Yesterday evening, I took to Twitter and wrote the following comment regarding Dwight Howard and a certain popular ESPN columnist whose initials are B.S.:
Folks, it's not news that Bill Simmons is astoundingly wrong about Dwight Howard.
That passive-aggressive tweet is in reference to Simmons' latest column for the four-letter network in which he ranks NBA teams. He uses his section on the Orlando Magic to explain why he thinks Howard is holding back, and is therefore holding the Magic back.
And so here I am, at 7 AM, on no sleep, pounding this column away on the keyboard less than 12 hours removed from saying Simmons being wrong about Howard isn't newsworthy. Because I can't help myself and there's nobody awake to help me.
I hate blockquoting more than three sentences from any piece, though I'll sometimes use four or five if necessary. Please understand that Simmons' argument spans several paragraphs, but because I wouldn't want another writer just copy/pasting my work into a blog post, I'm not going to do that here. Or ever. Again, the following is only a part of his argument, and I don't claim it to stand for the whole. At any rate:
You're telling me Howard's 23.1 points, 14.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 26.1 PER is the best he can do? No way.
Well, yeah, he can do better. My issue is that Simmons can too.
(Maybe the Sports Guy is just paying Howard a backhanded compliment of sorts. He acknowledges Howard is already brilliant, but contends he can do better. I don't think that's sufficient enough to insulate Simmons from criticism).
The Magic have not met expectations this season. They run the risk of finishing with their worst record of the Stan Van Gundy era; the Magic went 52-30 and won the Southeast Division in Van Gundy's first season with the team, a campaign which began with some prognosticators writing the Magic wouldn't qualify for the playoffs. Howard is having an MVP-caliber season, for a number of reasons I've outlined elsewhere on this site. To conclude that Howard is the thing standing between this team and greatness, or whatever it is that Simmons is getting at, is irresponsible. Let me explain.
The usual caveats about Simmons apply here. Usually, when someone on these here internets writes a piece in response to Simmons--a piece which takes him seriously--a reader or two will advise the author that Simmons is an entertainer, and not an analyst.
And yeah, I get that. He's not an analyst; he just plays one in his columns, on his podcasts, and occasionally on the TV. I get that. The thing is, I mean, have you any idea of this man's influence? He has nearly three million followers on Twitter, and only a fraction of internet users use the Twitter machine. Who the Hell knows how many people see his columns? When he talks, people listen. If you're wondering why some people who purport to know, understand, and enjoy the NBA game still aren't "sold" on Howard, you can look to writers like Simmons.
Simmons later contends that Howard, as the team's best player, has a responsibility to lead it. "Doesn't it bother you that Serge Ibaka plays harder than Howard every night?" Simmons asks, as if a) one could prove that factually and b) it mattered.
It's true that Howard hurts the Magic sometimes. His leading the league in technical fouls is hard for anyone to overlook. The resulting suspensions even moreso. But if the worst you can say about a guy is he occasionally costs your team a point--and we're talking 18 times in a 79-game season so far, assuming the other team made the ensuing free throw--then is that guy really a problem? Not in reality, no. Perhaps elsewhere
Howard won't be able to play Sunday against the Chicago Bulls due to a one-game suspension for receiving his 18th technical foul. Assuming the Magic elect to play him his average number of minutes (37.8) in the team's final two games of the regular season, he'll have logged 2950 minutes total. That's 61.5 full games' worth of the best defense on the planet, to say nothing of his rapidly improving offense that ought to rank among the league's best individually, and certainly the best at his scarce position of center.
Let's imagine Simmons is right for a second. Let's say Howard really doesn't care as much as he should right now. Now let's try picturing a world in which Howard truly busts his behind every night.
In that world, does Hedo Turkoglu shoot his free throws better than 65.2 percent?
In that world, are the Magic suddenly a more creative and active offensive club less prone to long bouts of stagnancy and sloppiness?
In that world, does anyone on the team rank above-average in cutting off dribble penetration?
In that world, do the Magic have anyone on the roster capable of breaking a defense down off the dribble?
Those are just a few of the problems I see on this Orlando team. They don't go away if Howard tries harder, even assuming that he doesn't try hard enough already. Howard giving even more of a damn will not free cap space to sign a top-dollar free agent, or make Jason Richardson a lock-down defender, or help Quentin Richardson find his shooting stroke.
I don't want to give the impression that Howard's the perfect player or perfect teammate. Nobody in this league, not even its most dominant post presence since the days when Shaquille O'Neal mattered, is beyond reproach.
I don't like that Howard picks up needless fouls for shoving some poor schmoe whom he's already backed well under the basket. It rankles me at times when Howard swoops in to take a defensive board from a teammate and, when unsuccessful in doing so, glare at him. For all the brilliant strides he's made at the offensive end, he could still be even better; he's markedly less effective in the post when opponents take away his moves to the baseline, and the Synergy Sports data bear that out. Send him middle, folks, and he's not nearly as lethal. Blocking shots out of bounds? I can live with that, I guess.
I mean, if you're going to harp on a guy for wanting to make the highlight play with some spectacular blocks--even if those blocks sail out of bounds, ensuring the opponent maintains possession--then you've got to acknowledge the great things that guy does on defense, too. And I'd wager Howard has shut down at least ten times as many pick-and-rolls virtually by himself than he's blocked shots out-of-bounds this year.
Point? At worst, Howard is the second-best player in the league, depending on how you feel about LeBron James. He has room to improve, but that's where he is right now, which is well beyond good enough.
I'm wearing myself out here, which is why I'm through. Finished, in more ways than one. If Bill Simmons, or you, or your Aunt Susan wants to argue Howard is holding Orlando back, whatever. It's his problem, your problem, Aunt Susan's problem.
It sure as Hell won't be my problem anymore.