They call him Superman for his ability to fly through the air and dazzle crowds with his electric dunks but Magic center, Dwight Howard is truly earning his title this year. Howard has put in work that has both earned, and deserves serious MVP consideration. Other contenders who make legitimate cases to claim this year's Most Valuable Player trophy include Derrick Rose, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant.
I would argue that Chicago Bulls' point guard, Derrick Rose, in the midst of his most impressive season yet, has probably established the most compelling case against Howard for the MVP award. Rose has come up big when Chicago has needed him the most. Last month in a performance against the San Antonio Spurs, Rose left all of his effort on the floor providing eight assists and a season-high 42 points that allowed the Bulls to earn a ten point victory over arguably the best team in the NBA. On top of that, in Chicago's three victories over the Miami Heat Rose has averaged 29 points per game (ppg).
Rose has put up some pretty impressive numbers. I will admit, before this season I wasn't a fan of his, but he has made me appreciate his game in a way that I never have before from his work this season. It is noticeable that something is different about the way he is playing this year, and I believe that a lot of it has to do with his supporting cast which includes newly acquired Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, and Luol Deng, who has really stepped up big for the Bulls this year. Rose's supporting cast is better than Howard's, especially considering Noah averages a double-double and both Deng and Boozer average more than 17 ppg, which is greater than anyone other than Howard on the Magic. This means that Rose's scoring performances, though they have been awe-inspiring, are less significant than Howard's because his team has other meaningful contributors.
The Heat's LeBron James has also made a pretty concrete case for his MVP candidacy. James averages the second highest amount of points scored in the NBA with 26.3 ppg, and averages over seven rebounds and assists per game transforming him a prime candidate for a triple-double in any given contest. However, James has another top five scorer in the NBA to compliment him on the Heat, courtesy of Dwyane Wade and all of his talent. That being said assists should come easy for him because he has another handy scorer he can rely on, as well as a means of averting the attention of opposing defenses.
Further, because Wade and Chris Bosh can provide the Heat with alternative scoring outlets, it makes the Heat less dependent on James' performances than the Orlando Magic are dependent on Howard's. Even though James is a legitimate multi-threat athlete on the court, recently he has struggled in the clutch and has been unreliable in the clutch when the Heat have needed him most.
Kevin Durant is also having another splendid year playing for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Again, he leads the league in scoring, averaging over 28 ppg. Aside from scoring, the fourth-year forward is also a steady rebounder, picking up on average 7.3 rebounds per game (rpg). It's without a doubt that Durant's numbers are worthy of some type of recognition, but I just believe that recognition should come in the form of another scoring title, not MVP for a couple of reasons. One being that the Thunder are 1-7 against the other top three teams in the Western Conference (the Spurs, the Mavericks, and the Lakers). My other being that the role of Russell Westbrook's (and now Kendrick Perkins) makes Durant's offensive output less influential to his team's success than Howard's is to the Magic.
Howard's case for MVP, I believe, is most valid. Howard averages team-highs in points, blocks, steals, and rebounding (23 ppg, 2.3 blocks per game, 1.2 steals per game, and 13.9 rpg) making his game multifaceted. The 25 year-old Howard's 23 ppg lands him just inside of the NBA's top ten scorers.
In terms of rebounding, Howard out-rebounds all other centers by 4 rbg, and is second in the NBA to only Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves. His blocking numbers are second to only to the Milwaukee Bucks' Center, Andrew Bogut. Howard's ability to contribute on the defensive as well as the offensive ends of the floor make him even more valuable to the Magic.
The unique combination of size, strength, talent, and athleticism has translated to results in the form of numbers for the Magic center this season. Howard has been the most productive player for the Magic offensively and has shot nearly 60 percent from the field. He has also become a defensive fortress by steadily rejecting opposing offenses near the hoop and many times coming away with the ball.
This season his game appears more well rounded, and although LeBron James may have a more well rounded game than Howard, he is still not a more valuable piece of his team's puzzle than Howard is to his. In fact, Howard is more valuable to his team than any of the other MVP candidates are to their respective teams, including James. This belief stems from the fact that Rose, James, and Durant all have at least one other teammate who is in the top 40 scorers in the NBA (Both James and Rose each have two).
Howard does not. He does not have a Dwyane Wade, a Chris Bosh, a Carlos Boozer, a Luol Deng, or a Russell Westbrook. Instead he has Jason Richardson and Jameer Nelson. While both Nelson and Jefferson are very talented players in their own right, they are by no means the caliber of weaponry that the other MVP candidates are working with.
Richardson is Orlando's second leading scorer but he averages just over 14 ppg – nowhere close to Wade's 25.6 ppg or Westbrook's 22.4 ppg. This makes each of Howard's performances that much more meaningful because the Magic rely on him more than their other teammates for a consistent source of offensive production.
Also, the fact that Howard averages a double-double is more than any of the other MVP candidates can attest to. All of the other candidates come extremely close to Howard's accomplishment, yet still none of them have actually achieved it.
Howard's offensive production is the best work that the NBA has seen from a center in many years. His 23 ppg is the highest for a center since Shaquille O'Neal's monstrous season with the Lakers during the 2003-2004 season. This said, Howard still has a slightly higher shooting percentage and more rebounds per game than O'Neal did that season, which I find impressive. Having made this comparison, this season Howard has the opportunity to become the first center to be named MVP since O'Neal in 2000.
Furthermore, Howard's performances have anchored the Orlando Magic this season. He has given them a significant amount of output both offensive and defensively. Howard has put up big numbers not only in many of Orlando's wins, but also their losses, which proves his work ethic and perseverance.
Lastly, Howard averages over 37 minutes per game this season, and in that time, as I have discussed, Howard puts up some jarring numbers which on most nights translates to a Magic victory. He is a work horse that doesn't just eat up minutes he is productive with them. However, when Howard does not play Orlando has not faired so well, in the three games that Orlando has played without Howard they are 1-2 which is merely just a taste of what it would be like if the Magic did not have a stronghold like Howard on their team to depend on. Without him they would not be approaching their possible fourth straight season with fifty or more wins, or their fourth consecutive playoff berth, I think this more than anything highlights Howard's importance.
Howard has stated in many interviews that all he wants to do is win, and his tough performances, night-in and night-out display that desire. When Howard talks about winning he is not just talking about on a nightly basis, he is talking relative to titles, and perhaps this current Orlando Magic team can help him win one, but that is yet to be seen. Whether or not Howard's team can win him a title this year is one thing, but I believe that Howard's standout efforts this season are deserving to win something, and that something should be the NBA MVP award because this season Superman is flying high.