The last time Dwight Howard was with the Los Angeles Lakers (and really, since), if someone would’ve called him an anchor, it would’ve been in reference to the sinking effect he had on the locker room around him. So hearing that comparison made in an affectionate way by LeBron James is a pretty great way to summarize the season thus far.
As insane as it is to say out loud about a player the Lakers only stumbled into after DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season to a torn ACL, Howard has legitimately anchored the defense. A defense, by the way, that is among the league’s best overall. What a time to be alive.
James (who has been quite good on that end, himself) was asked after the Lakers beat the Chicago Bulls about Howard’s defense, though, and pointed to some abilities beyond what Howard brings to the table physically (via Spectrum SportNet):
“Protecting the rim, communicating on pick-and-rolls. Just his length, athleticism and communication have been very good to be the anchor on our defense. Because he’s the back line and he sees a lot of the action that’s going on… He’s been great.”
In the 152 minutes Howard has played thus far this season, the Lakers have allowed just 94.5 points per 100 possessions. That’s 10 points per 100 possessions better than last year’s top defense — the Milwaukee Bucks, who carried a defensive rating of 104.9 on the year.
Now, obviously, some of this is fun with small sample sizes and at some point, the Lakers’ defense will regress even with Howard on the court. He’s playing insanely hard right now and looks healthier now than he has in years. The hope is that he holds up physically for something close to 82 games, but Howard wouldn’t have been available when he was had any team known this was what they’d be getting.
None of that is to say that we shouldn’t enjoy this right now, and Howard certainly appears to be enjoying himself out there is ways we haven’t really seen consistently since he was in Orlando, to be quite honest. He’s been one of the league’s best stories thus far and, the longer it continues, the longer the Lakers will look to him as an anchor in all the right ways.