The Basketball Jones 40: What does that mean exactly? Well, it’s a little hard to define. It’s certainly not a list of the 40 best players in the league right now — in fact, a couple players on the TBJ 40 would be ones that teams would gladly pay just to go away (and some have). And it’s not a list of our 40 favorite players, either — the combined man-hours that some of us have spent rooting against a couple of these guys would certainly disqualify that as well. It’s not even the 40 funniest or most interesting players, as a couple players are dull as dishwater off the court, but do enough on the hardwood to make their inclusion undeniable.
No, the best way we can define the Basketball Jones 40 is as the 40 players that are most important to our site right now. The players we write about the most, the players we follow the closest, the players that TBJ could least afford to be without. And what goes into that is an entire series of factors, ranging from their on-court success to their off-court headline making to their general likability as athletes, celebrities and human beings.
Hit the jump for No. 5 on our list …
The gentle giant and perhaps the last great center of the post-Shaq NBA, Dwight Howard’s potential for greatness is easily as formidable as anyone else’s in the league. A physically dominant presence on both sides of the court, only a general lack of refinement on offense—perhaps as well as a subpar Orlando supporting cast—is keeping Dwight from being a perennial MVP, though some argued he was worthy of the hardware last year. All eyes will be on Dwight in the next off-season to see if he fulfills what seems to be his league destiny—to follow in the path of Wilt, Kareem and of course, Shaquille, and take his talents to Los Angeles, where a championship ring, combined his already considerable off-court charisma, could very easily result in him becoming the league’s biggest star of the 2010s.
2011 Season: Personally, Dwight had perhaps the best season of his career, averaging an incredible 23 and 14 and winning his third straight Defensive Player of the Year award, inspiring some MVP chatter towards the end of the season. Unfortunately for Howard, his team went in the other direction, as they made a couple swing-for-the-fences trades that each ended disastrously, saddling the team with a couple contracts that all but unsure the team’s inability to improve in Dwight’s final year under team control, and trading away his only serviceable backup in the process. Despite Dwight’s averaging a 27 and 16 (on 63% shooting!), the Magic were eliminated in their first-round series against the Hawks, resulting in a whole lot of tightened collars around the Orlando area. (18/20)
Career/Legacy: You certainly couldn’t say that Dwight’s been in any way a disappointment since being taken with the #1 pick of the 2004 draft, racking up five All-Star appearances, four First-Team All-NBAs, three Defensive Player of the Year awards, and a finals appearance against the Lakers in 2009 that, were Jameer Nelson healthy, could’ve gotten D-12 his first-ever ring. Still, without that last piece of hardware, Dwight will be forever unable to insert his name in the conversation of the all-time greatest big men, with whom he probably should eventually be discussed. Getting out of Orlando could be a good start. (9/10)
Drama/Controversy: Ask us again in nine months. Howard’s had some of your typical on-court drama—techs, altercations, other occasional hot-headedness that typically comes with being the most fouled player in the league—but the real drama will come on July 1st, 2011, when he has the chance to become to Orlando what LeBron is to Cleveland (with perhaps a tad bit more understanding, thanks to Gilbert Arenas and Hedo Turkoglu). We wait with baited breath. (7/10)
On-Court Move: This one’s been a little slow-coming for Dwight, as he continues to develop his offensive game, but still lacks that bread-and-butter move to make him truly unstoppable. He’s working on the Tim Duncan banker, and he’s got a shake-and-bake move that has faint echoes of his time spent with Hakeem, but right now, the official Dwight Howard move is still the “I’m going to dunk the ball and I’d like to see you try to stop me, please.” Works, but only in certain situations. (6/10)
Highlight Play: Maybe this one continues to stand out to me due to my being a Sixers fan, but I had to watch Dwight’s immolation of Jrue Holiday at least three times before watching the rest of the game: (10/10)
Comedic Potential: Shaq’s successor in more ways than one, Dwight is maybe the only player in the league you could see in a ’00s starring vehicle as a superhero or magical genie. His commercials tend to be above-average, his press conferences are usually worth watching (if he wins, anyway) and his vocal imitations of coach Stan Van Gundy are well worth a YouTube
Nicknames: “Superman” could be one of the league’s definitive, if that other guy hadn’t already laid claim to it a decade earlier. Still, between that and D-12, Dwight won’t ever lack for options once he inevitably starts referring to himself in the third person. (7/10)
Definitive Quote: “As I was in the air, I was talking to him. ‘You’re getting dunked on.’ He wanted to get on a poster with me…like momma says, if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, bad things happen.” (8/10)
Non-Hoops Ventures: The commercials are a good start (though stop hanging out with that D-Wade, Dwight—he’s a bad influence), and a cameo in Just Wright proved that he has what it takes to take that next step in terms of off-court celebrity. A couple TV cameos (was he really never on Entourage?) and a natural segue to a film career, and D-12 should have a 5 in this category in no time. (3/5)
Poignant NBA Relationship: Jameer Nelson? Drafted by the Magic the same year as Dwight, they’ve been teammates since, and Jameer has played his point man on and off the court. He won’t be enough by his lonesome to keep Howard in Orlando, but his presence could be one of the few legitimate reasons he might consider staying. (3/5)
TOTAL SCORE: 80/100