Los Angeles Lakers

Dwight Howard has actually been very good for Lakers thus far

Dwight Howard is embracing his role with the Los Angeles Lakers, and his performance on Sunday night continued what has been an excellent start to the season.

In search of a big man who could embrace a specific role, and come cheaply, the Los Angeles Lakers signed Dwight Howard to a non-guaranteed contract in August. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year was set to be humbled, as the Lakers could cut ties if it wasn’t working out.

The Lakers won their fifth straight game Sunday night, 103-96 over the San Antonio Spurs. In just under 21 minutes of action, Howard had 14 points (7-for-7 from the floor) with 13 rebounds, two assists and two blocks. He is now shooting a robust 79.2 percent from the floor this season (19-for-24), with a total plus-minus of +67 through six games. Over 21.3 minutes per game thus far, he’s averaging 6.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.3 assists per contest.

Howard is obviously an old-school-style big man, in the sense, he’s no threat from the perimeter offensively and does not attempt to be. A look at his shooting numbers through six games this season show he has not taken a shot beyond nine feet out yet, with 23 of his 24 shots in the paint and from less than eight feet out.

There is some overlap with shot attempts fitting into multiple categories, but Howard has literally taken four shots that haven’t been labeled as a dunk, alley-oop, tip-in or layup. His two bank shots came from one of his two hook shoots and his lone jump shot.

Howard has been strictly coming off the bench thus far, with JaVale McGee the starter at center for the Lakers. But when Howard shares the floor with Anthony Davis, the Lakers have outscored opponents by an average of 43.6 points per 100 possessions, compared to getting outscored by 3.3 points per 100 when he shares the floor with McGee.

Davis will be a productive player on the surface regardless of who he’s on the floor with. But Howard has been better than McGee, and it’s showing in deeper numbers impacting someone who’s either the first or second-best player on the team. To this point, McGee is playing 3.5 more minutes per game with Davis than Howard is.

With Davis hesitant to play center a lot, surely with the physical toll it can take in mind, the Lakers need a big man who’s willing to do some dirty work (rebounding, rim-protecting) in a limited role while capably converting the opportunities he gets offensively. Howard is filling that role to excellent effect through six games, and most importantly he’s having a positive net impact all around as the Lakers are stacking wins.

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Some negative correction seems certain as the sample size grows. But as long as his body holds up, and his ego remains in check, Howard can absolutely sustain a positive impact as a role player for the Lakers. It feels like a foregone conclusion he’ll be starting over McGee at some point, even if that’s more of a cosmetic and novelty thing that won’t (and shouldn’t) yield a lot more minutes.

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