Dwight Howard stands alone at the center position
Dwight Howard exudes vitality.

He brings thousands of fans to their feet when he slams home rim-rattling dunks or swats shots into the stands. His smile lights up arenas as large as Amway Center. And he possesses enough star power to guest not once but twice on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" in one calendar year.

Yet even Howard, the 26-year-old Orlando Magic superstar, has described himself as a "dinosaur." He was only half-joking. At a time when basketball continues to evolve, traditional centers who play offense primarily with their back to the basket are in relatively short supply. Howard once kidded that players like him are "on the brink of extinction."

"I just think when people say, 'I play center,' it's like a turn off," Howard said. "It's not a flashy position. Everything you see on TV with basketball is when a guard's shooting or making a great pass or a fadeaway or something like that. The center is a lost art."

Right now, Howard is the best practitioner of that lost art.

Howard continues to dominate opponents even as most of the talk this season about him has revolved around his uncertain long-term future. He is on track to win his fourth rebounding title in five seasons, and he entered this week as the top scorer among league centers. He is the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award for the fourth consecutive season.

"He's one of a kind with what he brings to the table," said Philadelphia 76ers small forward Andre Iguodala, who will join Howard on the Eastern Conference team at this weekend's NBA All-Star Game in Orlando.

"He makes it so easy for that team defensively. He can have a lot of liabilities around him, and he can still cover for them. That's a great luxury to have. Then, offensively, he opens it up for the shooters."

What's amazing, however, isn't that Howard is the dominant player at his position.

It's that he has relatively little competition.

"The game has changed," said former Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks center Bob Lanier, a Hall of Famer who averaged 20.1 points and 10.1 rebounds per game from 1970-71 through 1983-84.

"When I was coming along, the offenses started through the center and went inside-out. The offenses today go outside, basically, in. You don't find a lot of guys with traditional post-up moves."

Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Deron Williams have ushered in a golden age of point guard play. Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant each could be considered the sport's top shooting guard. LeBron James is widely considered the sport's best small forward, but at least Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony loom close behind. Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol both play power forward.

At his position, Howard almost stands alone.

Los Angeles Lakers 7-footer Andrew Bynum — the sport's consensus second-best center — is putting up career numbers, averaging 16.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game entering Monday, but he is nowhere near as durable as Howard.

Even beyond that, though, Howard, Bynum and their fellow All-Star Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers are part of a vanishing group of centers: guys who do the bulk of their work offensively with their back to the basket.

"Big guys now, they all want to be forward types," said Magic assistant coach and Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, who was one of the dominant centers of the 1980s and '90s. "Roy Hibbert, Bynum and Dwight — they're the few back-to-the-basket types.

"There's nothing wrong with being a face-up player," Ewing added. "But if you're a post guy, you have to be able to do both. Hakeem [Olajuwon] and myself, we did both. We posted-up. We shot our jump shots. But we did both."

So what's happened?