Welcome to our annual Lakers season in review series, where we’ll be taking a look back at every player on the team’s roster this season, evaluating their play, and deciding if they should be a part of the organization’s future. Today, we take a closer look at Dwight Howard
How did he play?
Dwight Howard’s third return back to Los Angeles wasn’t his best nor was it his worst. But I can speak on behalf of Lakers fans when I say that I was glad to have him back when the team signed him last summer, considering that he played a vital role in winning the Lakers’ 17th title 19 months ago, and that he was going to replace Andre Drummond, who went out of his way to call a fan “drunk” for suggesting he should re-sign on a veteran’s minimum contract (Drummond ultimately signed with the Sixers for the minimum).
And let’s face it, Howard is just the more likable player.
I even went as far as to say that Howard was the better player compared to Drummond in October. And look, I may look like a fool now for firing off that tweet at that time, but give me the benefit of the doubt at the very least, because the Lakers resigning the 36-year-old was a clear indication that they missed him last season.
And similar to his role two seasons ago, Howard was brought back to be the third option big behind starter DeAndre Jordan (which now sounds sillier than my tweet) and Anthony Davis. But sadly, the veteran was a far cry from the player he was a couple of years ago, and wasn’t as productive as he once was.
Howard may have been the most available center on the roster — he played 60 games this season, but was mostly in and out of the rotation — but he averaged career-lows 6.2 points and 5.9 rebounds a game in 971 minutes, which was his fewest in his career (aside from the 2018-19 season when he played in only nine games).
Basically, the numbers and eye test will tell you firsthand that Howard has lost a step. Especially on the defensive end, where he was no longer as quick in rotating and deterring shots.
The Lakers’ overall defensive rating was better (111.2) when he was off the court compared to when he was on (115.0) this season, which means that he’s no longer an anchor or the same level of difference-maker he was during their run to the title less than two years ago. Still, the 19-year-vet proved that he can still use his physicality and athleticism to his advantage at times, specifically when boxing out, or with his force inside the paint. He demonstrated those features on the offensive side of the ball as well.
Howard scored most of his points (4.2) inside the paint, which ranked seventh-best on the Lakers. He was utilized on the low post and dunker’s spot, where he could still finish at the rim (where he made 66.1% of his shots in 3.0 attempts per game), be a pest, convert alley-oops, draw fouls, and secure offensive rebounds (he ranked third-best on the team in second-chance points).
But unfortunately, Howard’s high-end production only came in spurts, as he wasn’t able to produce multiple effective games in a row at his advancing age. According to the league’s tracking data, Howard averaged his highest points (7.3) and rebounds (10.0) after six days of rest compared to when he gets just one day off (6.3 points and 5.4 rebounds ) or two days (5.0 points and 4.8 rebounds). He wasn’t dominant on most nights, but was still average or better when he had his aging legs under him.
In games when Howard was effective, he sure had his fair share of highlights. Remember the one versus the Los Angeles Clippers in February when he had a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks) in 10 minutes? Or the one versus the Sixers where he scored a season-best 24 points? The one-time champion recorded five double-doubles this season, proving that he can still be a serviceable third option or emergency big when his name is called.
But ultimately, Howard wasn’t the best option to have as a backup big next to Davis (who missed 42 games) and Jordan (who was waived in March). This isn’t a knock on Howard per se, but on the front office for assembling a weak and unreliable roster. Howard went from being a third option to the only playable big for the most part during the year — a role that was unfair for an aging player on a minimum contract.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
Howard inked a one-year contract worth $2.6 million with the Lakers in the offseason, which means he’ll be a free agent once again this summer.
Should he be back?
No one loves being a Laker more than Howard does, but re-signing him shouldn’t be the biggest priority going into next season. The Lakers need fresh legs, and have to find legit reliable backup bigs for Davis.
It will also be interesting to observe what type of big men the Lakers aim for next season: A mobile center that can stretch the floor? Or the vertical spacing lob threat type? If L.A. prioritizes the latter, Howard can maybe find his way back as a third-option big once again, hopefully backing up centers who are actually playable and can stay on the floor this time.