Howard dreaming big this season

UMAR ALI, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 3:10 PM ET

TORONTO -- During an NBA offseason that has circled around the exploits of the Miami Heat, another South Florida team has gone forgotten.

Among experts, it's a two-team race when listing potential title contenders, and rarely does the Orlando Magic come to the forefront of the discussion. This, in spite of the fact the past two seasons the Magic have found themselves in the Eastern Conference Finals, including a trip to the NBA Finals.

Part of the reason the Magic have gone overlooked is their leader, Dwight Howard. For all the accolades the 24-year-old receives for his defense and rebounding, there is an equal amount of criticism on his offense -- or lack thereof.

In six years, the seven-footer has reached the 20 point per game plateau only twice, never surpassing it. With no low-post game to speak of, the Atlanta native has relied on his superior strength and athleticism to get by and around other big men, primarily for dunks, throughout his career.

The inability to stretch the defense or operate on the low-post with the efficiency of a Pau Gasol or Tim Duncan, has garnered the two-time Defensive Player of the Year much skepticism on whether he is a franchise player capable of carrying a team on his own.

However, in response to the critics, Howard sought help this offseason to improve his post play and to remind everyone there's another team in Florida. If anyone could relate to the Magic center it would be the man known simply as, 'The Dream.'

Recently it was reported the four-time NBA All-Star was receiving tutelage from the former great, Hakeem Olajuwon.

Who better to show Howard the delicate intricacies of posting up and using his physical gifts to complement the guile needed to be a dominant NBA big man than the Hall of Fame center?

Upon entering the league in 1984, the No. 1 overall pick Olajuwon was highly regarded for his unique combination of speed, strength and agility. Making a name for himself on the defensive end, the 12-time NBA All-Star would retire the league's all-time leader in blocked shots.

Yet it took a number of years before the former University of Houston star would realize his potential.

During the first eight years of his career, the Nigerian-native would average 22.78 points per game, Though the numbers aren't underwhelming, it should be known that early in his career the majority of the seven-footer's points came within five feet of the net -- usually by way of dunks.

Much like Howard, Olajuwon relied heavily on his superior strength and speed to score on opposing big men, but it would be the second half of his career that would place the former soccer goaltender amongst the all-time greats.

From 1992-to-1996 there arguably wasn't a big man better than the quiet Nigerian, averaging over 26 points per game in that four-year stretch.

In the two-year absence of Michael Jordan, no player distinguished himself as the best player on the planet better than number 34, as he carried the Rockets to back-to-back titles. Also, in 1994 he became the only player in history to capture the Defensive Player of the Year, MVP and Finals MVP in the same season -- a feat yet to be matched.

The late emergence wasn't an aberration but the result of hard work finally coming to fruition.

As the two-time Defensive Player of the Year's elite athletic ability began to dissipate, his offensive repertoire began to expand. Learning the art of playing with his back to the basket, Olajuwon would develop one of the most effective moves in NBA history -- the 'dream shake.'

If you played him loose, he faked one way, turned the other and hit a deadly fade away jump shot. Play him tight and he'd spin like lightning towards the basket for a dunk or jump hook. And when you thought you played him as well as humanly possible, he'd pull a counter move that would leave a defender at his mercy; a puppet on a string.

It took nearly nine years for Olajuwon to reach the level so many remember him for.

This, writing off Howard so soon would be foolish. He has already established himself as one of the greatest rebounders/defenders the NBA has ever seen. The only player to lead the league in total rebounds for five consecutive seasons, he also became the first player to lead the league in rebounding and blocks in consecutive seasons, and was also the first player to ever lead the league in rebounding, blocks, and field goal percentage in the same season.

Dominating the defensive end has characterized the first half of D12's career while the next stanza will be defined by how he expands his offensive game.This summer, the names LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant have dominated the discussion of who the best player in the NBA is, but if Howard takes heed of the lessons given by the Hall of Famer Olajuwon, he too may be mentioned amongst the elite.

For the time being, he can always dream.


Videos

Photos