by Matt Lawyue / @mlawyue

Let’s just cut to the chase because it will inevitably spill over in the comments section – why Dwight Howard does or doesn’t deserve the five spot in this ranking, deja vu from last years.

Spoiler, there will be no mention of his multiple extracurricular activities or hisDwight Howard nice guy persona because they’re irrelevant on the court. I don’t care if he graced our latest cover, or serenaded us with Ken Jeong. I won’t have it.

First, let’s start with his strengths. He’s an excellent defender with great instincts. Dwight takes advantage of his athletic frame better than anyone in the League, aside from LeBron. His rebounding, blocking out, weak-side defense, shot blocking prowess are all feared and revered. Sorry, had to go Clyde on you there. Two consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards to boot, there’s no stopping him on this front.

Offensively, well, he’s getting there. But can you blame him if he chooses to live off athleticism rather than (limited) developed skill? In six seasons, he’s averaged 17.5 ppg on 57.5 fg percentage, with an assortment of putbacks, dunks and straight bullying. He’s led the Magic to one Finals and two Eastern Conference Finals appearances off of athleticism and defense. He’s led the league in rebounding and blocked shots for two consecutive seasons at the tender age of 24-years-old. With LeBron (theoretically) eliminating himself from MVP contention (unless he drops a ridiculous triple-double for the season and gets to the Finals), it will be a dogfight between Durant, Dwight and Kobe (cue bickering over upcoming MVP race).

Dwight’s the ultimate intimidator, a link to a bygone era of big men who actually challenged you at the rim. We should cherish him now, before the likes of soft-serve Bargnani devour us all. I’ve seen a cone play better defense than Bargnani. Clearly, I’m not a fan of Bargnani. I can’t stand typing his name, too. Sorry. Continuing.

So what’s missing from his game?

Low-post moves for starters. We’ve seen the clip of him working out with Hakeem, but he’s had Ewing as his mentor and his jump shot is still broke. It’s also easy to spin baseline and jam when nobody’s guarding you. Yet, there’s no doubt over time, with focus and confidence, we’ll see the low-post game we crave from Dwight. And when that happens, the Magic will be on their way to a championship parade.

It’s more or less a give and take with his free throw shooting. The last three seasons he’s gotten to the stripe at least ten times per game, hitting a little more than half. I’m less inclined to believe this will ever improve to a respectable number, but the fact he draws so many fouls and has the opportunity for easy buckets is encouraging, and effective, for Stan Van Gundy.

Dwight has always averaged more turnovers than assists, even more troubling when you consider all of his damn teammates are capable of knocking down threes, save for Gortat, the perfect Dwight backup. Add passing out of the post as a bullet point in his lack of low-post confidence list.

Now what have we learned? It’s easy to deduce the final four in our Top 50 list, so I’ll say that this is a perfect spot for Dwight. Is he better than Melo, CP3 and Deron? It’s arguable, for sure, but so is any position within a top 10. It’s scary to think what might be if he develops a low-post game, much the way we dreamed of rookie LeBron with a jump shot. Clearly, he’s the best center in the League, and an unfinished product at that. Sky’s the limit for Dwight.

And did I mention he’s dropping an album? Wait, I forgot. Not having this. Sorry.

Player Team Position 2010 2009 2010 2009
Ray Allen Celtics SG 50 36 10 9
Gilbert Arenas Wizards SG 49 34 9 8
Lamar Odom Lakers PF 48 33 14 10
John Wall Wizards PG 47 NR 13 NR
OJ Mayo Grizzlies SG 46 46 8 12
Al Horford Hawks C 45 NR 6 NR
Jason Kidd Mavs PG 44 45 12 10
Joakim Noah Bulls C 43 NR 5 NR
LaMarcus Aldridge Blazers PF 42 39 13 12
David West Hornets PF 41 31 12 8
Monta Ellis Warriors SG 40 NR 7 NR
Andrew Bogut Bucks C 39 NR 4 NR
Yao Ming Rockets C 38 NR 3 NR
Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 37 NR 11 NR
Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 36 NR 11 NR
Stephen Curry Warriors PG 35 NR 10 NR
David Lee Warriors PF 34 NR 10 NR
Brook Lopez Nets C 33 NR 2 NR
Gerald Wallace Bobcats SF 32 NR 7 NR
Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 31 29 6 7
Tony Parker Spurs PG 30 15 9 3
Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 29 13 9 3
Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 28 44 6 9
Josh Smith Hawks PF 27 40 8 13
Andre Iguodala 76ers SG 26 26 5 6
Al Jefferson Jazz PF 25 23 7 7
Russell Westbrook Thunder PG 24 NR 8 NR
Chauncey Billups Nuggets PG 23 19 7 5
Tyreke Evans Kings PG 22 NR 6 NR
Danny Granger Pacers SF 21 21 5 5
Carlos Boozer Bulls PF 20 32 6 9
Paul Pierce Celtics SF 19 17 4 4
Joe Johnson Hawks SG 18 20 4 4
Rajon Rondo Celtics PG 17 27 5 8
Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 16 16 5 6
Steve Nash Suns PG 15 22 4 6
Tim Duncan Spurs PF 14 6 4 1
Chris Bosh Heat PF 13 13 3 4
Derrick Rose Bulls PG 12 18 3 4
Brandon Roy Blazers SG 11 10 3 3
Pau Gasol Lakers PF 10 14 2 5
Dirk Nowiztki Mavs PF 9 9 1 2
Deron Williams Jazz PG 8 11 2 2
Chris Paul Hornets PG 7 4 1 1
Carmelo Anthony Nuggets SF 6 7 3 2
Dwight Howard Magic C 5 5 1 1

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’10-11 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jeremy Bauman, Maurice Bobb, Erildas Budraitis, Sean Ceglinsky, Ben Collins, Bryan Crawford, Sandy Dover, Adam Figman, Manny Maduakolam, Eddie Maisonet, Ryne Nelson, Doobie Okon, Ben Osborne, Charles Peach, Branden Peters, Quinn Peterson, David Schnur, Todd Spehr, Kyle Stack, Adam Sweeney, Dennis Tarwood, Tracy Weissenberg, Lang Whitaker, Eric Woodyard, and Nima Zarrabi.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.