Dwight Howard: A Modern Day Bill Russell

Frances White@WestEndGirl62Analyst IIJune 9, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic jumps up to block a shot by Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Two of the 2009 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Before you get up in arms, hear me out.  Everyone is quick to look at the offensive output of most great centers. Mikan, Chamberlain, Shaq, Robinson, and Jabbar weren't exactly known for their defense. The only center to accomplish that feat is the greatest player in the history of the NBA, Bill Russell.

Russell always said he could score, but it was defense that won championships. Russell had an uncanny knack for turning a blocked shot into a fast break. His ability to aid and recover helped build trust with his teammates. He anchored his way to 11 championships, eight of them straight.

The NBA Finals MVP is now named after him, and it is a fitting tribute to a man who stood only 6'9", but towered over others at his position.

Now there is another player whose defensive presence may define his own legacy of championships. Dwight Howard has the defensive skill-set to make that imprint.  When Howard complained about not getting enough touches, it signaled an important step in his development.

He raised his level of play and established his defensive presence in the paint. This triggered the Magic’s fast break and opened up the three for them.

The first two games of the NBA Finals, Howard has not been a factor, giving the Magic few opportunities to run. When he had his only dunk, he made a feeble attempt at flexing his biceps. He has complained every time he has missed a shot, and has failed to go up with strength.

Is Howard a bully who can't play with someone his own size?  The way he approaches these next three opportunities on his home court will tell.

Superman must turn in to "Beast," an affable giant off the court, but an unflappable force in the paint. Dwight must patrol the paint like a Tasmanian Devil craves carrion.

He must use his strength on defense; the offense will come.  He has the defensive qualities of Bill Russell and athleticism seldom seen in a man of his size. He spoke with Russell in Los Angeles, and one can only hope he absorbed some of Bill's championship essence.

Howard can be the one dominant force that could do what Shaq didn't do, which was bring a championship to the Magic Kingdom.

If he does that, then he can at least stand in the shadows of Bill Russell more so than any other center.


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