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Dwight Howard: MVP?

Since the day the Orlando Magic reshaped their roster with two trades, franchise center Dwight Howard has taken a tremendous step forward in establishing himself as a legitimate MVP candidate. In 34 games since those trades, Howard is averaging 24.5 points, 15.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.4 steals, and 2.1 blocked shots, on top of 60.9 percent shooting from the floor and a 62 percent mark from the free-throw line.

Prior to the trades? His numbers stood at 21.5 points, 12.1 boards, 1 assist, 1.1 steals, and 2.3 blocks. His shooting? 57.8 percent from the floor and 55.1 percent from the line. Because the trades robbed the Magic of Marcin Gortat, Howard's backup, he's playing more now than before. Three whole minutes more, in fact, which makes the fact that he's added three points and three rebounds to his per-game averages so impressive.

Were Howard to post those numbers over the course of a full season, he'd be in some elite company. Indeed, only Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Bob McAdoo have ever averaged at least 24 points, 15 rebounds, and 2 blocks in a season. They're all Hall-of-Famers.

Last week, I wrote the media and NBA fans still underrate Howard, especially offensively. Some of the numbers here appear to support that claim. Howard has never placed higher than fourth in MVP voting, but he's certain to fare better this season. Only LeBron James has a comparable MVP resume, but because of the unpopular way he handled himself in free agency, he may not have the media who vote on the award on his side.

The same narrative-based MVP voting that's sure to turn some voters away from James will turn them toward Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. He can't match Howard's defensive impact--nobody, apart from Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics, can hope to--but his team will surely top Howard's in the standings, and his supporting cast is less impressive than Howard's. He'll garner plenty of votes, though my own opinion is the Bulls' turnaround has more to do with the improvement coach Tom Thibodeau represents over Vinny Del Negro, his predecessor.

Regardless of whether or not Howard takes home the MVP award, it's clear that he's almost beyond reproach as a player. After this season, fewer people ought to take seriously the loud, benighted minority who continue to decry Howard's offensive game.