After a promising first season in Los Angeles, JaVale McGee re-signed with the Lakers on a two-year deal worth $8.2 million this past summer, and stepped back into the starting center position this season. While McGee has been productive in his limited role alongside Anthony Davis this season, it’s Dwight Howard — the man who’s backing McGee up — that’s making the biggest impact at the 5 spot.
Through 14 games, Howard has posted the highest offensive rating (114.8) and net rating (+14.3) on the team all while shooting 75% from the field, grabbing 7.6 rebounds per game and swatting away the 10th-most shots in the league (23). To say he’s exceeded expectations would be a gross understatement.
Howard’s superstar teammate Anthony Davis talked about how huge Howard’s been to the Lakers’ hot start in a recent Q&A with Bill DiFilippo of Uproxx:
Q: The other teammate I wanna ask you about is Dwight, getting to play next to him. There was a report that you were part of a group that met with Dwight before the Lakers decided to bring him to L.A., what did he say in that meeting that sold you guys on him being a guy who could help you win a championship?
Davis: He just wants to win. Obviously he was here before, it didn’t go so well for him, and he just wanted to come back and win. He felt like this was the best place for him to win and he wants to do whatever it takes to win, whether it’s playing five minutes, playing 30 minutes, not playing at all. He has that mindset, a winner’s mentality, so we wanted to take that chance on him and he’s been wonderful for us this year, playing big minutes, making big plays. We’re all happy we were able to get him in.
The most surprising thing about Howard’s second stint with the Lakers isn’t how well he’s playing, though — it’s how well he’s playing with Davis. In the 116 minutes they’ve shared the floor together, the two-man pairing of Davis and Howard have posted an offensive rating of 119.6, a defensive ratting of 95 and a stellar net rating of +24.6. They’ve also averaged a combined 4.7 blocks per game, which is hardly surprising considering Howard is in the pantheon of all-time shot blockers and Davis is well on his way.
Davis explained the ways Howard makes the game easy on him specifically to DiFilippo:
Q: He’s been fantastic this year, I looked at the numbers before I came on and when you two are on the floor together, you’re really, really good. How is your game impacted when you’re playing the floor and you have Dwight patrolling the end on both ends of the floor?
Davis: Defensively, it allows not just myself, but everyone to pressure the ball, get to the ball, and make guys uncomfortable knowing that we have Dwight in the back, ready to block shots, alter shots, and he’s a great rebounder, which helps us get out and run in transition. All of us are very happy that we have a guy like that, because it gives us another defensive look. Then, we can also go small where I’m at the five as well and other guys are able to do the same thing while I take the Dwight role.
Offensively, he’s a load in the post. He’s rolling to the rim and he’s got three or four guys around him, which leads to open shots for everyone else, and he lets me just roam around the perimeter and get some easy jump shots or easy drives to the basket. Even when we’re driving, he’s a lob threat, being able to just drive and throw it up to the rim, he’ll go get it. He’s been great for us on both ends of the floor.
The belief going into the season was that the Lakers would look their best with Davis at center, and while that may still be true, Howard has made it easy for head coach Frank Vogel to keep Davis at the 4, where he prefers to play. As long as one of Howard or McGee is contributing every night, Davis shouldn’t spend too much time at center in the regular season.