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Forget Superman; is Dwight Howard the Next Admiral?

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The induction of former San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend reminded me of his similarities to Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, at least superficially. We tend to regard both players highly for their character in addition to their incredible level of skill. And Robinson's chiseled frame, as 48 Minutes of Hell has pointed out, makes him a potential prototype for the musclebound Howard.

But is there more to the comparison? On the court, can Howard hold a candle to Robinson, arguably one of the most statistically dominant players of any era?

On the surface, it might be understandable to regard any hope of Howard's developing into a player of Robinson's caliber as too optimistic. Robinson, for instance, became an All-Star in his rookie season, during which his stellar play--to the tune of 24.3 points, 12 rebounds, 3.9 blocks, and 53.1% shooting--earned him the Rookie of the Year award. Howard, as a rookie? 12 points, 10 boards, 1.7 blocks, 52% shooting, and neither an All-Star appearance nor a Rookie of the Year award. You can see a side-by-side statistical comparison of their rookie seasons here.

But there's a key fact we've omitted, by design, in that last paragraph: age. Robinson first appeared in an NBA game at 24 years, 2 months, and 29 days old. Howard, in contrast, made his NBA debut at 18 years, 10 months, and 26 days. Robinson was more-or-less fully developed, whereas Howard was mere months beyond attending his senior prom. When this coming season tips off on October 28th, Dwight will be 23 years, 10 months, and 20 days old. Thus, at the start of his sixth season, Howard will be younger than Robinson was as a rookie. Age merits consideration in evaluating a given player's progress, which is why a spirited debate rages on regarding Nets forward Yi Jianlian, who is either 21 or 25, depending on whom you ask.

So, in order to better assess Howard's development relative to Robinson's, we should instead look at how he fared last season, at age 23, compared to Robinson's rookie year at age 24.

Per-36-minute Scoring and Rate Statistics for Dwight Howard and David Robinson at Age 24
Player Pts/36 Reb % Ast% TO% Blk% Usg % eFG% TS%
Howard 20.7 21.8% 7.3% 15.1% 5.9% 26.1% 57.2% 60.0%
Robinson 23.9 18.5% 8.7% 13.3% 6.5% 26.6% 53.1% 59.7%

Robinson holds the statistical edge overall, as a more proficient scorer, passer, and shot-blocker. But you'll notice that Howard's the better rebounder by far. In other words, Dwight isn't too far off from at least matching Robinson's pace at the same age. And even if he never develops Robinson's vast offensive repertoire, he'll still be every bit as staunch a defender, and an even better rebounder. In light of the evidence, it's fair to conclude that Robinson's career accomplishments are within Howard's reach.