Last season, the Los Angeles Lakers missed the playoffs for a few reasons, but none were more detrimental than the number of injuries that plagued the roster. The biggest injury of all was, of course, LeBron James’ groin injury which forced him to miss 17 straight games. Hope has been high for the 2019-20 season with the arrival of Anthony Davis, but even more so as the team appeared to be healthy. That changed after the news of newcomer DeMarcus Cousins’ ACL injury that will see him miss most, if not all of the 2019-20 season. In to replace Boogie is a returning, all-time favorite Laker (sarcasm font isn’t a thing yet), Dwight Howard.
Once the Lakers’ roster for the 2019-20 season was filled out, expectations from NBA fans started to form. Based on my judgment, the consensus seemed to be that an NBA championship was the very attainable ceiling for this team, with a lower-seeded playoff appearance being the floor. These expectations were mostly based around the team’s extremely impressive duo, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Injuries aside, NBA fans know what to expect from those two. However, to get to that championship type level, the Lakers were going to need at least somewhat better-than-expected production from a couple of x-factors: DeMarcus Cousins and Kyle Kuzma.
It still remains to be seen if Kuzma will perform to the level needed for the Lakers to be serious contenders, but we won’t get to see if Cousins would have been able to return to his previous self in his 2017-18 season with the New Orleans Pelicans, where he averaged 25.2 PPG and 12.9 RPG. Can Dwight Howard get to that type of level? Click this (NSFW) link to see my answer.
Although I doubt Howard’s ability to get back to his peak level, which he hasn’t come close to in years, there is a world where he can be productive to this team and its goals. For the best example of how he can do this, I think we can look no farther than Tyson Chandler’s introduction to this team in the early parts of the 2018-19 season.
Can Dwight Howard fit into the Tyson Chandler mold?
Chandler was nothing awe-inspiring when he joined the Lakers after being bought out by the Phoenix Suns, but he filled a much-needed role as a backup center to JaVale McGee after the Kyle Kuzma-center experiment failed miserably. In 48 games that Chandler played while wearing the purple-and-gold, here were a few of his statistics:
16.4 MPG / 3.1 PPG / 5.6 RPG / 0.5 BPG / 104.6 ORTG / 102.8 DRTG / 1.21 PPP as PnR Roll Man (75th Percentile in NBA)
I was very deliberate in the statistics I just listed for Chandler as it relates to Howard’s upcoming Lakers season. If Howard is to fit in and help contribute to the “recipe” that will ultimately result in a championship, I think there are three key areas that Howard should solely focus on. Those areas are defense, rebounding, and being a solid pick-and-roll man for LeBron James and the other creators on the team.
Although Chandler saw himself being bought out by one of the worst teams in the NBA at the age of 36, he still found ways to provide solid contributions to the Lakers in those three areas. His DRTG was the best on the team in the 2018-19 for players who played 40 games or more, while his Points-Per-Possession as a roll man ranked third on the team only to JaVale McGee and LeBron James.
Dwight Howard sees himself entering this team in quite a similar situation. Castaway by the Washington Wizards, coming onto the Lakers on a non-guaranteed contract, he will have to prove himself. He’s not going to become the dominant force that he was with the Orlando Magic or that Cousins was during the 2017-18 season — those days are over. But he can help in those three areas I discussed. Howard only played nine games last year for the Washington Wizards, so I’ll be using his statistics from his 2017-18 season with the Charlotte Hornets to show how he compares to the same statistics I listed from Chandler:
30.4 MPG / 16.6 PPG / 12.5 RPG / 1.6 BPG / 109.6 ORTG / 108.2 DRTG / 1.04 PPP as PNR Roll Man (42nd Percentile in NBA)
At first glance, you’re probably thinking that Howard’s stats look very favorable compared to Chandler’s. Howard averaged far more points, rebounds, and blocks per game, but he was playing a far more demanding roll on a not-so-talented Charlotte Hornets team so that’s not surprising. What I want to highlight is Howard’s DRTG and PnR Roll Man statistics that are far worse than Chandler’s. Sure, the DRTG could be a faulty comparison since Howard’s DRTG will be inflated that year just from being on a bad team. But, Howard’s DRTG isn’t even favorable compared to his teammates that year, as only three players had a worse DRTG on the Hornets. His PnR Roll Man statistics aren’t close, as Howard fell into the 42nd percentile that year compared to Chandler in the 75th percentile in the 2018-19 season with the Lakers.
Howard will have to re-adjust from how he played that year, as the Lakers will not be needing (or wanting) him to be as much of a scorer as he was that season. With LeBron James and Anthony Davis playing a large amount of time in the frontcourt, Howard just won’t get those opportunities and shouldn’t be taking them in his limited time on the court. He should dedicate 100% of his energy to being the best he can at the three areas I’ve discussed. If Howard is healthy, he should have plenty of energy to do that, as I don’t see the 34-year-old coming close to his 30.4 minutes-per-game in the 2017-18 season. Howard shouldn’t start at the center position, as JaVale McGee did more than enough last season with the Lakers to deserve that job as the roster is currently constructed. Howard should get a decent role as a backup though, as I picture him playing somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes per game.
If he can play average-to-above average as it pertains to defense, rebounding, and being a good roll man, then the Lakers may just keep him around the entire season and into the playoffs. It would be the first time that the Lakers have reached the playoffs since — well — since Dwight Howard was last with the Lakers in the 2012-13 season. This time, though, there will be real championship aspirations.
All statistics sourced from Basketball-Reference or NBA.com