In college, Howard was regarded as one of the best defensive big men in the country. According to Jay Mariotti, he was also regarded as the rock-solid, rebounds-and-defense power forward in contrast to his flamboyant teammate Webber. Michigan coach Steve Fisher referred to him as "My Rock of Gibraltar". His consistency was described by Chicago Tribune journalist Skip Myslenski as "their ballast, steadying them on those many occasions when they wavered. And their savior, rescuing them from their many follies".
After the 1994 NBA Draft, NBA analyst Doug Collins described Howard as a player who can "play with his back to the basket and can shoot from about 16 feet outside" and who "plays with a lot of energy and emotion". The Bullets' general manager, John Nash, told Jerry Bembry of The Baltimore Sun that Howard was "as fundamentally sound as any player in the draft" and that he "has a discipline about his game and uses a high level of skill and technique". Bembry said, "Not only can Howard post up, he passes effectively and is able to hit a jumper up to 17 feet," adding that he "also is an excellent position defender". Later Bembry noted that he was a power forward who is able to play center, adding that at Michigan he was "most effective playing with his back to the basket" but could also pass effectively and hit medium-range jumpers. The team's head coach Jim Lynam described Howard as a "complete player" and noted that "he can defend you and he can score over you". Nash said that "the things that impressed me most about him were his character, his intelligence and his insight. He's a leader type."
When he first became a free agent in 1996, Howard was described as versatile enough to play all three front-line positions (small forward, power forward and center), and Michael Jordan loved his "game, work ethic and character". In 2000–01 with Dallas, he was still regarded as a versatile offensive player who could "take advantage of smaller defenders in the paint and then stretch his bigger defenders outside" in addition to being a solid rebounder. However by 2001, Lacy J. Banks from his hometown Chicago Sun-Times regarded him as a high-priced, under-achieving player. In 2002, he was described by the same journalist as a solid veteran at the four (power-forward position). In the NBA, Howard developed a respected inside post-up game and a reputation as a veteran leader, according to Kiki Vandeweghe, the general manager of the Denver Nuggets, Howard's team in 2003.
When he signed with the Heat in 2010, Howard was lauded for his ability to play power forward and the center position and for his professionalism. Howard also added frontcourt toughness. As an elder statesman with the Heat, he was regarded as a future NBA executive (coach or general manager).
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