Kevin Durant has very quickly established himself as the darling of the league. Loved by all, admired by mothers and fathers, idolised by children, iconised by anyone that has any interest in basketball and to be fair, he deserves all of it.
During the playoffs, Durant would constantly head out into the stands even an hour before game time to sign autographs and be in photos with fans. Whether this was a way he allowed himself to take his mind off the game or whether it was a true act of selflessness is unknown and really irrelevant, there is good reason why he is the most loved player in the league right now.
On the very opposite end of the scale is Dwight Howard. A man once in Durant’s current position, Howard managed to completely flip the scale within 12 months by requesting trades, changing his mind, pushing negotiations into the public, making mind numbingly arrogant comment after mind numbingly arrogant comment, skipping children’s basketball camps and then, upon achieving his delayed departure out of Orlando, he continued to make it all about him and didn’t even mention the new team or it’s legendary roster.
But what I do here, or at least try to do, is separate emotion from reality. What good is there in commentating on sport and lacking perspective? To me it defeats the purpose of journalism to it’s very core.
That is why I would pick Dwight Howard over Kevin Durant.
Let’s say something horrid happened with the collective bargaining agreement, contracts were torn up and every player in the league was thrown into a big pool. For those who play video games you’ll know this is called a Fantasy Draft.
I think that after what has happened over the past couple of months, even his greatest detester would admit LeBron James would be the consensus no.1 pick in the draft. It all gets tricky from there.
You’d have a real headache sitting at no.2. Depending on the coach, the franchise and the team’s philosophy, there’s at least a handful of ways you could go. Subjectivity is obviously a huge influence. Chris Paul would definitely be considered, perhaps even Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo. Dwyane Wade may be an option, although he is getting up there in age and has struggled with injuries. Ageing legends like Kobe, Dirk, Duncan, Pierce and a few others would fall later down because there wouldn’t be any point taking a player past their prime to build your franchise around. Kevin Durant would be be the strongest alternative, but to me it’s fairly clear who you would take with the second pick and I promise you that the vast majority of GMs would do the same.
Dwight Howard took a team to the Finals on his own. The best teammate Dwight Howard has ever had is Hedo Turkoglu, a player who had one good year, took a huge deal in Toronto and is now known more for his horrible contract than what he does on the court.
Not only did Howard take a pretty talentless team to the Finals, but in the process he knocked off LeBron James AND the Boston Celtics, who had been to the Finals the previous two years.
He is the most unguardable player in the league. No one has a presence like him. At 6’11, he is obviously not the tallest, and at 270lbs, he is obviously not the heaviest. But his athleticism is mind blowing, and to have it at that position is incomparable. Whilst he has failed to truly sculpt his offensive game into something similar to what we have seen from the game’s greatest centers, he still has the ability to put up astronomical offensive numbers, and draws more fouls than anyone in the game.
At the very least he is the second best defensive player in the league. He is one of the great defenders of the modern era. Three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards had never been done before him, and at 26 years of age, he is second all time to just Ben Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo in this category.
Say what you will about the person, and I am right there with you. I didn’t like him as a person before this ridiculousness, and well, it needs not to be said what I think of him now, but that doesn’t change the fact he is a truly great player.
The NBA is changing. Because the league is starved of true and effective centres, the game is quickly becoming more about guard and wing play than it traditionally was. The Miami Heat just won the NBA Championship without anything close to a center, instead relying on Bosh to play at the five and even then he spent most of his time hovering 8-20ft from the basket.
But that does not impact the value of a great big man. The Lakers know this better than anyone. Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal. These Hall of Fame centers all carried Los Angeles to greatness. Whilst the comparisons are unfair, mostly because the aforementioned are offensive juggernauts and Dwight Howard gets 20 points per game on put-back dunks, they are a great franchise and they understand what leads you to success.
So whilst Kevin Durant may be one of the 2 or 3 best players in the game right now, the old sayings still ring true, you can’t teach size and you certainly can’t build a presence.