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Dwight Howard, Hornets, Magic

Dwight Howard: A quiet Hall of Famer

In the midst of his 14th season, the Charlotte Hornets’ Dwight Howard still carries the same chiseled physique from his prime. That, and a few intact aspects from the best parts of his younger game, can trick a mind into believing his current form is closer to the whole of his body of work than it is.

On March 21, Howard reminded everyone of a version of himself long since faded with a 30-point, 32-rebound performance against the Brooklyn Nets; joining Kevin Love as the only two players to produce 30-30 games since 1982.

Since leaving the Houston Rockets, Dwight Howard has toiled away in relative obscurity. For a night, at least, Howard reclaimed his spot in the spotlight.

Dwight Howard, overlooked

Dwight Howard, Steve Clifford

When discussing which current NBA players are headed to the Hall of Fame, fans will mention obvious names such as Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki, and LeBron James. Dwight Howard is often excluded from the conversation.

Not because he doesn’t deserve a spot, but because of recency bias (as defined by Oxford University):

Is a common distorting effect within systems of performance appraisal. It refers to the appraiser assessing employee performance, not on work undertaken across the full performance management cycle, but only on recent events or activities that can be readily recalled.

Howard hasn’t been at the top of his game in nearly a decade. Because he hasn’t made an All-Star team since 2014, it’s easy to forget his prior achievements.

But when you look at his overall NBA career, it becomes clear he should be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame the moment he becomes eligible.

The Orlando Magic’s draft gamble

Dwight Howard

Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Drafted by the Orlando Magic with the first overall pick in 2004, Howard entered the league with uncommon height.

Teams realized his incredible athleticism and ideal size could help him become an all-time great. But, he also came with great risk entering the draft straight out high school.

With the disappointment of high school big men turned draft busts Kwame Brown, DeSagana Diop, and Eddy Curry, teams were wary.

Another top center in the draft class, NCAA champion Emeka Okafor out of the University of Connecticut, was considered the safer pick. With a more refined game, Okafor was viewed as someone who could step in immediately and contribute on an NBA team.

The Magic chose potential over immediate impact. And while Okafor won Rookie of the Year, Orlando made the correct decision.

The rise of Superman

Dwight Howard quickly blossomed into one of the NBA’s premier defensive centers, making his first All-Star team in his third season.

His crowning achievement was leading the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 2009, leading a one-star team through the Eastern Conference Finals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a thrilling matchup.

Howard continued to dominate, averaging a career-high 22.9 points per game in the 2010-11 season. The following season, suffering from an ailing back, Dwight Howard still averaged 20.6 points and 14.5 rebounds per game…until a herniated disc in his back required surgery in April.

He was never the same again.

The Death of Superman

kobe bryant, dwight howard

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

After his injury, Dwight Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers where outsized expectations and injuries clouded a solid season.

He left Los Angeles for the Houston Rockets, forming an inside-outside tandem with James Harden. While Howard made two All-Star appearances in the first two seasons after leaving Orlando, signs of decline were apparent.

His post game was never aesthetically graceful, obscuring how devastating it could be at times in Orlando. Back injuries robbed him of some of his fluidity in the post, leaving him with only strength and waning explosiveness.

Reported personality flaws created friction within organizations—especially alongside superstars Kobe Bryant and James Harden—as he moved from Los Angeles to Houston to the Atlanta Hawks and, this season, the Hornets.

Dwight Howard’s Hall of Fame case

dwight howard, hornets

NBA

Players are not eligible for the Hall of Fame until five years after retiring. At 32 years old, Howard is showing enough life to put that date off, though eventually it will come.

Howard’s career averages are 17.4 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game. This season, he is averaging 16.7 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game.  His finest year came in 2010-2011 when he averaged 22.9 points, 14.1 boards, and 2.4 blocks. Howard was an All-Star in every season from 2006-2007 to 2013-2014. Howard made All-NBA First Team five times, the Second Team once, and the Third Team twice.

He was Defensive Player of the Year three times, All-NBA Defensive First Team four times, and the Second Team twice. Additionally, he has led the NBA in rebounds five times and in blocks twice.

As of April 4, for his career, Howard has 17,959 points, 13,055 rebounds, and 2,042 blocks. He is already 16th in rebounds and 17th in blocks all-time.

Dwight Howard

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

The way he is playing this season, he might have four or five more seasons of quality play and could eventually make his way into the top 10 in both categories.

Howard had the potential to be a top-five big man in NBA history. Unfortunately, injuries have robbed him of that chance. But unrealized potential shouldn’t cancel actual achievement.

At his peak, Howard was an elite defender and rebounder who could match up physically with any power forward or center in the league and outplay them. Dwight’s offensive game never completely developed—as Howard remained dependent on his athleticism to score—but it anchored Orlando’s spread attack to great success.

His aging post game may be a relic, but it’s one that deserves to be preserved. His chiseled physique may only last a few more years, but at its best, Dwight Howard’s game deserves to be remembered in the Hall of Fame forever.