The Hall of Fame is a place reserved for basketball best and most transcendent talents, and Dwight Howard is righting thinking he belongs there.
Back in 2004, Howard made the prep-to-pro leap and was drafted first overall by the Orlando Magic before bouncing around with the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and now, his hometown Atlanta Hawks. Everything he’s done in recent memory is diluted by the non-basketball things that have gone on; Kobe Bryant questioning his will to win or the mess that was him leaving Orlando. Nevertheless, Howard’s had an undeniably excellent career, and he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated that he feels he belongs in Springfield.
“No doubt. It’s kind of got swept under the rug because the perception of all the things that happened in Orlando. All of the media stuff. If you look at basketball itself, and I don’t ever talk about myself, but winning three Defensive Player of the Year trophies has never been done. Leading the league in rebounding six straight years. All that kind of stuff, I think that deserves it.”
Howard burst onto the scene out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and averaged 12.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks before being named to the All-Rookie team and finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting. It took him just two years to make his first All-Star team, and Howard was showing incredible durability to complement his prowess on the glass and the defensive end of the floor. Of the 492 games played by Orlando from 2005 to 2010, Howard appeared in 489. Only Andre Miller suited up for more (490).
Over that span, Howard was a legitimate top-three big in the league, with Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett being the only two who you could say were better all-around. He averaged 17.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks and the Magic had advanced all the way to the Finals in 2009. It was at that time that the accolades for Howard started to match the individual and team success. From 2007-14, Howard got voted to eight straight All-Star games after clearly cementing himself as the league’s best rebounder and one of its premier rim protectors.
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Howard finished in the top-five in total rebounds each year up until 2014; six of those he led the league with five consecutive from 2006-10. The other four were made up of two fifth-place finishes and two second-place. By the end of that run, Howard had inhaled 9,883 boards, giving him a 2,350 rebound lead over the second-place. It doesn’t stop there, either.
To say Howard was the most impactful defender during his prime is a plausible argument. Even if you don’t think he’s the best during that time, all the likely candidates are either Hall of Famers or all-time great defenders: Duncan, Garnett, Ben Wallace, Yao Ming. Howard’s 1,658 blocks from ’05-14 are more than anyone else during that span. He also did something that no one else has done — win the Defensive Player of the Year Award three times in a row.
The DPOY, from 2009-11, went to Howard each season and all of them were nearly unanimous; in 2009 and 2010, LeBron James was second with four first-place votes, and Chuck Hayes(???) got two in 2011. After taking home the trophy in 2011, Howard joined Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo as the only guys to win it three or more times. He proceeded to finish third in 2012, and he started his torrid stretch finishing tied for seventh in 2008.
For those five years, the All-Defensive first team included Howard for four of them. Which seems low given how dominant of a stretch he had. He balanced it out with eight All-NBA appearances: five first, two third and one second. Capping off the individual accolades is five years with Howard in the top five for MVP voting, but a clear lack of offense made it tough to bring that home over the likes of James, Bryant, Wade and others. Despite cracking the 20 points a game mark several times, Howard was never the center who could have the offense go through him. He lacked a polished post game, was an appallingly bad free throw shooter and made his living cleaning up the offensive glass and catching lobs.
It worked for Howard and Orlando, though. Stan Van Gundy built all of their successful teams with a defense-first mindset and having Howard as the anchor took them to a different level each year. Since leaving the Magic, his numbers have dropped slightly, but it’s most noticeable in the scoring column. Each team he’s played for has had a go-to guy on offense and didn’t need Howard to put up 19-24 points a night. He focused on rebounding and blocking shots, but staying on the court was an issue.
He missed big chunks of the season in 2012 and 2015 but has stayed relatively healthy all the other years.
The likelihood of Howard winning a championship by the time he retires is slim, but Hall of Fame players don’t need a title as part of their resume. He had a stretch where he was one of the best rebounders in recent memory, and that’s a part of the game where we haven’t seen someone truly dominate in a long time. Also, we can’t overlook his ability to block shots and, on top of that, he was a legitimate threat to score more than 20 if you didn’t account for him in your gameplan.
Howard’s collection of hardware is also pretty impressive, so, yes, Howard does have a spot in the Hall of Fame after he decides to hang up his sneakers.
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