When looking at the list of the NBA’s most dominant centers from each generation, one can’t help but notice that term “dominant” is being used more and more loosely as time has passed. In fact, the trend has been nearly perfect — each generation’s best being slightly lesser than the man who preceded him.
The culmination of such is that the NBA now features a big man unanimously considered to be the best at his position in the league, yet isn’t one of the league’s five best players overall and, arguably, is questionable for the top 10. In fact, with the exception of Steve Nash, no superstar has a more obviously-flawed game.
What’s the point of having a defensively dominant big man — a two-time defending NBA Defensive Player of the Year actually — if you have substitute him out offense-defense in crunch time?
Howard is such a poor free throw shooter and has so little skill at the offensive end — other than gobbling up second-chance opportunities — that that is often what Stan Van Gundy has to do.
These issues aren’t new. Howard’s free throw shooting has been under 60 percent since his rookie season, when he was inexplicably seven percent better than he ever has been from the stripe. Each offseason, Howard has been tipped to “develop a post game,” but he hasn’t. He’s trying some sort of hook shot this year, but it’s not remotely a “go-to.”
Howard will never put up 25-plus points-per-game for the course of a season like past generation-defining centers have. He’s just not capable of such.
He won’t match the defensive statistics of his predecessors, either. While his 12.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game is impressive, to reach the career records for either, he would have to play for another two decades at his current pace, which simply isn’t in the cards — as much of a workhorse as Howard has been thus far in his career. His career best seasons, likewise, can’t stack up. Olajuwon’s best shot-blocking season, for example, beat’s Howard’s fastest pace by nearly two blocks per-game.
It’s also difficult to believe that he’ll be able to assert his greatness with rings. Orlando has once made the NBA finals with Howard as the center of the team, but it’s hard to give him too much credit for that run. The surprising play of Hedo Turkoglu and Courtney Lee, in fact, was the driving force behind the 2009 run, and most would say that a similarly extraordinary circumstance would have to present itself for Howard to make it again.
Perhaps, more generally, it boils down to that while Howard looks like Megatron, he doesn’t totally have the killer instinct. Big men often comical, engaging and self-effacing, and Howard clearly has those traits, but he may make himself too likable. As big and athletic as he is, he doesn’t play with an edge or impose his will on games, and can be neutralized by grittier players accordingly. That’s why the game’s best center is only the eighth-best player in the league, for pretty much the first time ever.
The Magic are in the midst of a revival of sorts, one which — fittingly — has had nothing to do with Howard and everything to do with Turkoglu’s return to the team. Even if Orlando does win the title in 2011, it won’t be because of their big man.
That’s just the way the NBA is nowadays. After a near half-century to the contrary, having the best big man simply doesn’t guarantee titles anymore.
What has happened to dominant big men in the NBA? leave your thoughts below.