|A True MVP|
|Written by Mark Grey|
by MARK GREY
As the NBA regular season begins to wind down, the MVP award has all but been delivered to Chicago with Derrick Rose’s name on it. Sure there are a few witnesses still out there pushing for LeBron, but with less than a week to go, the award is Rose’s to lose. While the winner of the award is normally pretty clear to most, the definition of a players value is anything but clear. There's no denying that Rose is having a break out year while leading the Bulls to the top of the Eastern Conference, and LeBron is putting up the same eye popping numbers he does every year, but there is one man whose value to his team trumps both of them. When it comes to measuring which player means the most to his team, no player is more valuable than Dwight Howard.
Before every fan in Miami and Chicago (and the ones who only think what ESPN tells them to think) clicks that small “x” in the upper right corner, lets take a look at what the award is truly about. Let me start by saying I am not making an argument for Howard as the best player in the NBA, just simply the most valuable to his team. Is LeBron putting up great numbers down in South Beach? Of Course he is. Does Rose have the Bulls, a team most experts picked to finish no better than 4th in the East, atop his conference? Yes. But there is no team that asks for more from their superstar than Howard.
Howard's numbers alone (23+ points a night, 14 boards and 2.5 blocks) should be enough to garner a few MVP votes, but to truly see his value, one needs to simply watch a Magic game. While it's easy to
Despite the lack of much help from another power player in the post, the Magic’s plus three rebound differential ranks second in the NBA. On a team full of shooters not known for their defense, Howard isn’t just the anchor, he is the hook, the line, and the entire boat. To say that many of the Magic’s players are offensive minded is a nice way of saying they play no defense - in fact, several of them (Hedo, Gilbert Arenas, and J. J. Reddick) are known to be poor defenders. Anyone who knows basketball can tell you the best way to hide a weak defender is to put a great shot blocker behind them, and Howard is the best friend a defender could ever ask for.
Howard, who will likely be named the Defensive Player of the Year for the third year in a row this season, (a feat never accomplished in the history of the award) is the best eraser in basketball. Sure his shot blocking numbers speak for themself, but the fact that the Magic’s opponents 43 percent shooting average is a tie for first in the NBA says even more.
Howard's effect on the defensive end goes much deeper than numbers. With Howard protecting the basket, the Magic are able to allow their less than stellar perimeter defenders to funnel their man to the paint where Howard can block, alter, or completely prevent the shot from even being taking. There is no player in the NBA who means more to their teams defensive plan then Howard.
If there is one weakness in Howard's game, it is his offensive. While many (myself included) have been very hard on Howard’s offensive development over the years, 23 points a game is not a bad offensive problem to have. Could Howard use some more post moves? Yes. Could he stand to raise his free throw percentage about 10 percent? Yes. And yes at times his footwork can be flat out painful to watch, but with all that being said, the Magic’s offense still runs through Howard. The Magic have put together a team full of slashers and streaky three point shooters who look for Howard to free them up. No team in the NBA depends on their star player for offensive output than the Magic. As silly as it sounds, its true. Once again, while Howard's 23 point a night average shows how important he is to the offense, it’s the fact that the next highest scorer on the team drops in under 14 points a night that shows his true value. The more than nine point gap between the Magic’s first and second scoring options is the largest in the league. On a team full of perimeter scorers who shoot in the mid 40 percent range, Howard's league leading 60 percent is key to the offense’s success. Throw in 4 offensive rebounds a night and some of the hardest screens to get around in the NBA (of which Jameer Nelson makes a living off) and its clear to see that Howard means as much to his offense as any player in the NBA.
So am I saying Howard is the best player in the league now? No not at all, but he does use those massive shoulders of his to carry more responsibility than any other player in the league. Are LeBron's
Every night the Magic look for Howard to dominate the game on both ends of the floor, a burden no other superstar in the league has to carry. True value comes from how rare an item is and in today's NBA there is nothing more rare than a good center. Although no one will be mistaking Howard’s offensive game for Hakeem Olajuwon's any time soon, it's time people start accepting him for who he is, the most valuable player in the league.