Greatness awaits Howard, but is he ready?

Andrew Bynum tries to block Dwight Howard_s shotAs the Orlando Magic continue to fight for their playoffs lives against a suddenly rejuvenated veteran Boston Celtics squad, a seemingly simple question keeps emerging.

Is Dwight Howard a legitimate superstar?

Of course the answer is yes if you were only basing your answer on Howard’s career achievements up to this point before turning 25. Howard has been selected to four consecutive All-Star appearances, won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards, an Olympic gold medal and three straight rebounding titles and first team All-NBA nods.

The early resume is shaping up to form a solid foundation for a future Hall of Fame candidacy. But you must keep in perspective what Howard is at this point — a very dangerous and potentially dominant force that is still incomplete as a player and unworthy of the megastar label.

A true superstar isn’t a liability on one end of the court.

Howard is the only dominant center in a league filled with 7′ footers that prefer three-point marksmanship over banging for positioning in the paint.

From a historical perspective it’s going to be tough to truly judge Howard because he doesn’t have to go through a murderer’s row of elite big men on a nightly basis like the top guys from the 90s. There are no Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal (prime) or Alonzo Mourning‘s clogging the lane on his nightly schedule. Heck, there aren’t even that many Rik Smits (a very solid contributor in the 90s) type of talents roaming the inside in today’s NBA.

So while it’s easy to say that Howard is the best center in the game today, the moniker holds less meaning than it would if you were bestowing that honor back in the mid 90s.

There is a distinct difference from dominating the Nazr Mohammed‘s and Al Horford‘s of the world than bringing it every night against a plethora of Hall of Fame caliber players.

But I also realize that it’s not fair to criticize Howard for his birth date. You can’t control what era you’re born into

His current plight reminds me of former heavyweight champion of the world Larry Holmes.

Holmes ruled the heavyweight division in the late 70s and early 80s or as most boxing enthusiasts refer to as the post Muhammed Ali era. He didn’t have to battle George Foreman or Joe Frazier. He fought shopworn Ken Norton and Ernie Shavers.

Yet, you still can’t discredit Holmes because he cleaned out the division and performed at a high level. I do believe Holmes was good enough to handle his murderer’s row admirably and although he would’ve lost a few more bouts, I believe he still would’ve went down in the books as an all-time great — just without the level of dominance he pulled off during his run.

I believe Howard would’ve emerged the same way if he played in the 90s. But likely without all of the shiny trophies he’s gained thus far before hitting the quarter century mark.

My point is that Howard is on the unstoppable path to being called an all-time great, but he needs to develop more. The days of allowing Kendrick Perkins to guard him one on one without help during clutch time must stop. The constant relying on a predictable spinning sky hook must cease. The 67 percent free throw shooter during his rookie season must come back from vacation.

Howard must start consistently shredding the Big Baby Davis and Perkins combos of the league. I clearly remember the Davis boys (Antonio and Dale) in Indiana and the bruise squad in New York (Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason) and shudder to think what type of havoc those crews would cause on a young gunner like Howard back then.

I am a fan of the big fella and want to see him develop that 15 foot jumper off screens instead of predictably rolling to the rim for dunks. There’s no reason why a force everyone considers so dominant shot the rock only 10 times per contest this year. I mean Zach Randolph managed to chuck up 17 per night.

Something is clearly wrong with that picture.

Lang Greene is the former editor of Hoops Vine and currently covers the Atlanta Hawks for Follow him on Twitter at @HearMeHawkin