“He’s bought into his role on this team… he’s being a star in his role and dominating on the defensive end”.
When the Lakers signed Dwight late this off-season, many questioned how he could possibly fit on to this team.
The now infamous “Dwight-mare” season lingered in the minds of many Lakers fans. Dwight’s single-season stint with the Lakers in 2012-2013 was a disaster, and things only got worse in the years to follow.
When Dwight left the Lakers that offseason more than 6 years ago, it felt destined that Dwight would always be hated among Lakers fans.
Six years later, after going through multiple teams, ruining his reputation, and leaving many locker rooms tarnished, he has found his way back in the purple and gold.
Prior to this season, I ranked Dwight 10th out of a possible 12 rotation players. I said that he “is still a gifted athlete, and if he fulfills his role, he can be a valuable backup big. If he plays solid defense, rim runs, and grabs rebounds, he can fit right in and might even become a fan favorite in LA.”
When I wrote that 2 weeks ago, I imagined that being an absolute best-case scenario that was not likely to happen. Not only has Howard met those expectations, but he has also blown them away.
Granted, it has only been six games and the Lakers schedule has been a bit soft, but through six games, Dwight Howard has a 25.3 net rating, which is the best net rating in the NBA. He has been far and away the best center on the team and has been the best bench player by a good margin.
As Vogel said, he has been a star in his role, and maybe even more than that. He is doing all of the little things that are helping this team win games, and it looks like he is having a blast doing it.
One of the reasons Howard went from being a superstar to nearly out of the league is because he failed to adapt his game.
It is well known that he wanted to get a lot of post touches, and that is simply not a strength of his game. He wanted the ball in his hands and to have the offense run through him, but there just wasn’t enough success to warrant him getting the ball that much.
Watching him over the past few years has been frustrating because you could envision a scenario where he could be the best version of himself.
A version where he is an elite defensive player sets good screens, runs pick and roll with a ball-handler, and finishes high percentage shots around the rim.
As post offenses were becoming more and more obsolete, Dwight wanted the ball in the post at an increased rate. He simply isn’t a good enough passer out of the post to warrant being a focal point of a post offense. His vision of himself and the realities of the NBA just didn’t mesh.
While he isn’t the same player as he was when he won three defensive players of the year awards, he is showing glimpses of what he could look like as an idealized version of himself.
The Lakers aren’t calling plays for Howard or making him the focal point of an offense when he’s on the floor. He’s simply playing extremely hard, being an absolute monster defensively, and taking high percentage shots almost exclusively at the rim.
He has been a revelation for this team. What once seemed like a desperate signing now feels like an absolute steal for the Lakers.
As I said earlier, it’s only been 6 games. He has had a history of injuries, and he has every motivation to play well and not cause any drama considering he’s on a non-guaranteed contract.
I’m not saying that this is fools gold and I also can’t crown him comeback player of the year just yet. But for six games, Dwight Howard feels like the story of the season.
Not only because he is playing extremely well, but because it is incredible to watch a player that almost no team wanted to reinvent himself on the team he spurned all those years ago.
Hollywood is a place for stories, and for my money, there’s been no better one this year than Dwight Howard.