I know what you’re probably thinking: Dwight Howard hasn’t even signed an extension yet, how can you assume he’ll be a Laker for even one season past this one? Or, maybe you’re like most fans and haven’t even given that a thought because you’re just anxious to see Superman–or Iron Man–take the court for the first time as a Laker.
In either case, I’m going to go ahead and predict that Howard will be a Laker for many years to come. There’s just too much allure in Los Angeles not to want to remain here. Not to mention that the Lakers can offer him the most money next summer in free agency.
Unless things go horribly wrong this season, I’m going to say Dwight Howard will be here for a while.
So, assuming Howard signs a lengthy contract, this is my theory as to how his game will evolve over the next few seasons.
Right now, Howard is an athletic specimen who runs the floor extremely well for someone 6’11” and 265 pounds. On top of that, he’s extremely agile at the center position, makes quick moves to the basket, and is one of the best defenders this league has ever seen; even winning the Defensive Player of the Year award three years in a row (2009-2011).
And right now, Howard is exactly what the Lakers need. The Lakers could have easily stood pat and kept Andrew Bynum, but after they acquired Steve Nash, it made much more sense to acquire Howard. Why? Well, quite simply because Andrew Bynum is a traditional back-t0-the-basket type of player, and was becoming more and more like Pau Gasol.
Obviously, Dwight Howard is widely considered the best Center in the league today, but Bynum’s offensive game is often regarded as more refined than Howard’s. But when the Lakers picked up Steve Nash, they didn’t need two players in the post who utilize patience in order to break down their opponents by reading and reacting. No, they needed quickness and a freakishly athletic big man who can beat other teams to death via pick-and-rolls alongside one of the best point guards of all time.
They needed a yin to Pau Gasol’s yang, and they sure got one.
Right now, during a half-court set Gasol can go to work in the post and either create shots for himself or for others, and when Nash is out there free-styling in a high-paced offense, Howard will be a primary benefactor of it.
Not to mention the fact that Howard’s innate athleticism virtually erased the need for the Lakers to acquire an athletic wing-man to run fast breaks with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant–which is also one example of Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss’ brilliance.
Additionally, the fact that Pau Gasol is actually more efficient at the center position (his Player Efficiency Rating is 21.7 at the center position compared with 20.1 at the power forward slot, while his opponents’ PER is 15.6 at the power forward and 12.2 at the center) makes a lot of sense as well.
What I mean is, when Gasol and Bynum were on the floor together during their run, Gasol had to operate in the high-post and, to his credit, usually created nice lob plays for the Lakers’ previous big fella. Undoubtedly Gasol will do the same for Howard, but the two can operate a bit differently.
Previously, Gasol had to basically stay away from the basket in order to give Bynum room to operate. With Howard, he won’t exactly have to do that. Pau can play closer to the basket during half-court sets with Howard moving around the court a bit more because of his quickness. Because of Gasol’s offensive arsenal and back-to-the-basket type of game, he can work on his opponents and if they double-team him when he gets into scoring position, he can find a cutting Howard for an easy basket.
Howard isn’t exactly a power forward, but because of his non-traditional skills at the center position coupled with his athletic ability, he’ll be able to benefit from some of Gasol’s technical abilities–which will essentially benefit them both.
Basically, Gasol will be able to play the center position from time to time alongside his All-Star frontcourt mate for the first time with the Lakers (he’s done this before with his brother, Marc, on the Spanish National team); something he wasn’t able to do with Bynum.
Now that we know why Howard is perfect for the Lakers right now, let’s delve into how he can be perfect for the Lakers for years to come.
Next: The Transition