The Los Angeles Lakers and Dwight Howard. They just can’t get enough of each other, can they?
Multiple awkward break-ups between the two sides didn’t stop them from getting together another time (I won’t say one more time because you obviously can’t rule out anything with these two). Friday, Howard officially signed his one-year, veteran minimum contract that will see him don the purple-and-gold for the third time in his career.
Dwight Howard is officially a Laker again pic.twitter.com/OgRSCFKUcr— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) August 6, 2021
This time, he comes back to the team after a lone season with the Philadelphia 76ers. Howard signed with the 76ers last offseason after originally tweeting that he would be returning to the Lakers. As with many on-again, off-again partners who just can’t stop returning to each other, the eventual break-up was caused by miscommunication, in this case between the Lakers and Howard. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports reported at the time that Howard confused a “deal concept” laid out by the Lakers as an official deal they were ready to offer.
But despite those hardships, sometimes it’s just easier to return to what you know. The Lakers know that Howard will come in and accept any role given to him. Howard knows he has another opportunity to have a substantial role for a championship team alongside LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook. This really should be the same perfect marriage that it was for the 2019-20 season,
Howard’s return should be welcomed with open arms by head coach Frank Vogel after a frustrating season managing the center rotation. He could never really get it figured out before the Lakers bowed out of the playoffs, as his use of Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol, and (later in the season) Andre Drummond varied from game-to-game. It seemed as though the three members of the frontcourt provided unique skillsets, but all three seemed to lack the two skills that made Dwight Howard such a great fit on the Lakers: His defense at the rim, and his ability to be a vertical threat for lobs on offense. Both qualities are always going to be welcomed on a LeBron James team.
That vertical threat that Howard brings is likely to be even more welcomed now for this 2020-21 roster, as Howard has an opportunity to really thrive alongside another Lakers superstar — Russell Westbrook. As our own Alex Regla pointed out the other day, Westbrook’s 1,647 assists at the rim over the past five seasons come in at second in the league, only behind the Nets’ James Harden. Picture Howard camped out in the dunker’s spot with his tent and some s’mores, just waiting for Westbrook to draw the defense’s attention, only to toss up an alley-oop to Howard for an easy finish.
Those attempts at the rim should be plentiful for Howard, too, and if there’s any big man who can come off the bench and make those shots at a high clip, it’s him. Alongside LeBron and Davis in the 2019-20 season, Howard had the second-best efficiency in the NBA on shots at the rim (of players with at least three attempts per game), making 75.2% of such attempts.
Howard did see a decline in efficiency for those types of shots in his 2020-21 season with the 76ers (62.1%). However, you’d be hard-pressed to find another area where the 35-year-old declined. He was able to stay healthy with the 76ers just as he did with the Lakers, playing in 69 games in each of the two seasons with similar minutes per game in each.
His rebounding improved, evidenced by a 19.1 rebounding percentage in the 2019-20 season compared to 22.8% in the 2020-21 season. That improvement was largely attributed to Howard cleaning up rebounds on the offensive end (2% increase in offensive rebounding), an area that could see another improvement as Howard will have opportunities to clean up on any LeBron and Westbrook drives that don’t result in baskets.
Even his defense at the rim improved slightly, as he held opponents to a 56 FG% within 6 feet of the rim in the 2020-21 season, compared to 59.2% in the 2019-20 season.
The “fit” of Russell Westbrook and other new Lakers players signed this season will be oft-wondered about, but the “fit” of Dwight Howard’s role on this team cannot be questioned. It’s a definite win for both Howard and the Lakers.
However, although Howard likely won’t play much more this year than the 18.9 minutes per game he averaged in the 2019-20 season, could his role be different in regards to how much he starts?
In Anthony Davis’ two seasons with the Lakers, they’ve yet to commit to any regular-season lineup that included him starting at center. However, there have been plenty of reports this offseason that that may be changing this year to allow for more shooting around the Lakers’ three stars. Now, will that mean that Davis starts every game at the five next season? That remains to be seen (and is personally doubted by me), but if he doesn’t, that means Dwight Howard or Marc Gasol will be starting. After reports recently surfaced that the Lakers briefly tried to trade Gasol (along with Alex Caruso) to the Timberwolves, maybe it’s Howard and not the returning Gasol who would start in the frontcourt alongside Davis.
But no matter how his role ultimately shakes out, it’s great to see Howard back on the team. It was a great story in 2020 when Howard won his first championship in his return to L.A., and it’ll just as good of a story if he can return and add another ring to his hall-of-fame resume. Hopefully this time, we can finally get the man a parade, dammit.