While the 2011 NBA free agent class is a little watered down from years past, the 2012 NBA free agency period should be very interesting. NBA superstars Chris Paul and Dwight Howard are both in position to become free agents, causing several teams to consider saving up for a 2012 splash.
Many teams around the league feel like they are one great player away from instantly becoming an elite team. Although Howard and Paul play very different positions, each player can single-handedly turn a mediocre team into a championship contender.
Here we compare Paul and Howard's attributes to decide which player can help a team more.
Both Howard and Paul have averaged just over 18 points per game throughout their respective careers. However, despite their nearly identical career scoring numbers, Howard and Paul score in very different ways.
Along with getting to the free throw line frequently, Howard typically plays near the basket, fighting for position to catch alley-oops or score in the post. Paul, on the other hand, gets most of his points from either nailing jump shots or finding his hay to the basket when the lane is clear.
This past summer, Howard worked with NBA Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon on his foot work near the basket. The extra work has clearly paid off, as we have seen Howard's points per game increase from 19 last season up to 23.2 this season.
Paul, on the other hand, has seen his points decrease from 22.8 points two seasons ago to 16.3 this season.
Since Howard and Paul play different positions, it does not make sense to compare their individual rebounding and assists numbers.
We can instead compare Howard's rebounding numbers and Paul's assists to the league leaders.
Year after year, Howard is one of the top rebounders in the league. He has led the league in rebounding three times and is currently second in the NBA, averaging 14.3 this season.
Paul, meanwhile, is consistently among the leaders in assists. He is currently four in the NBA, averaging 9.8 per game, and has led the league two times.
Howard has earned back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year Honors and is the favorite to win the award once again this season.
Because of Howard’s size and athleticism, opponents have a very difficult time scoring on him. Howard consistently blocks shots at a high rate, having already led the league in blocks twice in his career.
Paul is also a very good defender and is currently in position to lead the NBA in steals for the fourth time in his career. While Paul hasn’t won any Defensive Player of the Year Awards, he earned All-Defensive Team Honors in 2008 and 2009.
Howard is extremely efficient on the court, having made the most of his 38 minutes per game. He consistently ranks among the league leaders in every major big-man category, including blocks, rebounds, points, slam dunks and field goal percentage. Howard also currently ranks second in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) this season.
Meanwhile, Paul is one of the more efficient players in the NBA himself. The sixth-year point guard is among the league leaders in several key areas, including assists and steals.
Paul currently ranks fifth among NBA players in PER this season and finished the season among the top three in both 2008 and 2009.
Advantage: Howard (slightly)
Paul has the ability to help his teammates succeed, as evidenced by forward David West's rise to one of the top forwards in the NBA. He is one of the better passers in the league as well as an excellent decision maker with the ball.
Paul benefits from great instincts, which allows him to recognize when a teammate has any amount of space to get off a shot. This season, with little talent around him, Paul has led New Orleans to a 42-32 record.
Meanwhile, no team in the NBA bases its style of play more around a single player than the Orlando Magic do with Howard.
The big center is nearly unstoppable on offense, so he is constantly double teamed, allowing teammates to get wide open looks. This has certainly paid off, as Orlando currently leads all NBA teams in three-pointers made for the fourth consecutive season.
Chris Paul, at just 6'0", 175 pounds, oftentimes finds himself at a disadvantage matching up against bigger point guards.
Defensively, he can have a a difficult time contesting jumpers. On offense, Paul struggles to get off shots without a lot of space.
Howard, on the other hand, matches up well against just about anybody.
With his 6'10", 265 pound frame and advanced skills in the paint, opposing centers have almost no chance of defending Howard. Because of this, Howard consistently gets fouled more than any other player in the NBA, currently averaging 11.8 free throw attempts per game.
Howard's ability to get to the free throw line not only leads to points for the big center, but also causes foul trouble for the opposition.
Despite the beating Howard takes on a gamely basis, he has managed to stay healthy. In nearly seven career seasons, Howard has missed just six games, and two of those were due to suspensions.
Paul, on the other hand, has battled injuries throughout his career. Last season, he sprained his right ankle and was forced to miss essentially the last third of the season prior to having surgery.
While Paul is still one of the better point guards in the NBA, he appears to have lost a step since the injury. Because of his proneness to injuries, teams may be reluctant to sign Paul to a long-term deal
Since being drafted by New Orleans in 2005, Paul has helped make the Hornets relevant. New Orleans won just 18 games in the 2004-2005 season but has averaged nearly 44 wins a season since.
Meanwhile, Howard has helped turn things around in Orlando perhaps even more so than Paul has in New Orleans.
In Howard's first season, the Magic won 36 games, up 15 from the previous year. Orlando has gotten even better of late and is well on its way to a fourth consecutive 50-win season.
Howard also has more postseason experience than Paul, having played in 51 career playoff games compared to just 17 for Paul. Over the last two seasons, Howard has helped lead Orlando to five playoff series wins and is looking to make a big run this year as well.
Paul, meanwhile, has New Orleans in pretty good position to claim one of the last three playoff spots in the West. However, the Hornets will be hard pressed to make it out of the first round with teams like San Antonio, Dallas and the Lakers looking like the top three seeds.