Bullets' Howard is likely All-Star Dogged not flashy, he awaits reserve roll call

January 30, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

It seems you almost have to have an air of cockiness and a commercial endorsement to earn a starting spot in the NBA All-Star Game, which could explain why Washington forward Juwan Howard wasn't among the top 10 vote-getters at his position in fan balloting.

But yesterday, hype was discarded as the coaches selected the All-Star reserves, and when they're announced today, Howard is likely to be among them.

Howard, in his second season with the Bullets, would be Washington's first All-Star selection since 1992, when Michael Adams was named as a reserve.

Three weeks ago, when the All-Star topic came up, Howard kind of shrugged his shoulders, saying he really hadn't thought about it. But recently, when friends started running off the names of possible Eastern Conference reserves, Howard's thinking began to change.

"When my roommate and friends brought it to my attention, they said you definitely should have a shot," Howard said. "Then I started to look at the names: Glenn Robinson, Dino Radja, Vin Baker, Larry Johnson.

"I have confidence in my game where I feel I'm better than all of those guys," Howard said. "I don't say it to just be saying it. That's how I truly feel."

Coaches had until yesterday to cast their votes for the seven Eastern Conference reserves who will join a powerhouse starting five of Michael Jordan, Anfernee Hardaway, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal and Grant Hill for the Feb. 11 game in San Antonio.

The fact that Howard is being mentioned in the same breath as the top forwards in the East is impressive in that the second-year pro is in his first full season at a new position, small forward. While his rebounding numbers are down slightly from a year ago (due in part to Gheorghe Muresan's more aggressive play on the boards, and he's defending players away from the basket), Howard has increased his average in scoring, assists, field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and steals.

"Juwan's level of play speaks for itself, and he's got to have as good a chance as any other candidate," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "Juwan has the right to be there because, with Chris [Webber] absent, we need Juwan to perform at a high level every single night, and he's done that."

Surely several other coaches are making the claim about their own forwards. Baker, the power forward for the Milwaukee Bucks, is a lock for his second straight All-Star spot, one of only three forwards in the East averaging a double double (21.4 points, 10.2 rebounds).

An argument can be made to give a berth to Boston's Radja, whose scoring and rebounding (20.4, 10.1) numbers are just behind Baker's, and whose shooting percentage (50.8) is the best among the top reserve forward candidates.

Let's not forget Dennis Rodman who, while not a scorer, could be named for his league-best 14.6 rebounding average. However, Rodman's idiosyncrasies make him an unlikely candidate.

A key to Howard's chances is whether the East will carry four or five forwards. If it's five, the decision could come down to Glen Rice, Glenn Robinson, Larry Johnson and Howard. You can eliminate Robinson because it's unlikely a team that's 10 games below .500 will have two All-Stars. That same rationale eliminates either Rice or Johnson, teammates on a 20-21 Charlotte team.

If the vote were in the hands of the fans, Howard wouldn't have a chance. While he has a tremendous work ethic and his leadership has helped the Bullets to their 21-21 record, Howard lacks flashiness, which can explain why he didn't finish in the top 10 in fan voting in the East. But the vote is up to the coaches, and those who have seen Howard in action appreciate what he provides.

"Juwan Howard is one of the best young players I've seen in this league," Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich said after his Rockets lost to the Bullets last week.

While a spot is somewhat of a long shot for Howard, it's not his main goal right now anyway.

"When I came into this season my goal was to help the team first, and I was the last person that needed to be taken care of," Howard said. "I'm not really concerned about [making the All-Star team]. The coaches have their picks and have their opinions. If I'm chosen, I'll be happy and excited. If not, life goes on."

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