If the season was to end right now, well, it would suck because this is a really fun Los Angeles Lakers team and I want to enjoy a full season of this. But if it was to end, there would be few players with better cases for sixth man of the year than Dwight Howard.
In 2019. What a time to be alive.
After his latest game-changing effort, this time helping the Lakers top the Spurs in San Antonio, Howard was asked about the role he appears to have welcomed with open, hilariously chiseled arms. He told Dave McMenamin of ESPN his calling is more than just a simple “role”:
“I don’t see it as a role, I see it as my purpose,” Howard said. “I think it’s my purpose to go out every single night and play hard defense, trying to block every shot, trying to be in the paint, get a lot of steals, go for loose balls. Whatever I can do for this team, be of service, that’s my mission. I don’t see it as my role, I see it as a purpose.”
Looks like someone has been taking private meetings with Rob Pelinka.
But really, it does sound like Howard has bought into the team concept in ways that he just hadn’t before this season, as he outlined after the Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks in their prior game (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“I love it,” Howard said when asked about helping the team win defensively. “The only thing that matters is a win and defense is what wins games. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help this team win.”
This role — even if Howard doesn’t want to call it a role — basically consists of him dominating near the rim on both sides of the ball and never gumming up the offense with post-ups. It’s exactly what he should have been doing his entire career, but wandered away from it as he wanted to show that he was more than just a dunker.
But as Howard has learned: Dunking is cool. Be a dunker.
As a result of him accepting his destiny (or however he wants to explain it), the Lakers are an astounding 25.3 points per 100 possessions better than their opponents with Howard on the court, and get outscored by -1.6 points per 100 possessions when he sits. That’s an outrageous 26.9-point swing!
It’s been absolutely refreshing to watch Howard actually live up to his promise of maturation this season and help the Lakers the way he has. Ask anyone who has nearly lost something they legitimately cared about how it changed their outlook on things, and they’ll tell you: It forces you to rethink everything.
For the vast majority of NBA players, basketball was their first love. It’s opened them up to opportunities and wealth most people dream about. Howard apparently felt as if he’d lost that this offseason, and used that experience to live up to his prodigious talents. That it’s happened with this organization, and for a fanbase that had turned its back completely on him is just cherry on the sundae. Here’s hoping this continues throughout the season.