COMMENTARY | Dwight Howard holds one of the most impressive resumes of any active big man in the NBA. He boasts seven NBA All-Star game appearances, three Defensive Player of the Year Awards, and even a dunk contest title.
On the other hand, Marc Gasol has made only one appearance in an NBA All-Star game, he has only one Defensive Player of the Year Award, and he lacks Howard's amazing athleticism. But he still may challenge him for the title of the greatest big man in basketball today.
When considering the comparison of these two elite centers, there are three key elements that a fan must look at:
Play-making ability. Dwight Howard may be one of the greatest scoring centers in the NBA. His size and athleticism make containing him an uphill battle for any defensive assignment. Though Howard lacks one key characteristic that makes Marc Gasol superior: The ability to incorporate his teammates into his offensive game. During the 2012/2013 NBA season, Gasol averaged nearly three times the number of assists per game than Dwight Howard. While Howard's style may be more effective for personal statistics and highlight reels, Gasol's mix of reliable scoring intertwined with superior play-making abilities make him a more versatile offensive threat for his respective team.
Free-throw shooting. When it comes to shooting at the charity stripe, there truly is no comparison between these two great centers. It is no secret among NBA fans that free-throw shooting is the Achilles heel of Dwight Howard's game. Even after nearly a decade as a professional basketball player, Howard averaged a disgraceful 49% from the free-throw line during the 2012/2013 season. This is in stark contrast to Gasol who, during the same season, averaged about 84%. Free throws can very often become the determining factor in any given game. Marc Gasol's ability to consistently deliver from the free-throw line is an invaluable quality that is blatantly absent from Howard's game.
Defensive versatility. It wouldn't be fair to discount Dwight Howard's defensive capabilities. He is, after all, a three-time winner of the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year Award and arguably the best shot-blocker in the league. However, he tends to lack a certain level of diversity within his defensive game.
While Marc Gasol may average fewer blocks per game than Howard, it tends to be his defensive qualities that don't appear in the box score that are most valuable for his team. Gasol often takes a more proactive approach to his defensive strategy compared to Howard's reactionary course. Howard is able to block shots due to his athletic ability and timing, but Gasol is able to disrupt the opponent's offense merely by his positioning. While Howard is nearly constantly glued to paint waiting for a shot to block, Gasol roams the defensive court, closing out on perimeter shooters, restricting driving lanes, and timing effective double-teams. These qualities prove more valuable to team's defensive production overall compared to a more one-dimensional defensive output found with Howard.
When comparing two elite players such as Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard, it is difficult to definitely declare one superior to the other. While Howard may be the better on a surface-level analysis, Gasol holds qualities that, in many regards, increase the efficiency of his teammates. These abilities may seem subtle compared to high-flying dunks and highlight-reel blocks, but at least Marc Gasol can hit a free throw.
Nicholas Naveiras is a lifelong Memphian, college student, and diehard Memphis Grizzlies follower. He has followed the franchise's on- and off-court progress since 2001.
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