By: Bill Ingram
Last week Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, commonly known as Superman after he wowed the All-Star crowd in New Orleans with his high-flying slam dunk routine, recorded his first career triple-double. Playing against the front court challenged Oklahoma City Thunder, Howard thundered down 30 points, 19 rebounds, and 10 blocks in a 109-92 Magic win.
After the game Thunder head coach PJ Carlesimo couldn't help himself. The man who was an assistant under Gregg Popovich watching Tim Duncan win championships called Howard the best big man in the NBA, one of the best players on the planet, and even suggested that he might be the best big man ever.
"That's high praise, but he certainly has the ability to be one of the best ever," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy told HOOPSWORLD. "That's a goal that he's working toward and we've told him since we walked in on day one that the standard we want to hold him to is to be the best player in the league. That's obviously a very high standard and we can always find things wrong to make him get better, but Dwight's attitude, particularly this year, has been that he wants to get better and wants to reach that level and wants to be pushed on the things that he's not doing well. He's off to a great start. I'm sure there will be challenges ahead, people will play him a lot of different ways, but he's maturing and he has more poise this season."
"I guess you could say he's actually Superman out there," adds Rashard Lewis, who grew up in Houston idolizing Hakeem Olajuwon. "He gave a tremendous effort out on the defensive end that game. He was crawling up the paint getting blocks. I think he had seventy or eighty percent of the blocked shots before half time. Obviously, rebounding the ball well and scoring with the ball well, there was nothing out there that he didn't do. He literally carried us to that win. That's why we had such a big lead early; they just couldn't get any points in the paint. They aren't a very good jump shooting team and they couldn't get a layup because Dwight was there to contest their shot."
"He's one of those guys who just wants to be the best," says Magic set-up man Jameer Nelson. "It's one thing to say you want to be the best and something else to actually try to be the best. He's trying to be the best. He's working at it and continuing to get better every year and every game so he can put his team in a position to win the championship."
As much as Dwight's big game against the Thunder inspires awe and wonder, it's not the Dwight Howard we see night in and night out. He may be dominant on some nights, but until he learns to dominate every night he can't truly join the elite names like Olajuwon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time list. There are still some areas where "Superman" needs to improve, though Van Gundy likes the fact that he is now becoming immune to the most lethal form of Kryptonite: turnovers.
"He's basically been a guy who, over the course of his career, has basically turned the ball over every ten or eleven minutes," says Van Gundy. 'As he gets better in that area, obviously, it makes us a more efficient team. It makes it easier for us to go to him throughout the game and he can get more done."
Howard is averaging a career-low 2.4 turnovers per contest, and in nine games in November he's had more than two only once. Hedo Turkoglu also has first-hand knowledge of Tim Duncan, and points out another area where Howard has to improve.
"He's going to be one of the best ever, but he has to work on the things that will really push him to the next level. He's still young, and all he wants to do is just dunk every ball he gets. That's his aggressiveness, his adrenalin, but when you look at how other big men became great players, they all have in-between games. When he starts making those 15', 17' jumpers off the glass then he's going to be unstoppable. Even now he's putting up some monster numbers, so all he has to do is work on his stuff and I think he's going to be like PJ said."
With a few tweaks, though, Lewis feels like his post man has a chance to have a very special and Hall of Fame worthy career.
"He has a chance to be one of the best big men of all time. Obviously, to me, he is the best center in the NBA right now. He's going to be on the top five list once his career is over. He is going to be a Hall of Famer and he is going to win a couple of championships. I think he does have a chance to be one of the best big men if not the best big man. He has a lot of work to do to catch Hakeem and a lot of other guys but at the same he has a tremendous amount of talent and he is so athletic. He can move his feet and can move his left and right hand and has a number of things he can do. He's still pretty young, developing his game, and has a long way to go in this league."
As for Dwight himself, he's never one to take things too seriously. He appreciates the attention, but at the end of the day he's going out and having fun.
"Thank God I finally got a triple-double," says Howard. "One of the toughest things to do in the league is to get a triple-double and it was amazing. I had a lot of fun! . . . It's an honor for (PJ) to say that. I had the opportunity to be coached by him in the All-Star game, so: Thanks, PJ, you're the best!"
Dwight Howard is already the best center in the NBA, and with a little more hard work he just might become the player PJ Carlesimo predicts he will be.