Every great story has a great conflict. Every great conflict has at least two opposing sides. If you’ve picked up your copy of Dime #60, you can read the editorial by Austin Burton where he brings up the primary problem in Dwight Howard’s growing NBA legacy: Howard does not have a rival.
For all of Dwight’s greatness, it is easy to downplay his accomplishments due to his lack of worthy opponents. Howard has no one to measure just how good he is. No Bill Russell to his Wilt Chamberlain, no Patrick Ewing to his Hakeem Olajuwon, no Duncan to his Shaq.
However, help in the form of competition may be on the way. Early into the new season, there are a few true centers that are playing well and may be able to fill the unoccupied spot as Superman’s arch-enemy.
JOAKIM NOAH — The kid is rising, and fast. People overlook Joakim because he doesn’t show up on the highlight reel, but just check his stats: 16.5 points, 18.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a night through his first two games. Noah just signed a five-year extension to stay in Chicago, and if the team has truly taken that step up to the next level with the addition of Carlos Boozer, the Howard-vs.-Noah battle will become a great postseason rivalry.
ROY HIBBERT — After a lot was made about his progress over the summer, Hibbert lived up to the high expectations with an Opening Night coming-out party against Duncan, dropping 28 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks in Indiana’s opener. Through three games he’s averaging 18.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.7 blocks. At 7-foot-2, Hibbert has a lot of skills, but so far has been slept-on like a twin-sized mattress in a college dorm room. He seems to be putting it all together now, but his mediocre team might hold him back from becoming Dwight’s Lex Luthor.
GREG ODEN — Don’t call him a bust yet. Over the weekend it became official that the Blazers wouldn’t be signing Oden to a contract extension, so whether his future is in Portland or with another team, he still has a chance to become the All-Star center his talent promises. Oden has been productive when healthy, and if he gets some good luck for once, Howard-vs.-Oden could be a battle of the titans.
ANDREW BYNUM — Another young talent who has trouble staying on the court, but does at least possess the raw ability and potential to become a top rival for Howard. Bynum does technically own a head-to-head NBA Finals win over Dwight from 2009. Don’t count out another Bynum/Howard matchup in the 2011 Finals.
BROOK LOPEZ — The centerpiece of the Nets has put up the numbers on the reg to be an entertaining rival for D12. Through three games he’s averaging 24.7 points and 6.7 boards for a team that can only improve following last season’s disaster. Lopez is durable, having yet to miss a game in his career, and his fundamentally-based game presents an interesting clash of styles against Dwight’s sheer athleticism and power.
DEMARCUS COUSINS — The Sacramento Kings rookie still has a lot to learn, like how to stay out of foul trouble, but the skills are there. Cousins has averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in his first three pro games. At 6-11, 270, he can meet Dwight eye-to-eye and pound-for-pound.
Threats can come from anywhere, but Superman can use his microscopic vision to see this group coming after him. With his superhuman strength, he should be able to fight off these potential nemeses. Until this day comes, it seems only by default why Dwight has an “S” on his chest.