With the announcement that the league has modified the All-Star ballot by removing “center” as a voting option, many would think that height is no longer a factor in the NBA. Accommodating to an area of hybrid-positional players, supposedly as best evidenced by last year’s Miami Heat championship run, the league now gives fans the option to vote for three frontcourt players. As many have joked, no more Jamaal Magloires will make All-Star appearances. (The joke being that Magloire, who started at center in 2004’s All-Star game for the East, only got the chance because of a weak Eastern conference. Though he did lead the Eastern All-Stars with 19 points).
But various moves and developments suggest that height is still as important as man bags in the NBA. The Sixers expected to become title contenders with the acquisition of seven-footer Andrew Bynum. The Grizzlies have the best record in the league, primarily because of the play of their big men, with Marc Gasol leading the team in the +/- column with an exceptional plus-109. And, after a four-team trade, the Dwight Howard move had everyone predicting that the Lakers would take the ring this year. Surely, a Steve Nash addition, and the existing likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace, didn’t hurt matters, but it was the inside presence of D12 that would secure another O’Brien for the purple and gold. Instead, the Lakers are currently trailing the Golden State Warriors in the Pacific Division.
The blame doesn’t rest solely on Howard’s area code-wide shoulders, but he certainly isn’t playing as the NBA’s best center should. The ex-Orlando Magic is having a solid year, averaging 18.0 PPG on .588% shooting, 10.6 RPG, and a career-best 2.1 APG. But given that he ranks third in Minutes Per Game in the league among centers, and is only a year removed from what might have been his best all-around year in 2011-2012, the All-Star needs to step it up.
Many have theorized that Howard’s back problems are affecting his game, and he has seemed very stiff at points recovering on defense. There’s also the telling indicator that the 6-foot-11 center has taken a whole 94 shots less than Kobe Bryant (who is having a superb year). Add to that the absence of Steve Nash as a ball facilitator, and the storied drama of the Mike Brown hiring and Phil Jackson snubbing, and it’s a miracle the Lakers aren’t doing worse. But there’s no excuse for Superman to be tied with Omer Asik among centers for the worst turnover average with 3.3 TOPG. He is also tied for third with DeMarcus Cousins and Ryan Hollins for most Personal Fouls Per Game among centers with 3.7. Though the number of fouls don’t indicate their game time value, reducing them will help the Lakers improve in their defensive categories.
Then there’s the abysmal free throw shooting. Shooting at 49.7%, Dwight Howard is currently the 9th-worst free throw shooting center in the league. Considering that opposing teams at times will resort to the Hack-a-Howard method, it’s imperative that D12 improves on that front, especially when considering possible late game playoff moments when the Lakers might be relying on him to sink in freebies. Being a center is also not a justifiable excuse as Marc Gasol shoots an impressive 90.2% as a big man.
Some of Howard’s offensive woes will subside as Nash makes a return, but in the meantime he could certainly improve in rebounding. Although 10.6 RPG is a prized statistic, it is the second worst rebounding average he has had in his career. Only his rookie year has been worse with 10.0 RPG. Considering that the Los Angeles Lakers are ranked sixth in the league when it comes to rebounding, an improvement in Howard’s game could take LA to the top.
With Marc Gasol helping his team to a league best record on the laurels of his scoring, rebounding, assists, defense and guard-worthy free throw shooting, Anderson Varejão having one of his best years averaging 14.0 PPG, 14.1 RPG, and 3.3 APG, and other great centers rising in the ranks, Dwight needs to improve on many fronts to keep his “best center” honors. Though many unfairly criticize Pau Gasol for being the Laker’s weakest link, along with Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace, the Spaniard is a member of the league’s top three-player combos. Plus Howard, who criticized the league’s decision to remove the “center” position from All-Star balloting, is riding the legacy of many great Lakers centers. Now that a new Abdul-Jabbar statue overlooks the Staples Center, Howard will have to prove his worth in the purple and gold.
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