Is there anyone left who will doubt how great Dwight Howard is? With this prolonged lockout, many outlets have spent the time to try and rank all the NBA players (we will get to that in a bit). The overwhelming consistency is to place Dwight Howard second among all the NBA players.
You can make a fair argument that he is the best player in the NBA as nobody affects the game defensively like Howard and lifts his team far beyond where it should be. Not to argue with LeBron James, he had a very fantastic season last year for the Heat, and was deserving of ESPN's top rank in this project.
Still, when you consider once again what the Magic have put around Howard, you realize all the special work he has done. I mean, Royce Webb said it best on ESPN's article about Dwight when he reported 85 percent of ESPN's voters gave Howard a perfect 10 for his rating. It is hard to find many flaws in his game (aside from free throw shooting).
I think we all know at this point, it is the players around him that are imperfect and need Howard's nightly gargantuan efforts to reach the heights they did (and they still managed to disappoint).
Since it is a lockout, all we can do is speculate on how the team is going to improve with roster moves or what improvements individual players have made. Both of those will be important in reloading the Magic.
I have gone through how the players rate in terms of their cost and efficiency in a series of posts as well. Looking at finances and efficiency is not a pretty picture (so I saved it for after the jump).
Neither is looking at the subjective rankings from the ESPN panel.
Orlando has only three players ranked in the top 100 players in the NBA right now -- Jameer Nelson and Jason Richardson join Howard there. Compared to other playoff teams, that is not a great sign. The Heat have three in the top 25 (and no others in the top 100), the Mavericks have seven players in the top 100 and the Hawks have four players in the top 100.
Looking at some starting lineups, Orlando's average rating for its starting lineup last year was 6.3 according to ESPN Rank. The Heat's starting lineup had an average of 7.4, the Mavericks an average of 6.8 and the Hawks an average of 5.9 (pulled down by Jason Collins' 383 ranking... it is 6.4 if you throw in Marvin Williams instead).
On a surface look, you can already see how sort of depleted the Magic are from a talent perspective.
The Magic need to increase the talent, or potential talent on the roster. Especially with uncertainty that Jason Richardson will re-sign.
Internal improvement is going to be the best way to get this team to improve. I have talked a lot about value as far as these players and how important it is that the Magic get adequate value from the players on their roster -- or pretty close to it. The Magic need Gilbert Arenas to get closer to his All Star level. They need Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu to play with the same aggression that they played in 2009.
There still is talent and there still is an opportunity. These players just did not play up to their potential.
Another measure of value might illustrate this point:
Tom Ziller of SBNation took a look to figure out if Dwyane Wade's claim that superstars are underpaid was true and that superstars are the best deals in the league. In an open market they probably are, but under the current system, Ziller had a tough time buying that argument. Rookie contracts are clearly the best deals in the sport (thus why drafting should really be the most important job a general manager does). He determined that the average win share costs $1.47 million.
So, considering Dwight Howard. He had 14.4 win shares and a $16.65 million salary. Last year, then, Howard had $1.15 million per win share. This would suggest, then, that Howard was underpaid by about $320,000. A pretty good bargain.
Time to get ugly: Gilbert Arenas. Arenas had 0.6 win shares for all of last season. His salary was $17.73 million. He earned $29.55 million per win share. So he was a little overpaid (just a little).
Hedo Turkoglu? He had 6.9 win shares and a $10.22 million salary. He earned $1.48 million. So by this measure... Turkoglu was actually properly paid (did not see that coming!).
Jameer Nelson posted 6.6 win shares and a $7.8 million salary. That equates to $1.18 million per win share, and he is also about $300,000 underpaid. Ryan Anderson's 6.4 win shares earned him $220,000 per win share. So he is vastly underpaid by about $1.25 million. And so on and so on.
Obviously win shares have limitations -- namely how many games the team won -- so this is not a perfect measure as it is relevant only to the Magic and their 52 wins last year.
These small sample of numbers show how much more the Magic need from Arenas and that they need someone taking up that much cap room to contribute more wins. Arenas simply did not do that. I do not want to single out Arenas. Turkoglu did not seem to play well either even though these numbers suggest he did.
But it is easy to put a lot of the season on Arenas' development and self improvement next year. Little improvements from within will be critical for the Magic to take the next step -- and certainly with Arenas. With so little cap room to manuever that feels like what Orlando will have to rely on.
Hopefully when ESPN does these rankings again, the Magic will be able to say they fare much better.
Photos via DayLife.com.