So Where Does Howard Compare With the Laker Greats?

 

August 27, 2012

By Eric Palutsis

 

Now that the dust has settled in Los Angeles after the Dwight Howard blockbuster, the time has come to look at where the Lakers’ newest big man stacks up against other famous Lakers to man the middle. Ever since the franchise moved from Minnesota to the bright lights of LA, the Lakers have been known for suiting up some of the top centers in NBA history. Names like Chamberlain, Kareem, and Shaq all come to mind when considering the best big men in Laker franchise history. But where will Howard fit into this legendary puzzle?

 

In order to answer such a question, one must compare Howard’s career stats with those of his famous predecessors, even including Andrew Bynum for thoroughness’s sake.  The numbers paint a surprisingly clear picture:

 

 

Stats are per game

WS

WS/48

PTS

AST

RBD

BLK

STL

FGA

FG%

FTA

Wilt Chamberlain

247.3

0.248

30.1

4.4

22.9

-

-

22.5

0.540

11.4

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

273.4

0.228

24.6

3.6

11.2

2.6

0.9

18.1

0.559

6.0

Shaquille O'Neal

181.7

0.208

23.7

2.5

10.9

2.3

0.6

16.1

0.582

9.3

Andrew Bynum

37.0

0.174

11.7

1.2

7.8

1.6

0.3

8.2

0.566

3.5

Dwight Howard

87.5

0.187

18.4

1.5

13.0

2.2

1.0

11.3

0.577

9.2

 

 

The career, per game stats prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Wilt Chamberlain is the most dominant of all the Lakers great centers. He led all five players by wide margins in all major categories, including points, rebounds, assists, and even free throws per game. Where does Howard compare with those numbers? To date, Howard’s career numbers are barely half of Chamberlain’s, even in total rebounds per game, which is supposed to be Howard’s forte. When taking a look at how valuable both players were, Chamberlain contributed a much higher win share per 48 minutes (WS/48). While a difference of 0.06 wins contributed per 48 minutes may not seem like a significant amount, if Howard’s average WS/48 was extended over six more seasons (to match Chamberlain’s 14 years in the NBA) his cumulative win shares would be a mere 179.5, far below Wilt’s 247.3 win shares. Unfortunately for Howard, the NBA did not track any defensive statistics while Wilt was still playing so it is impossible to compare their defensive prowess (another one of Howard’s supposed strengths).

 

Since both Chamberlain and also Kareem Abdul-Jabbar seem to have statistics that far outshine Howard’s, a more fair comparison may be to take a closer look at how Superman matches up against Shaquille O’Neal. Both players seem to have much more similar statistics, with Shaq holding an edge in points and assists and Howard proving more effective on the glass. The two are virtually even when it comes to blocks, free throw attempts, and field goal percentage, and even win shares when considering the earlier prediction for Howard’s career WS production (179.5).

 

 

Taking a look at both Shaq and Dwight’s best seasons (based on win share) gives us a deeper look at the comparisons between the two:

 

 

YR

WS

PTS

AST

RBD

ORBD

DRBD

BLK

STL

FGA

FG%

FTA

FT%

Shaquille O'Neal

99-00

18.6

29.7

3.8

13.6

4.3

9.4

3.0

0.5

21.1

0.574

10.4

0.524

Dwight Howard

10-11

14.4

22.9

1.4

14.1

4.0

10.1

2.4

1.4

13.4

0.593

11.7

0.596

 

 

Shaq and the Lakers turn-of-the-millennium campaign saw him dominate the NBA on the way to capturing the MVP award leading the league in both points and win shares. His LA team won the NBA championship decisively, albeit with help from a rising superstar named Kobe Bryant. Comparatively, Howard’s career year was two years ago—his last complete, healthy season—when his Magic were bounced in the first round of the playoffs. Statistically, Shaq was in his prime, bettering Howard in win shares, points, assists, and even blocks per game. However, it is certainly conceivable that Shaq’s superior teammates and superstar teammate helped to boost his offensive stats. Furthermore, Shaq was in an offense that ran through him, as opposed to the Orlando offense that left Dwight in the middle surrounded by three-point shooters. Howard did hold an edge in rebounding, as well as being a better shooter from the field and at the line. He was also much more efficient than Shaq by using significantly less shots per game to get his points and getting to the charity stripe more often despite the famous hack-a-Shaq techniques.

 

So where does that leave Dwight Howard amongst the Laker greats to man the center position? At this point in his career he is still fourth on the list, behind Wilt, Kareem, and, yes, Shaq (sorry Bynum). This is not to say that he doesn’t still have time to move up this list in the future; unlike most of these players, Howard is going to LA in the prime of his career at the age of only 26 and may still have another decade of playing ahead of him. Another important note to keep in mind is that his career-best season is also his most recent full season, meaning there’s no reason that his numbers won’t continue to naturally improve, especially with a more talented supporting cast in Los Angeles. Only time will tell if he will ever be able to match Wilt the Stilt or even Kareem, but if the real measure of success is NBA championships then Howard still has a long way to go.