The Problem With Dwight Howard and LeBron James
So Dwight Howard got to that all-important number of 30 points, which places him beyond criticism for his lack of offensive moves. The Magic lost, but naturally, it was Vince Carter's fault. So much for Howard needing to prove something about how good he is in this series.
Not only did the Big Guy escape unscathed (except for the loss), he also found an important defender in Jeff Van Gundy. JVG said, in essence, that we might just have to accept Howard for what he is: a superstar on defense who will always be limited at the other end. Otis Smith believes Dwight is on Bill Russell's level as a defensive force. Van Gundy, far more rationally, used Russell as an extremely favorable example of how a player can stink at offense but still prove incredibly valuable.
Mark Jackson wasn't having it. He pointed to Rajon Rondo's improved outside shooting, and asked why Howard couldn't add a little something to his game over the summer like Rondo did. It's a valid question, especially given how much has been made of the coaching Howard has received from Patrick Ewing. If Kobe Bryant and Josh Smith have studied with Hakeem Olajuwon and become better post players for it, why can't Howard progress?
The answer's pretty simple. Shooting can be fixed, since it's usually a matter of form and mechanics -- not understanding when and where a jumper is in order. Remember when LeBron James couldn't shoot? What about Derrick Rose? The same is also true about finishing, unless the player is Lamar Odom. If the player gets to the basket with ease, he'll eventually figure out how to reliably deposit ball in basket.
Howard, on the other hand, simply has zero instinct for scoring. You know that phrase "nose for the ball?" He has no nose for the basket; he's only effective on straight-forward dunks or clear-path lobs. The NBA does Howard, and itself, a great disservice every time it shows clips of Orlando Magic-era Shaquille O'Neal during these games. Shaq wasn't just a physical marvel, he knew exactly how to use his body, when and where to take off from around the rim.
There also wasn't a sharp disjuncture in his game between dunks and everything else. O'Neal's baby hooks looked natural; Howard might as well be trying to hoist a three. Some players block shots like they're dunking; Howard dunks like he's blocking shots. It's great if he goes for 30, but Superman isn't all he's cracked to be. And that's OK. We just need to be honest about it and move on. Oh, and advantage, Van Gundy.
This leaves us with a terrifying question. Howard can't or won't expand his game. LeBron can do anything, but supposedly has some mental problem that Michael Jordan didn't have, thus limiting his possibilities as a player. What I want to know is, who is the crappier player? Can either one of them help it? How many more times can we bear to watch James behave like he did in Game 5 and 6 before we decide he's the next Vince Carter? Shouldn't we downgrade Howard if he's stuck where he is?
It would be totally hilarious if the two top MVP candidates came out of this postseason with a lot of explaining to do, and real questions about their abilities out in the ether. One is sick in the body, the other in the soul. You tell me what's worse. Or maybe, dear reader, the problem is with us.