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.

Ray AllenCelticsSG5036109
Gilbert ArenasWizardsSG493498
Lamar OdomLakersPF48331410
John WallWizardsPG47NR13NR
OJ MayoGrizzliesSG4646812
Al HorfordHawksC45NR6NR
Jason KiddMavsPG44451210
Joakim NoahBullsC43NR5NR
LaMarcus AldridgeBlazersPF42391312
David WestHornetsPF4131128
Monta EllisWarriorsSG40NR7NR
Andrew BogutBucksC39NR4NR
Yao MingRocketsC38NR3NR
Brandon JenningsBucksPG37NR11NR
Zach RandolphGrizzliesPF36NR11NR
Stephen CurryWarriorsPG35NR10NR
David LeeWarriorsPF34NR10NR
Brook LopezNetsC33NR2NR
Gerald WallaceBobcatsSF32NR7NR
Manu GinobiliSpursSG312967
Tony ParkerSpursPG301593
Kevin GarnettCelticsPF291393
Rudy GayGrizzliesSF284469
Josh SmithHawksPF2740813
Andre Iguodala76ersSG262656
Al JeffersonJazzPF252377
Russell WestbrookThunderPG24NR8NR
Chauncey BillupsNuggetsPG231975
Tyreke EvansKingsPG22NR6NR
Danny GrangerPacersSF212155
Carlos BoozerBullsPF203269
Paul PierceCelticsSF191744
Joe JohnsonHawksSG182044
Rajon RondoCelticsPG172758
Amar’e StoudemireKnicksPF161656
Steve NashSunsPG152246
Tim DuncanSpursPF14641
Chris BoshHeatPF131334
Derrick RoseBullsPG121834
Brandon RoyBlazersSG111033
Pau GasolLakersPF101425
Dirk NowiztkiMavsPF9912
Deron WilliamsJazzPG81122
Chris PaulHornetsPG7411
Carmelo AnthonyNuggetsSF6732
Dwight HowardMagicC5511

• 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.