Nelson entered the NBA the same year as Howard and was teammates with him for eight years in Orlando. Howard established himself as one of the top players in the league, becoming a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and six-time All-Star with the Magic.
Certainly, Nelson saw firsthand how dominant Howard was.
The former All-Star appeared on the “Road Trippin'” podcast with Allie Clifton, Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson this week and discussed Howard and Wembanyama. He was asked if he’d choose Howard or Wembanyama at 19 years old.
Unsurprisingly, Nelson chose his former teammate.
I don’t like comparing eras but I can say this: I don’t understand how Dwight isn’t a top-75 player all time. When we were in Orlando together, he was arguably No. 1 or No. 2 in terms of face of the league for a couple of years. For us, as a team, we were always top 1-2 in the league and that was a big part because of him. … To me, this dude is special because of everything, not just the basketball part — how he recovered. He never missed practice. We would tell him to take practice off, he would never miss a practice.
Howard was viewed as one of the biggest snubs off of the NBA’s 75th-anniversary team announced in 2021. Others, including former Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy, have advocated for Howard to be on that list given all of his accomplishments in the NBA.
The ability to come into the league and perform at a high level immediately as a big man, like Howard did, is relatively difficult and will be something Wembanyama will face this season. He will draw plenty of attention on the court and will likely be targeted often.
Of course, Wembanyama has a different skill set than Howard, which is better suited for today’s game. He also has prior professional experience under his belt, which should help ensure that he has a smooth transition to the league.
Nelson is impressed with what Wembanyama brings to the NBA.
It is just crazy the fluidity that he has at 7-foot-4, 7-foot-5. The closest thing in terms of that we’ve seen is what, (Kevin Durant), that moves and is that tall and long? Obviously, he has some growing to do and knowing the ins and outs of the NBA game and the physicality; that’s going to be a question mark for him. But for the most part, the talent level is… I don’t know if we’ve seen a dude as close in terms of talent as him since LeBron (James).
The expectation level for Wembanyama is high this season as the Frenchman will look to help the Spurs take the next step in their rebuild. The collective basketball world is eager to see how he handles the transition and it should make for an exciting year.
The conversation between Howard and Wembanyama is a bit of a difficult comparison given they are playing in different eras with different skill sets but it is certainly still fun to talk about.