Happy Birthday, Dwight Howard!

For the second consecutive year, Dwight Howard will spend his birthday in Los Angeles, hoping to lead the Orlando Magic to victory over the Clippers. He turns 24 today, which makes him younger than every NBA regular starting center save for Andris Biedrins, Andrew Bynum, Spencer Hawes, Al Horford, Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez, and Greg Oden.

I'm not sure what else to say, really. Anyone who's watched the Magic since the 2006/07 season--turnover-plagued, sure, but check his splits from February--knew he'd be more than a defense and rebounding specialist, as not a few people predicted was his ceiling. Needle his unrefined post game all you want. Berate him for smiling (?) on the court, or for complaining about whistles who don't go his way. But in no way can anyone argue with Howard's overall results. Even his slump during the first 9 games of this season, when he could not seem to avoid foul trouble, Howard was average at the very worst among NBA centers who average at least 30 minutes per game:

"Slumping" Dwight Howard, Average NBA Center (min. 30 MPG), and "Post-Slump" Dwight Howard, 2009/10 NBA Season
Player Pts Rebs Blks Fouls Mins FG%
Dwight Howard (slump) 18.1 10.6 1.4 4.1 31.1 64.7%
Avg. NBA Center 14.3 9.3 1.5 3.0 33.0 52.5%
Dwight Howard (post-slump) 17.8 13.4 2.1 3.7 33.7 64.4%
Howard statistics from Basketball-Reference.com; avg. center statistics from Hoopdata.com

So he brought the stats just about every night, even if his commitment to defense wasn't quite there until recently. That's how good he is just when he shows up and tries a little. Think of what he can do when he's really engaged.

Maybe that last paragraph comes off as harsh, and I don't mean to disparage Howard (especially not on his birthday). But it was obvious to anyone who watched the first 9 games of the season that Dwight wasn't all there. Now? He's more into it. For me, the biggest statistical indicator of that is his fouls-to-block ratio. In the slump, he averaged 2.8 fouls per blocked shot. In the games since, he's improved that figure to 1.8.

We've gone way off the rails in what was meant to be a simple happy birthday post, so I'll conclude here before I get too carried away. In any event, I hope we appreciate Howard's improving work on the court, as well as his efforts in the community.

Many happy returns, Dwight.

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