He was one of the top shooters and rebounders in the NBA last season, then started at center for the United States during Olympic qualifying over the summer.
And that wasn't good enough for Dwight Howard.
So the Orlando Magic All-Star, who won't even turn 22 for a few more weeks, has worked to polish his offensive skills, even though he was having no trouble getting by on his strength and enormous physical gifts.
``He's an elite athlete even in this league. I don't know how many guys have his athleticism,'' Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``I mean he's incredible, the combination of his strength, quickness and jumping are off the charts. He's as good an athlete at that position as there ever has come into this league.
``And I think where Dwight's trying to get is taking the step from great athlete, great talent to being a great player. And what I've seen, what I really like, is a very serious focus to do that, to really work on his skills, to understand that he just can't get by on athleticism.''
So far, so good.
Howard went into the weekend averaging a career-best 21.9 points and 14.6 rebounds, sharing the league lead with New York's Zach Randolph in that category. Howard's shooting touch was down a bit - he was hitting 54 percent through nine games after being second in the league at 60.3 percent last season - but that wasn't making things any easier on his opponents.
``He's a tough cover,'' Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said after Howard scored 35 points - 13 on free throws - in Orlando's overtime win at Cleveland this week. ``We threw a lot of bodies at him, but he's a man. When he puts his head down and bulls his way around, he's tough to defend.''
At 6-foot-11 and 265 pounds, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft is too quick for traditional centers and too strong for many power forwards. A tremendous leaper who took part in the All-Star slam dunk competition, he had one of the most spectacular plays of last season when he leaped high over Tim Duncan to catch a long inbounds lob pass with one hand and dunk it for a game-winning victory over San Antonio.
If there's been a criticism of Howard, it's that most of his scoring comes at the rim. He has little range on his shot and is a poor free throw shooter, but is working on his skills with assistant coach Patrick Ewing, who was an excellent shooting big man.
Perhaps Howard will become one, too.
``You forget how young he is. He's still 21. He hasn't turned 22 yet and big guys take a little bit longer,'' Van Gundy said. ``People want to make the comparisons to some of the other centers - Shaq, Tim Duncan. I remind people Tim Duncan right now was still in college to where Dwight is. Shaq was in his rookie year, so everybody's got to calm down a little bit.
``I read things saying his progress hasn't been what it should be. At this point Tim Duncan was playing against Georgia Tech, and Dwight's playing against Tim Duncan, so it's a little bit different deal. And he's coming along great and I think really, really has a focus to be a great player. And he continues that, he will be a great player in this league.''
BOSTON'S BACK: With a perfect record heading to the weekend, the Boston Celtics looked like a threat to San Antonio.
Well, a threat to one of the Spurs' records, anyway.
San Antonio made the best one-season improvement in NBA history, vaulting from 20 victories in 1996-97 to 56 the following season. The 36-win leap was sparked by the arrival of Tim Duncan, who won Rookie of the Year honors. The Spurs bettered the standard they previously set, a 35-win turnaround in David Robinson's first season.
Could the Celtics top them?
``Anything's doable,'' set Nets coach Lawrence Frank, whose team lost to the Celtics twice in the last week. ``I mean this league is so fragile, if they stay healthy and they continue with the way they're playing, they're going to have a chance to be one of the better teams in the NBA for what it's worth.''
Boston won only 24 games last season, one of the worst in franchise history, so would need to get to 60 wins to equal the Spurs' mark. If the Celtics go 57-25, they eclipse their best previous one-season improvement, a 32-win gain in 1979-80 - led by a rookie forward named Larry Bird.
``Boston's back as far as I'm concerned,'' Hornets coach Byron Scott said.
Like those other noteworthy turnarounds, the Celtics have been transformed by an infusion of talent, with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen coming in summer trades to join Paul Pierce and create an elite trio. Garnett is the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week.
``It's obvious they're a completely different team,'' Frank said. ``Garnett's like our (Jason) Kidd. He's unbelievable in the will he imposes on the game, in practice, on the bus. He's one of the rare, rare players in this league.''
Still, the Celtics aren't deep in talent beyond their Big Three, and Frank knows as well as anyone how injuries can change a team. The Nets were huge Atlantic Division favorites last season, then needed a strong finishing kick just to sneak into the playoffs after injuries to Richard Jefferson and Nenad Krstic.
``I think the question is when they do hit a bump in the road, that's usually one of the defining points for a team,'' Frank said. ``Because right now it's easy - not easy, I don't mean to make light of it - but they're very much in a fresh stage. Guys are excited and as you get 35, 40 games into a season, for all teams, not just Boston, how do you react? They obviously have a pretty good start.''
Good enough to start thinking big.
``Anything is possible,'' Garnett said of the 7-0 start. ``You never have a detailed kind of vision like that. You want to jell as a team. You want to make sure that you're having fun. But, at the same time, as a team, you're accomplishing something.
``So far so good.''
STILL LOVES L.A.: Byron Scott should love seeing the turmoil in Los Angeles concerning Kobe Bryant.
Anything that weakens the Lakers, which a trade of Bryant would likely do, would help the rest of the teams that figure to fight for playoff spots in the lower half of the Western Conference. Scott's New Orleans Hornets, off to a strong start, look as if they will be one of those teams.
Only one problem.
``I'm a Laker,'' Scott said. ``I'm going to always be a Laker in my heart. So anything that goes on in that organization to me that's negative hurts me.''
Scott played in Los Angeles from 1983-93, where he was a teammate for three seasons of Mitch Kupchak, the current Lakers general manager whose work Bryant was critical of when he expressed his desire to be traded in the spring.
Scott then returned in 1996 to play another season. Bryant was a rookie on that team, and he and Scott became friends.
``It's hard for me to listen and hear all the stuff that's going on in Los Angeles,'' Scott said. ``He was a teammate, he's a friend.''
The trade speculation has died down since the Chicago Bulls, one of the teams Bryant said he'd accept a trade to and the one that would seem to have the most assets to make a deal, said there wouldn't be one. But Bryant never publicly said he wanted to stay in Los Angeles, and the Lakers never said they wouldn't stop listening to offers for him.
In the meantime, Scott isn't watching. But he knows what's going on, and it bothers him.
``Just like I told Kobe, the bottom line with him from my standpoint is that I want him happy,'' Scott said. ``I don't care where that may be. So it hurts me that our organization is going through that, that the Laker organization is going through that. But again, that's business. Sometimes things happen.''
PROMOTED, PRONTO: The NBA Development League's regular season hasn't even started, and the league already has its first call-up.
The New Jersey Nets on Friday signed guard Eddie Gill, the No. 1 pick of the D-League draft by the Colorado 14ers, after a week in which they lost guards Vince Carter and Darrell Armstrong to injuries.
Gill appeared in four preseason games for the Nets, and previously played with them during the 2000-01 season.
``He was terrific in camp for us. He knows what we're doing, so it's a natural fit,'' Nets president Rod Thorn said in a statement. ``He's a tough, competitive kid. He'll help us out.''
Gill becomes the 91st call-up since the D-League began in 2001. The regular season opens next Friday.

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