Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard has been one of the absolute coolest stories in basketball this season, thanks to the complete revitalization in his approach not just to the game of basketball, but as a teammate and, seemingly, human being.
Following yet another exemplary effort, LeBron James was asked what he’s seen from his teammate, and waxed poetic about how fun this story has been to be a part of.
“I think it’s wonderful. It’s just a shift in his mindset. He came in with just a pure mindset, a selfless mindset, saying he will do whatever it takes to help this ball club win,” James told reporters Sunday night. “His mind was fresh. When your mind is fresh and your mind is at ease, everything else kinda takes care of itself.”
It really has been something else to watch Howard — once seen as persona non grata in the great L.A. area — show up with a completely different approach than in years past, and then keep up that same effort and energy this far into the season.
Frank Vogel was also asked about what he’s seen from Howard, but because he’s incapable of even seeming to slight one of his players, he offered up credit to both Howard and JaVale McGee.
“Those guys provide tremendous, tremendous value to our offense, both Dwight and JaVale, with their ability to catch the lobs at the rim,” Vogel said. “(We) call it vertical spacing, which is every bit as important to our offense as the spacing that our 3-point shooters bring to the table. A lot of acrobatic plays, strong finishes, and a big part of the win tonight.”
Vertical spacing is a fun concept in that both Howard and McGee force defenses to pay attention to them whenever they’re near the basket. All an offense can do is force a defense into tough choices and then take advantage when it chooses the wrong thing to focus on. It’s partially due to this dynamic that McGee might have signed up to come back to the Lakers in the first place.
From a basketball perspective, it creates a tough balance for opposing teams at any given time, seeing as either Howard, McGee or Anthony Davis are on the floor and offer up such vertical spacing.
What’s much more interesting, however, is the human element to all this. McGee was seen for a long portion of his career as a bit of a joke. Howard had become one over the course of the second half of his time in the NBA. They both actually bonded over Shaquille O’Neal’s role in teasing them, and have used their former status as targets of mocking to fuel their rise into becoming important parts of the Lakers’ success thus far.
Everyone loves a good redemption story, and Howard is one of the best ones in recent memory. His teammates, coaches, and really, anyone watching have noticed how much work he’s put into that, and watching it pay off has been a nice side dish during what’s been a really fun season.
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