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Does Joel Embiid have a better NBA legacy than Dwight Howard?

Joel Embiid may or may not be a better NBA player than Dwight Howard; but there is little debate as to who has had the better NBA career – yet.

Hey what’s up…Basketball Baba here with Basketball Chronicles.

And today I am going to be comparing the legacies of Joel Embiid and Dwight Howard.

I know, I know…you are probably wondering – wait, Embiid has a legacy?

Well, apparently a few people believe he does.

And that’s what sparked the idea for this video.

I was having a conversation with a gentleman I met a few days ago

He claims he has been watching the NBA for more than two decades now, and I took that as a sign of his deep knowledge and, more importantly, his perspective on the NBA.

He was firmly of the opinion that Embiid has a better legacy than Howard.

When I disagreed, he said a few things – three of which stood out to me.

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One, he said Embiid cared more about the game.

Does Embiid care more about the game?

Two, he said Embiid was a better player.

Is Embiid a better player?

And three, he said Embiid has done more in his career thus far.

Has Embiid done more in his career?

Before I address his points, I want to add here that originally, the word legacy meant a sum of money or inheritance left behind by a person for his or her survivors.

But the word has evolved to mean the sum total of a person’s life, especially their achievements and accomplishments.

In that context, what we are discussing here is whether Embiid has better or more achievements and accomplishments than Howard.

So back to the points the gentleman made.

Who cares more, Embiid or Howard?

The gentleman’s first point was that Embiid cares more about the game than Howard.

Other than Embiid and Howard themselves, there is no way anyone can objectively quantify if they care for the game.

Care is a big word we fans throw around.

Truth is we do not know.

We have some eye tests at best – 

Many believed Shaq did not care.

He showed up out of shape for multiple seasons with the Lakers. 

But he worked himself into shape during the season and won them three titles in three seasons.

It’s the same with Barkley. 

It was a running joke that he could not resist a good buffet.

But he put up a guaranteed 25, 10 and 4 every night.

Then there is “fat” Harden

Whether fat or not, he is still the most prolific scorer in the NBA.

So right off the bat there is no way to objectively quantify care – so that point is out.

Better player? Embiid or Howard?

I am willing to acknowledge that Embiid could, pound for pound, skill for skill and number for number be the better player.

He is clearly a better shooter and scorer.

He is a good rebounder.

He is a decent passer for a center.

And is effective on defense.

I am willing to sit and even agree that he is a better basketball player than Howard.

But the debate isn’t about who is the better player.

It is about who has the better legacy.

The Better Legacy – Embiid or Howard?

And in that regard, with all due respect to my contemporary, Howard is miles ahead of Embiid.

The gentleman’s third point was, Embiid has done a lot in his short career.

He is a 5-time all-star.

He has made four all-NBA second teams.

He also has a scoring title from his 2022 campaign.

But Howard’s accomplishments dwarf Embiid’s.

Let me break it down.

First, Howard is a three time Defensive player of the year.

Since the award was instituted in 1983, Only four players in the history of the NBA have won the award at least three times – Ben Wallace, Dikembe Mutombo, Rudy Gobert and of course Howard.

That’s a solid list, but I can see why someone can try and trivialize this argument.

But there are two reasons why Howard stands out on that list.

One – he is the only one among the four to win all three awards consecutively.

But two – and more importantly – he was the best player on all those teams – something none of the other players could boast off

Howard is one of only three NBA players to have won the defensive player award at least twice AND score at least 20 points in two of those seasons.

The other players were Hakeem Olajuwon and Alonzo Mourning.

That is elite company!

Second, he is an 8-time All-Star

I won’t dwell too much into this but suffice to say he was a popular player.

This though, is something I believe a healthy Embiid will easily beat over the course of his career.

Third, he has led the NBA in rebounding five times.

Only four other players have led the NBA in rebounding at least five times: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, and Dennis Rodman.

If that isn’t the who’s who of rebounding, I am not sure what the conversation is about anymore.

He will finish his career in the top-20 of all time rebounders – both regular season and playoffs.

Oh yeah – did I mention that Chamberlain, Russell and Howard are the only three players to have at least five seasons where they led the NBA in rebounding during the playoffs?

And contrary to popular belief – two of those Howard seasons came with Houston – not Orlando.

Fourth – Howard has made 8 All-NBA teams, five of them were first team ballots – from 2008 to 2012

In fact, he was so dominant during that stretch, that he finished in the top five in MVP voting in four of those five seasons.

Embiid’s stats can catch up here – he is clearly a valuable asset to the Sixers and is a big part of their success.

But making five straight All-NBA First teams is going to be a task – even for a player as valuable and as gifted as Embiid.

Finally, though, and this is the clincher argument, assuming that there is still someone who disagrees, Howard has been to the NBA Finals.

Before I break down that season from Howards perspective, it is important to see the roster he took to the Finals, and who they beat along the way.

34-year-old Anthony Johnson

Rookie Courtney Lee

29-year-old Hedo Turkoglu

29-year-old Rashard Lewis

32-year-old Rafer Alston 

And, Mickael Pietrus

In the playoffs they beat – 

A peak Igoudala and a young Sixers team in six games.

Reigning NBA champions the Boston Celtics in seven games – although they were missing Kevin Garnett due to injury

And a 24-year old, LeBron James – the regular season MVP who averaged 38 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in the series.

And now let’s see the season from Howard’s perspective.

Led the NBA in rebounding, and offensive rebounding.

Led the NBA in blocks.

Led the NBA in field goal percentage for all players that averaged at least 18 points a game.

Only player to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal.

Finished fourth in MVP voting behind James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade.

Defensive Player of the Year.

All team 1st NBA.

NBA finalist.

There are NBA players who have not hit these milestones across their entire careers, let alone doing all this in one season.

Now, there is a common argument that Howard fell off his peak after his stint in Orlando.

That he lost interest and he was and continued to be a shelf of the player he once was.

This argument has zero basis in truth.

Zero.

Let us quickly look at his journey after Orlando.

He averaged 17 points and led the NBA in rebounding with the Los Angeles Lakers despite battling injuries, and playing under the shadow of Kobe Bryant.

I am willing to concede that Howard was a bit like a fish out of water here.

But consider the circumstances.

He came into the league as an 18 year old high school player.

Then played with either erratic stars such as Steve Francis, or older stars such as Grant Hill or Vince Carter – both of whom were injury prone and past 30.

This was the first time Howard was playing with a superstar near or just off his peak – arguably one of the five greatest NBA players of all time.

He was expected to be the sidekick to one of the most intense players to ever play in the NBA.

I am not defending Howards performance – he could have done better. He should have done better.

But was he shabby, or did he drop off? Barely.

Then in Houston he found his groove again.

He averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds in his three seasons there while, somehow shooting a blistering 60% from the field.

In fact he was clearly the second best option on the team.

Against the Portland Trailblazers in Round 1 of the 2014 NBA playoffs – He averaged a career high 26 points per game!

This despite having a scoring genius like Harden on the team.

He even helped the team advance to the 2015 NB Western Conference Semifinals against the eventual champions the Golden State Warriors.

He put up a vintage 18 points, 16 rebounds, and 4 blocks performance in a Game 6 elimination game.

Again, I ask.

Were his number down? Marginally.

Was he effective? Extremely.

Was he shabby or off his peak? Barely.

Now, once he left Houston is when he started to really taper.

Keep aside his redemption season with the Charlotte Hornets, where as a 32 year old, he dropped 32 points and pulled down 30 rebounds in a single game – becoming the oldest player other than Chamberlain to have that stat line in a game.

Howard is now entering his 19th season in the NBA.

There are only three active players who have played longer – Udonis Haslem, Carmelo Anthony and of course LeBron James.

And in all likelihood, Howard will also play and complete two decades as an NBA player.

Embiid is a very very good player. And if he stays healthy I believe that he will finish his career with a better legacy than Howard.

But at least for the next ten years or until Embiid wins a championship – whichever comes first – even he has concede that Dwight Howard has a better legacy than him.

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