The biggest argument in any discussion about basketball is who the best player in the NBA is? Is it LeBron? Is it Kobe? Is it Superman? And hey what about D-Rose? This question can never be answered because every individual has their own criteria in regards to how they judge a player. One question that isn’t asked enough though is; If you were building an NBA franchise, who is the first player currently playing in the NBA that you would select? What would matter the most to you, selling tickets or building a championship team? What position do you feel is most important to a successful NBA team? Or would you go ahead and pick the best player regardless of position? How much do intangibles matter, those special immeasurable traits that can’t be seen in the box score, but only in the locker room? When you are a GM and you are building a team there are so many big and small things to consider, because you don’t want to be the guy that picked Greg Oden and Sam Bowie, while passing on Kevin Durant and Michael Jordan.
In High School and Collegiate basketball the game is dominated by guards, and if you don’t have good guard play you will not make it far, especially in tournament play. The NBA is different because you don’t need great guard play to win a championship. Name me the last NBA championship team with a dominant point guard or where the point guard was the focal point of the team? You would have to go back to the 1980’s to see a team that won the NBA Finals when the Point guard was their best player(see Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas). In the last 35 years, 25 teams have won an NBA championship with dominant forwards and Centers, while only 10 teams have won being centered completely around perimeter play, and six of those titles were won by Michael Jordan. The formula for winning basketball games is very simple, score as many points as you possibly can while trying to stop the other team from scoring. Because of the 24 second shot clock in professional basketball, a team has to get as many high percentage shots at the basket that they possibly can, as many times as they can. Because of this fact if your team has great players on the interior, your chances of getting high percentage opportunities will be increased and you’re chances of being successful are very high.
The NBA has a lot of great players, but not that many franchise players, which is why it is so important to have one in order to field a competitive team. In my humble opinion there are five true franchise players in the NBA that you can start building a competitive team with, and they are separated into two tiers. In the first tier there is LeBron James and Dwight Howard, while in the second tier you have Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant. If your favorite player was left off the list it’s because their presence on a team doesn’t automatically lift them to contender status, or it was simply because of age(too old or to young). LeBron James and Dwight Howard in any system, on any team, will almost certainly grant you 45-50 wins. While on the other side Durant, Rose and Wade if placed in a “decent” situation, can carry a team to a deep run. James and Howard were the most statistically efficient players in the league last year, but the negative arguments that are made about them are that their intangibles are lacking. Is Dwight Howard too goofy at times and not serious enough about winning? We all know that James is a great teammate, but does he work hard enough in the off season to refine his game, does his heart pump Kool-Aid? These are all the things that you can’t quantify with a physical measurable or statistics, but can make or break your franchise.
If I had to select one player to start my NBA franchise I would select the greatest center in the game today, Dwight Howard. There are several reasons to take Howard, but the three biggest are that he is the best player at his position by a wide margin, it’s easy to build around a center in general, and he is durable(played in 569 out of 576 possible games). There is no doubt in my mind that LeBron James is the best Player in the league, but there are so many great small forwards in the NBA, while the league is currently bereft of centers who can really play. LeBron James is a great player, but his lack of a post-up game and average jump shooting ability make it hard to space the floor, which in turn make it harder for his teammates to make plays unless he directly gives them an assist. If your team has a great center who’s able to post up in the low block it creates maximum space on the court for the other four players on your team to operate, whether they are making plays on their own, or in conjunction with your star center. LeBron James starts at small forward for the Miami Heat, but statistically they are at their best and most efficient when LeBron plays at the power forward position, because of the balance it creates on the floor. Throughout the history of the NBA the best perimeter players(Jordan, Magic, Kobe etc.), were able to develop a post-up game which allowed them to score points close to the basket, without having to exert maximum energy trying to go through the entire defense to try and get a layup. The other three players I mentioned are GREAT offensive players, but Derrick Rose shoots a very low percentage from the field, and Kevin Durant’s lack of strength doesn’t allow him to get to the basket with enough frequency. There is nothing wrong with Dwayne Wade’s offensive game but his age(30 in January) and size(6-4), gives me trepidation in how long he will be a dominant scorer. If LeBron had a post-up game I would take him over Howard, but since Howard is a natural post-up center and will help balance my team offensively, this is a no brainer.
Defense!! You cannot win a championship without stellar team defense. And Dwight Howard is the best defensive player in the league and has been voted the defensive player of the year three years in a row. LeBron is a great defender as well and what he did for Miami on the defensive end in the playoffs was remarkable, but Dwight Howard stands alone. Dwayne Wade, Derek Rose and Kevin Durant are all good defenders when they want to be, but they don’t bring the kind of defensive intensity on a night in, night out basis, which prevents them from being prime top level defenders. Dwight Howard is a great shot blocker and rebounder, but he doesn’t get credit for playing great position defense. Position defense means that he is beating his man to the spot, as well as playing great help defense, which allows his teammates to recover defensively. What this also does is help Howard to avoid picking up fouls, and allows his teammates to gamble defensively. It is such a luxury to have a human eraser in the middle of your defense, and it makes it easier for a coach to develop and implement a defensive system.
There are a lot of great players in the NBA, but there are only two that I would truly feel comfortable with anchoring my franchise. It is very hard to build a contending team and there is a lot of luck involved, but you give yourself a better chance if you select the right building blocks. And the biggest and best building block in my opinion is Dwight Howard, even though I think that LeBron James is a better overall player. Throughout the history of the game it is easy to see that most teams that have won the championship have done so with a great interior presence. From Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, the original big three in Boston, to the length of the recent Lakers and Celtics, quality big men matter. We are all blessed to be witnessing a great time for the NBA, there is a huge talent boom because of the influx of young talent and the sustained excellence of so many grizzled veterans. But, every era except for Michael Jordan’s prime, has been dominated by big men, so you better have a great post player or you will be left behind chasing those that do.