It takes a certain combination of ability and mentality to be a good team’s first option and undisputed leader. You need to posses the skills of a go-to guy on offense (and being a defensive stopper doesn’t hurt either) while also having an air of alpha-male about you.
The typical structure of a championship squad is composed of a first, second and third option. The rest of the roster is filled out with competent starters and role players.
However, some recent NBA stars do not fit the mold of a traditional number one. For whatever reason, they are lacking something either in the production or attitude departments.
Andre Iguodala provides a team with a little bit of everything. He is a versatile wing player who is very good in a lot of areas but not great at any one single thing.
His diverse abilities make him a poor man’s LeBron James. And, when I say “poor man’s LeBron” in this case, it’s like comparing the bank accounts of Bill Gates and Donald Trump. Either way, it’s pretty good.
Iggy has great court vision and is a capable facilitator with good ball-handling skills. He is also a very talented perimeter defender who can disrupt passing lanes and cause turnovers.
But he lacks the dominant scoring ability to ever be a team’s consistent number one option. Last season, he posted just 14 points per game, his lowest total in five seasons.
Iguodala would be a fantastic second or third fiddle for a contending team. As the Philadelphia 76ers best player, the team has finished .500 or worse in each of the last five years.
If he somehow lands with the L.A. Clippers in the midst of all this trade speculation, he and the team would easily thrive. A "Big Three" of young guns Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon and Iguodala would be a formidable squad in the West.
Dwight Howard is currently the best center in the NBA. Nobody disputes that fact.
But seven years into his professional career, fans are still waiting for him to fulfill his potential as an offensive threat and a leader.
Yes, his team played in the 2009 Finals. But that run was more about Hedo Turkoglu than Howard on Orlando's side.
Since then, the Magic have failed to return to the Finals, their failures highlighted by an embarrassing first-round exit this year.
Howard has always been a goofy, fun-loving and mostly carefree guy. And, there is nothing wrong with that. But when you see championship leaders of the recent past (Kobe, Jordan, Duncan, etc.) all of them have similar mentalities.
Kobe and Jordan were Jason Bourne-like assassins on the court. They wanted to win more than everybody else in the stadium and it showed in their play. Duncan was always laser-focused, serious and determined. Nothing could distract him from his goal.
All three approaches to winning differ greatly from what we’ve seen from Howard thus far. He is not an alpha male and doesn’t appear to want to be.
While his offensive game visibly improved this past season, Howard is still not a consistently great option at that end. He lacks a go-to move and disappears for stretches of games.
Howard’s usage rate during crunch time is among the league's lowest as he continually defers to his teammates late in games.
There is no doubt that Howard is a very, very good center. But is he great?
Compare the offensive stats of his first seven years to that of Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon or Patrick Ewing. He doesn’t come close to matching their production at this stage. (PPG through first seven seasons: Shaq—27, Olajuwon—22.9, Ewing—23.3, Howard—18.2).
I think Howard would fit better as a second option behind a true team leader on a championship team. That is why I believe the Lakers should do everything in their power to obtain the big man.
Playing in Kobe’s shadow will take pressure off of Howard, allow him to prosper as a fantastic second offensive option and also teach him a great deal about how to lead.
LeBron James is truly an enigma. He was a great leader in Cleveland. His teammates loved him and every single game it appeared as if they couldn’t possibly be having more fun.
But, like Howard, James has shown only glimpses of that alpha male/killer mentality. Joining forces with Dwyane Wade certainly didn’t help things either. Injecting a little Kobe attitude into his game could go a long way for the ringless king.
James is the most talented player on the planet. He has a wide variety of skills and is one of the most dynamic players I have ever seen.
However, he still lacks a consistent midrange jumper and post game. For a man of his size and ability, it is inexcusable that Dallas could put Jason Kidd on him and not regret it afterwards.
If I was LeBron, I would lock myself in a gym until I could knock down 15-footers and post up smaller defenders like it was my job. Oh wait, it is his job.
LeBron absolutely has the talent and personal ability to be a team’s leader and go-to option. But we have not seen the culmination of his talent to yield such results.
In time, I expect LeBron will prove all of his detractors wrong and wow us all through an entire postseason.