A Quick Note on the Yao vs. Howard Debate

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Dwight Howard is better than Yao Ming?  You can't be serious...

I've read countless arguments that crown Howard as the king of all centers.  There's definitely a case for Howard.  Problem is, his case is nowhere near as convincing as Yao's.  This is why I think Yao is better:

Head to Head:

I'll get this out of the way, because for some reason, not many people are aware of Yao's domination of Dwight over the years.  Take a look for yourself at the head-to-head statistics, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.

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If you can't read that, then click here to see an enlarged version plus the complete list of game logs for their head to head match ups.  Like I said, it's not even close.  Even better, the Rockets are 6-2 against the Magic in the 8 games that Yao has faced Dwight.  Just in case you want to get into a "which team is better" debate...

General Talent:

Here is my somewhat biased player analysis, as I have not seen Dwight Howard play as much as Yao.  That said, I believe what I have written down is a generally accurate portrayal of Dwight, and though it is jumbled and rushed, it should make sense:

  • Post Moves -- Yao.  I think Dwight has a more polished post game than most give him credit for.  He has excellent footwork, and his jump hook in the lane is slowly progressing.  That said, Yao Ming is the best post-up player in the entire league.  He has a turnaround fadeaway jumper, a hook shot (with both his right and left hands), and a nice one-dribble move into the lane that can get him separation for a jumper.  The one thing Howard needs to work on, besides his general touch from the block, is his ability to counter good defensive position.  He can effectively spin and provide himself position for a dunk, but when it isn't there, he runs out of options.  Yao is able to pivot and look for a second option if his first is taken away; this is something Dwight still needs to work on.  While Dwight will eventually develop better moves, the edge clearly goes to Yao.
  • Athleticism -- Dwight.  I shouldn't have to explain this one.  Dwight can run up and down the court and can dunk at any given moment.  Yao is athletic for his massive size, but he simply cannot do what Superman can.
  • Post Defense -- Even.  This choice may garner the most criticism, because Dwight blocks more shots than Yao.  The problem with Dwight is that his blocked shots normally end up in the fifth row.  Yao will do that occasionally, but the majority of his blocks are recovered by his teammates.  In terms of simply bodying up on the block, Yao has great defensive footwork and doesn't get beat on basic power moves - which is what Dwight brings to the table.  Yao and Howard do an equally great job when it comes to help defense and changing shots in the lane, but Dwight has a tendency to break down against centers that have a decent finesse/traditional post move and gives up points while trying to go for the blocked shot.  That said, he is still an excellent post defender.  So is Yao.  So they are equal.
  • Perimeter Defense -- Dwight.  This one isn't even close.  The one way to beat Yao is stay on the perimeter and shoot it from there, which is why Mehmet Okur has a tendency to hurt us.  Yao can't help on the pick and roll because it requires too much sudden movement for him, and it hurts our defense quite often.  Howard is able to defend on the perimeter and show help on pick and rolls.
  • Offensive Range -- Yao.  Yao can shoot threes, by the way, but since he doesn't do it enough, I'll leave it out of the argument.  However, Yao does make shots from the free throw line and from about fifteen feet on the baseline frequently.  Dwight's game doesn't really extend outside of the paint.
  • Rebounding -- Dwight.  If there is one thing that Yao needs to severely work on, it's his defensive rebounding.  Game by game, he will either miss-time his jumps or be too far under the basket to grab a ball that quickly bounces off the rim.  Too often, he misses rebounds that he should have easily gotten.  Howard scoops up everything around the rim, and is much more effective on the offensive boards as well.
  • Free Throw Shooting -- Yao.  Yao's the greatest free-throw shooting big man of all time.  If you find someone else who is better, let me know.  He's been over 80% for his entire career.  On the other hand, Dwight shoots 60%.  This wouldn't be such an awful number if Superman didn't take so many free throws per game.  His average number of attempts from the charity stripe is 11, and for him to only make 6.6 of them per game is a huge detriment to his team.  Yao can convert when he is fouled.  Dwight is never a sure thing.
  • Passing --  Yao.  Neither of them are Steve Nash, but Yao is coming along.  He is an excellent kick-out passer when the double team comes, and his touch passes in the lane are getting there - he just needs to work on his timing.  From what I have read and heard, Dwight's passing has plenty of issues and needs some work.  This is the category that I have the least amount of information on Dwight, so if you're going to attack me, look elsewhere, as this would be too easy to criticize.
  • Ball handling/hands -- Dwight.  While Howard isn't exactly immune to turnovers, he does a much better job catching the ball in the post than Yao.  His hands in general are much more polished, and his turnovers rarely come from fundamental movements.  Yao, on the other hand, has a tendency to drop easy passes, and he will lose possession of the ball when the slightest contact his made.  
  • Clutchness -- Yao.  First and foremost, you cannot foul Yao in crunch time.  If you do, it's an automatic two points for us.  Fouling Dwight proves to be effective at times, as his free throw shooting lacks consistency.  Aside from free throws, Yao's clutch statistics from 82games.com are far superior to Howard's.  While I know that one cannot solely base "clutchness" on a relatively basic statistic such as this, it does serve as a good indicator nonetheless.  Yao's are shown first, followed by Dwight's:  Picture_4_medium Picture_6_medium Picture_5_medium Picture_7_medium

While I can see why many people look at Dwight's dominating dunks, powerful blocked shots, his general athleticism, and his basic numbers as criterion for why he is a better center, I think that there is plenty more to it.  Based off this view, Yao is the better center.  

Ask me again in five years, and I won't hesitate when I say that it's Dwight Howard.  But as for the here and now?  Yao Ming.

Don't listen to Mark Jackson.

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