 12 points per game (PPG) and 10 rebounds per game (RPG), becoming the youngest player in NBA history to average a double-double in the regular season and also to average 10 or more rebounds per game.
Howard's achievements in his rookie season were just the beginning of what is playing out to be a rather handsome career. He is a five-time All-Star (2007-2011), a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year (2009, 2010), the 2008 Slam Dunk Contest Champion, has led the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals and was part of the 2008 USA national team, which won the Olympic gold in Beijing.
This is Howard's seventh season in the NBA and is currently leading all NBA centers in points per game, averaging 22.8 PPG, which if the season ended today, would be his career high. In each of his six previous seasons, Howard has found himself among the top-scoring centers in the league.
Though it seems as if Howard is putting up some pretty stout numbers when you compare them to other players in the NBA and elite centers of the NBA's past, can Dwight Howard really be considered a dominant offensive force?
Howard's 22.8 PPG puts him just outside the top 10 in scoring this season, being barely edged out by Blake Griffin's 22.9 PPG. Howard trails names like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Amar'e Stoudemire, Monte Ellis, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, each of whom average upwards of 25 PPG. When comparing his offensive output to the output of his peers, it would almost seem presumptuous to call Dwight Howard a dominant offensive force.
In a historical context, Howard's offensive numbers would cower if I were to compare them to Wilt Chamberlain's godly figures, which include one season in which he averaged over 50 PPG and a career average of over 30 PPG. Further, both Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar each had at least one season in which they averaged 30 PPG or more—a mark that Howard has not yet even come close to. Even David "The Admiral" Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon, both of whom have never quite made the 30 PPG average mark, but have come awfully close a few times, still have had seasons in which they averaged more than 25 PPG.
Former Orlando Magic center, Shaquille O'Neal, who is in his 19th season in the NBA, averaged near 30 points numerous times in his career and currently is averaging less than 10 points per game this season, with a 23.7 PPG career average—which is more than Howard has ever averaged for a season.
The good news for Howard is that he is still young. At 25 years old, he is still full of youth, which leaves him plenty of time to establish himself among elite NBA scorers like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant. Even Hakeem Olajuwon didn't score his career-high 27.8 PPG until his 11th season in the league, and Shaq's career-high 29.7 PPG did not come until his ninth NBA season, after abandoning his career in Orlando to play for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Howard also has a contract that is expiring after next season, so he may choose to leave Orlando for another team, which will provide him with an opportunity to participate in a different offense, in new ways, with an alternative supporting cast, which would inevitably affect his offensive output, perhaps in a positive way.
Although I would currently avoid classifying Dwight Howard as a dominant offensive force in the NBA when comparing him to other NBA players past and present, I believe that he has earned the title among other current players in the league as an elite offensive center, at least for now. But Howard luckily has his health, his youth and a limitless future thanks to his expiring contract, which bestow upon him the chance to establish himself as dominant offensive force in the NBA.