Dwight Howard could be all smiles if his serious demeanor and new offensive approach net him an MVP trophy.
Much of the preseason buzz for MVP has centered around the normal group of guys. Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are all right there at the prime of their careers and popularity (maybe not James). Kevin Durant has been the media darling pick to win the MVP award this year after he became the youngest player to win the league's scoring title.
All of those guys are worthy preseason candidates for the league's most coveted individual award. But one name is recognized as an MVP-caliber player, but only whispered whenever the list of perennial MVP candidates come up. Listen closely and you may hear that whisper coming from Orlando.
Dwight Howard is undoubtedly an MVP candidate. But should his name be considered the favorite for the MVP?
Durant is the media darling. Bryant has won the award before. And Wade and James have the media attention. But Howard should be considered the one guy who can determine his own MVP fate.
This could be a real special season for Dwight, and even his teammates recognize it.
"Dwight looks like he's headed for an MVP season,'' Lewis said to Tim Povtak of FanHouse after Wednesday's preseason win over Dallas. "He might take home two of those trophies this season, the Defensive Player, and the MVP.''
Howard will tell you the third trophy -- the Larry O'Brien Trophy -- is the only one that will matter. And that has always been Howard's way. There is a certain amount of selfishness required to win the MVP. That may not be in Howard's makeup.
But what has held Howard back from taking notice in the MVP race is his offense. With the improvements he has shown, even in the preseason, it is not unfair to think this could be the year to put Howard firmly in the category of not just defensive superstar but all-around superstar.
The national perception is, unfortunately, that Howard does not have an offensive game. Those who watch him every night know that is not true. Those that have seen him play this preseason have noticed a very new and different approach from Howard to his offensive game.
It is just preseason, but he has shown a very different approach to his offensive attack. He is showing a better balance of power and finesse, something he has not really used since early in his career. Howard has built himself into a bruising center that can get to the basket seemingly at will. It is easy to forget that he is probably also the most athletic center in the league. That part of his game has been dormant for a while now. It appears to be resurrected.
A few other things seem to be working in Howard's favor -- and they all have to do with the national media.
You get the feeling if Howard puts together a gigantic offensive season, the opinions about Howard will turn and he will finally be viewed as the superstar at the level of James and Wade. In fact, it may be James and Wade teaming up that takes away some of his chief competition for the league's most coveted individual award.
Kevin Durant is the media darling for the award, but if Howard can prove he can not only defend but also score it would not be too shocking to see Howard become the darling ahead of Durant. After all, Orlando is still expected to be one of the top teams in the league -- most believe they will once again have the second-best record in the league. Howard will be a big part of that.
So it is probably more possible now than it has ever been that Howard will become the team's first MVP.