On the evening of Jan. 29, we'll get glimpse of the inaugural battle between two No. 1 overall picks, drafted eight years apart, when Dwight Howard's Los Angeles Lakers host Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Hornets.
Since Davis missed the first contest between the teams, a 103-87 Laker win, this will be our first chance to analyze what could become quite the matchup over the coming years. Despite the eight-year difference, these two will be intertwined for a long time to come. Which should raise the question: Who is the better franchise centerpiece?
The two were both taken first overall in the NBA draft, Howard in 2004 and Davis in 2012, representing two of the best defensive prospects the league has seen in quite some time. They both entered the league as massive defensive presences, with growing offensive games and a laundry list of expectations.
Howard is obviously more established as an asset. In eight-plus NBA seasons, he has led a team to the NBA Finals and is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. However, a messy divorce with his first home, Orlando, has left him on a struggling 19-25 Lakers team.
The Hornets' Davis is still in his rookie season, but does have a NCAA championship and Olympic gold medal on his short résumé. New Orleans will even be re-branding their franchise around him, as they make a change to be the New Orleans Pelicans following the conclusion of the 2012-13 season.
Despite the Hornets' 15-29 record, they are showing some real promise. With Davis out due to a couple minor injuries early on, New Orleans went 3-10. With their star rookie back in the lineup, they are now 8-6 in January.
The overall stats are clearly in favor of the veteran, as Howard is again averaging a double-double with 16.5 points and 12 rebounds per game. Those 12 boards technically lead the league with Anderson Varejao out for the year.
In 31 games, Davis is averaging 12.8 points and 7.8 rebounds, while playing just 28.9 minutes per game. Howard is seeing 34.9 minutes. The two both shoot well over 50 percent from the field and block similar shots given playing time adjustments.
Dwight Howard is also a seven-time All-Star with quite a resume of great seasons, at just 27 years old. The case for him to be your franchise centerpiece is pretty clear and obvious. Right now he is simply the superior player, which I'm sure will be shown in the Hornets-Lakers game on Jan. 29.
However, there is a very strong case to be made for everyone's favorite unibrowed big-man.
On the Game Show Network, there happens to be a television show called Baggage. It is hosted by one Jerry Springer, and in said show contestants decide who they want to date based on three suitcases full of "baggage." All contestants have three levels of baggage—small, medium and large—and must display them one by one, hoping to not be eliminated. You may have seen it detailed in a fun segment of HBO's Girls.
You see, the choice between Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis may just come down to baggage.
There is one aspect of Dwight Howard's game that just kills his credibility as an NBA superstar. The man cannot shoot free throws.
Howard is currently just 49.5 percent from the charity stripe, and hasn't breached 60 percent from the line since his rookie year. For a player getting to the line only three or four times a game, this wouldn't be an issue. However, Howard averages 9.4 attempts per game and was in double-digits in each of the five preceding seasons.
That means Howard is leaving four or five points on the table every night. Since the Lakers' point differential is just plus-1.4 on the season, that is a big deal. It also affects his late-game effectiveness. With seconds remaining and the team trailing by more than one, is Howard even an option to have on the floor?
He simply can't have the ball ball in his hands with the game on the line. If hacked, like is sure to happen, he misses 1-of-2 and you are at a severe disadvantage.
Despite the small sample size, Anthony Davis is shooting 71 percent from the line. Right now he is getting there only 3.4 times per game, but given that he was also a 71-percent shooter in 5.1 attempts in college, it is a safe assumption that he is pretty comfortable with the shot.
Davis gets an immediate advantage in late-game situations. With him at the line, you have a much better chance at coming away with two points. For a franchise player, clutch free-throw shooting is important.
Davis' small baggage is simply his youth. He will be just 19 for another month and a half and has largely proven nothing at the NBA level.
However, his numbers are roughly in line with a rookie Dwight Howard, who finished 2004-05 with Orlando posting 12 points and 10 rebounds per game. Davis also has that year of college that means an infinite amount to his early development. He had excellent coaching at Kentucky, under John Calipari, and gained invaluable experience as a member of Team USA this past summer.
Anthony Davis' medium baggage would have to be his slightly concerning injuries as a rookie.
With Team USA this summer he suffered an ankle injury. Granted it didn't turn out to be that bad, and he returned to the team following Blake Griffin's injury. Davis went on to win the gold medal with the team in London.
Then there was a mild concussion that occurred just two games into his NBA career. After an elbow from Austin Rivers caught him in the head, Davis missed two games recovering from a concussion.
Of course the big one was another ankle injury, happening just four games after returning from the concussion. This time Davis sat out 11 games recovering, giving him 13 total missed games this season. In that piece, the Times-Picayune of New Orleans compares the ankle issues to a young Grant Hill. That is not a great sign for a young player of Davis' potential.
On the contrary, Howard played the full-82 in each of his first four seasons. In 2008-09, a minor knee injury kept him out of two games in the middle of the season.
Currently speaking, it may be a different story. Howard missed 12 games last season for the Magic, as well as the entire playoff series against the Indiana Pacers. A bad back was the main cause of this, and it may be something he is still recovering from. He missed another three games in early January this season.
While Howard was once thought to be Superman, he is showing that he is far from invincible at this stage of his career. His medium baggage may be no different than that of Davis. While at different levels of their careers, both are dealing with an assortment of injury question-marks.
At 27 years old, Howard is already in his ninth NBA season. By virtue of choosing the NBA over college, after high school, he added a year or two of NBA mileage to his odometer. However, with Davis entering after just a one-year stint at Kentucky, the difference is negligible.
What is not negligible, is the baggage Howard carries from his time with the Orlando Magic, and more importantly, his departure.
It is still unclear if Howard ever really wanted to be in Orlando. Yes, there is the obvious pride and affection you show for your first city. Orlando was Howard's first stop as an adult and they gave him his first shot in the NBA. He learned the ropes of the league, as well as adult life in Orlando, as a member of the Magic franchise. There is a difference, however, between that boyish affection and pride, and what you want for the future of your career.
Howard was pretty sure his career wouldn't go where he wanted it to in Orlando, so he wanted out. The affiliation he felt with them for eight years wouldn't allow him to just up and leave, so he fought it out in a battle within his own brain. That argument had him staying and going a dozen times before it eventually got messy with the fans, media and the coach that had helped Dwight to prominence, Stan Van Gundy.
What truly happened between Howard's ears at the end of last season and over the summer will forever be a mystery, but he got out of Orlando and left a wake of destruction behind him. Van Gundy was fired, presumably to keep Howard in a Magic uniform. That didn't work, and after playing five games with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012, another coach bit the dust.
How much of Mike Brown's firing was Howard's doing, nobody knows. The facts remain though; over the course of one offseason, and only five NBA games, Howard had two respected and winning head coaches fall at his feet.
Anthony Davis' large baggage doesn't really exist yet. One could toss in his offensive skill, which is still in its infancy. Maybe you don't think he is as marketable a personality as Howard was in Orlando. Either way, nothing compares to the cross Howard now has to bear after the 2012 "Dwightmare."
Davis seems like a good guy in general, not that Howard isn't a pleasant individual. However, as a fresh, young talent, Davis simply doesn't have the baggage of Howard. That could be naive thinking, as Davis is still eight years Howard's junior.
There could be equal baggage down the line, but if that gives you seven more years of a low-baggage franchise centerpiece, you have to take it over what will happen to Howard these next seven years.
Sometimes to find a suitable mate for the future, you simply have to check what's in their baggage.
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