Imagine how good the Orlando Magic could be if their core trio of Vince Carter, Dwight Howard, and Rashard Lewis ever capitalized on the enormous potential that their athleticism and skills suggest.
To be fair, all three are great players, but none of them have really touched on what the evolution of their games could be if they actually took the time to hone their craft.
Rashard Lewis, for example, has been basically the same player since he entered the NBA, a great jump-shooter with great size and very limited perimeter skills.
He has maximized his one-dimensional talent into very lucrative contracts, but what if he had above average ball-handling skills to go along with that beautiful jump shot?
What if he had the ability to utilize his 6'10" frame for the purpose of being a great defensive player? It's not out of the realm of possibility because Lewis is a superior athlete.
Imagine if he took the time to learn how to play with his back to the basket in the post? Lewis would potentially be one of the hardest matchups in the NBA if he could consistently float from the perimeter to the paint.
Vince Carter is a different case because he possesses all of the above mentioned skills, but for some reason chooses to limit himself to being a perimeter jump-shooter.
Carter actually has seen some growth in his game, but most of it took place while he was at the University of North Carolina. When Carter arrived at UNC his game was based on athleticism and not much else.
Under the tutelage of Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge, Carter learned to harness his athleticism to become a great defensive player, and it was there that he developed his perimeter game.
Upon entering the NBA, Carter took the league by storm, earning the moniker of "Half Man-Half-Amazing" due to his aerial artistry and antics that took place above the rim.
It was clear that Carter had learned a lot from his time at UNC, and you could go so far to say that his ability had even been a little underestimated, as he quickly became one of the league's brightest young stars.
But just as soon as his star began to brighten it seemed that his developmental arc leveled out, and Carter became stuck in a holding pattern, with his game seeing no more advancement.
Some of this is due to the various knee and ankle problems that Carter has suffered throughout his career that robbed him of some of his former explosiveness. But much of it is the result of an agonizing complacency.
He simply seems comfortable with his current station in life and seems to possess neither the will nor desire to force his game to greater heights.
He can do all of the things on a basketball court to suggest superstardom—defense, ball-handling skills, post up ability in the paint, and he can shoot from distance—but he does none of these things in a consistent manner.
Carter seems content to spend most of his time launching shots from the perimeter when he has so much more to offer to his team.
Lewis and Carter may be at the point in their careers when it is too late to make fundamental changes in their games, but that is certainly not the case with center Dwight Howard.
I would go further and say that Howard's game has not seen any significant improvement on either end of the floor since he made his NBA debut.
He is in essence the definition of a player that gets by due to sheer force and physical dominance, overwhelming opponents because of his natural gifts, but seemingly incapable of advancing his game.
Howard's 6'11" frame, uncanny quickness, and brute strength give him an advantage in most matchups, but he has no real post game and his defense is limited to jaw-dropping blocks and not much else.
Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum is the young player most often compared to Howard, and based on their fundamental skills, there is no real comparison at all.
Sure, Howard wins in the physical specimen category, but his game has shown none of the growth that Bynum's has in a similar time frame.
Howard could learn some things from Bynum, especially how to be an offensive threat in the paint with his back to the basket, because Howard's game is totally devoid of that skill.
If you don't believe me, take the time to watch Howard when the ball enters the post. He has no drop-step move, no low post foot-work, and is much more comfortable when he's able to face the basket.
The defensive end of the floor is not much different as Howard has displayed some of the poorest one-on-one skills for a center with his size and agility.
He is a great shot-blocker, but his defense is limited to that aspect. With a little time and effort he could be one of the greatest defensive centers of all time.
I sometimes wonder about Howard's capacity to soak up knowledge because he does have Patrick Ewing as a mentor, but has shown none of the qualities that helped make Ewing great.
Does that speak more to Howard's ability to learn or Ewing's ability to teach him?
For Magic fans the prospects must be tantalizing because as a team they sit on the precipice of greatness, but Orlando is only going to go as far as its young center is willing to carry them.
Orlando sits atop the Eastern Conference at 11-4, and is a great team by any measure. But if the Magic could somehow tap into their unrealized potential, they could be head and shoulder above the rest of the teams in their conference.