It’s no secret that past Laker big men cast a large shadow. But when Dwight Howard came to L.A. hailed as the most dominant center in the league, he must have known expectations were all but set in stone and comparisons would soon follow.
One year later, those expectations have fallen well short and the general consensus has been that Howard is no Shaquille O’ Neal.
Yes, it may not be a fair comparison, as O’Neal was arguably the most unstoppable force the NBA has ever known.
And maybe those championship expectations were never all that realistic to begin with.
But this is professional basketball, it’s just the nature of the sport and the nature of it’s fans to live in that moment. Players will be compared, championships will be expected.
After all, when someone is paid millions of dollars to put a ball through a hoop, he’s expected to do so and do so consistently. And when an organization hands out the highest payroll in the league, that team is either expected to create it’s own tradition of winning or carry on those before it.
With this in mind, the Lakers recent embarrassment at home was a reflection of all the Lakers shortcomings this season. And many have been quick to point a finger at Howard, myself included.
So I decided dig a little deeper and take a close look at Howard’s first season as a Laker and how is stacks up against the man who’s footsteps he so closely follows.
Turns out it’s a hell of a lot closer than you might think.
Regular Season Stats (Bold indicates production advantage)
2012-13′ Dwight Howard: 17.1 PTS, 12.4 REB, 1.4 AST, 2.4 BLK, 1.1 STL, .578 FG%, .492 FT%, 3.8 PF, 3.0 TO, 76 GS
1996-97′ Shaquille O’Neal: 26.2 PTS, 12.5 REB, 3.1 AST, 2.9 BLK, 0.9 STL, .557 FG%, .484 FT%, 3.5 PF, 2.9 TO, 51 GS
Postseason Stats (↑↓ Indicates increase or decrease from regular season production)
Dwight Howard: 20.3 PTS ↑, 11.7 REB ↓, 1.0 AST ↓, 2.7 BLK ↑, 0.7 STL ↓, .600 FG% ↑, .481 FT% ↓, 5.0 PF ↓, 3.7 TO ↓, 3 GS* (likely first-round exit)
Shaquille O’Neal: 26.9 PTS ↑, 10.6 REB ↓, 3.2 AST ↑, 1.9 BLK ↓, 0.6 STL ↓, .514 FG% ↓, .610 FT% ↑, 3.8 PF ↓, 2.4 TO ↑, 9 GS (second-round exit)
You’ll notice a definitive trend in both players strengths and weaknesses, just as you would with any comparison. But namely that Shaq was offensive oriented and Howard defensive oriented. Which we already knew.
But if we stop splitting hairs and take both players production at face value, we see relatively balanced albeit different play.
For one, Shaq’s offensive numbers actually weren’t even all that impressive when you consider he averaged at least six more field goal attempts than Howard in both the regular and postseason.
Shaq also enjoyed a plush roster alongside a rookie Kobe Bryant with the likes of Eddie Jordan, Byron Scott, Nick Van Exel and Elden Campbell – a balanced combination of veteran leadership and youth.
And while a roster boasting a seasoned Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol might appear enticing on paper, there was a distinct lack of talent from top to bottom and one too many alpha dogs.
Not to mention, when you factor in the musical chairs at the head coaching position, the injuries and the constant media scrutiny, it was nothing short of a hardwood circus.
I’m not saying Howard is Shaq, because he’s not. And I doubt he – or anyone else for that matter – ever will be.
What I am saying, however, is that maybe Howard is getting a bad wrap. Because when you set aside expectations, examine the numbers and consider the circumstances, it’s hard not to see a bright future for the purple and gold with Howard at the helm.