During his heyday, Dwight Howard was one of the most dominant players in the NBA. He was arguably the most imposing paint presence on both ends of the court for the Orlando Magic to start his career, and it seemed like the sky was the limit for him.
Even initially, people envisioned all the great things that Howard could accomplish throughout his career. He was simply a force of nature all over the floor; he was scoring at will in the paint, hauling in seemingly every rebound he could, and sending opposing players shots five rows deep into the stands. Among those who thought Howard could become one of the league's most significant players was famous sports journalist Bill Simmons.
Simmons saw Howard's potential back in 2007
Simmons is widely regarded as a top-notch journalist, so typically, when he says something, people listen. In 2007, Simmons ranked the top 50 NBA players in terms of trade value and listed Howard at number two behind only LeBron James. Simmons noted Howard's on-court production but also had an interesting note about how something Howard did off the court could prolong his NBA career:
"One other bonus with Howard that nobody mentions: Because he's a devout Christian, even when he turns 35 in 2020, those will be Christian years — he won't have any of that smoking-drinking-partying mileage on him, which means he could play at a high level until his early-40s (much like how Kurt Warner keeps chugging along at age 36). In other words, Howard could and should shatter nearly every rebounding record if he stays healthy, and even if he averages a 23-13 for the next 12 years (a conservative guess), when you throw in his previous three seasons, Howard would suddenly be in striking distance of two-thirds of the conceivable NBA records that ever meant anything." Bill Simmons, Grantland.com
It's an interesting perspective here from Simmons, as players' religious beliefs and off-court activities aren't typically considered when discussing their legacy. Maybe he makes some good points here, but is this really what was going to determine whether Howard would be able to last longer in the NBA and break those records Simmons mentions? No, not really.
Simmons' thoughts on Howard turned out to be somewhat incorrect
It looked like Simmons was actually on to something for a point in time. 2007 was the first of eight straight All-Star seasons for Howard, in which he generally kept the Orlando Magic relevant before departing for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012. While Howard maintained a solid level of play early into his thirties, he quickly became a shell of himself, mainly due to a back surgery he needed during his stint with the Washington Wizards.
Now that we are in the stage of Howard's career where Simmons suggested he could still be dominating, it's safe to say that Howard is not dominating the league. He's been a bench player who's been used sparingly over the past three seasons for the Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers and appears near the end of his career. Not precisely what Simmons expected back in 2007.
In fairness, the back surgery Howard needed in 2018 pretty much ensured he would never be the same player again, but the signs of decline were evident even before then. He was no longer the prime rebounder he once was, and his explosion in the paint had disappeared for the most part. He was still good for a ferocious slam dunk every once in a while, but age began to take over Howard's abilities for the most part.
Simmons' predictions for Howard now seem quite outlandish, particularly that his religious beliefs or lack of nightlife would help prolong his career. Say what you want about James Harden as a teammate, but he's one of the best players in the league, and he commonly goes out and visits nightclubs throughout the NBA regular season. He's not alone, but he's an example of how it may not necessarily be as detrimental as people think.
The truth is that the man referred to as "Superman" is, in fact, human. All athletes are bound to regress at one point or another, and while some players, like LeBron James, can push that decline off more than the average athlete, it was clear early on that the wear and tear of the NBA were taking its toll on Howard. So while he won't shatter any rebounding records as Simmons suggested, Howard still will go down as one of the most dominant big men in NBA history for his stretch of play with the Magic.