Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In Defense of The Lakers' Dwight Howard

Fans and teammates are mercilessly beating up on L.A. Lakers' center Dwight Howard. Leave him alone. He's getting a bum rap. Here's why.

When he was acquired by the Lakers during the off season, Howard was considered the best center in the NBA, a defensive Goliath who gobbles up rebounds, ferociously guards the paint and scares the hell out of any opponent who dares to drive to the basket. Each game, he was a lock to score in the high teens and scoop up 13-16 rebounds. So far that super player has been MIA. His numbers are down-- 16.2 points and 11.7 rebounds--and he's far from an intimidating presence in the paint. Clearly he's not the great center L.A expected but just a good one. Arguably the Knicks' Tyson Chandler and the Nets' Brook Lopez are better

What happened to Howard?

First and most important, he's injured. He's just 70-80% of the player we're used to seeing. Not only is he still recovering from preseason back surgery but a few weeks ago he suffered a nagging shoulder injury--a torn labrum. That bad back has inhibited his jumping and, on the court, you can see him protecting that shoulder, which is definitely targeted by opposing players. Bottom line, how can he be that badass of old if back and shoulder ailments his effectiveness?

Point two in Dwight's defense: he has a new coach, Mike D'Antoni, whose system he hates because it's alien to post-up centers. D'Antoni's racehorse system devalues players like Howard who post up and play with their backs to the basket. Howard thrives in a slow-down, half-court offense, not in a high-speed system like D'Antoni's that's geared to outside shooters. When Howard came to the Lakers, Mike Brown, who prizes defense and a half-court offense, was coach. To Brown, getting Howard was like winning the lottery. But when the players stopped responding to Brown's over-working and micro-managing, he was kicked out and his opposite--D'Antoni--was hired.
So here we have an injured player handcuffed by a system implemented long after he signed. Do you think Howard would have become a Laker if D'Antoni was coach at the time? Hell no.

To make matters worse, Howard is being called a wimp because he's hesitant to play through pain. He's reluctant to risk aggravating his injuries by playing hurt. Does that make him a softie? To me, that's just being smart. The person who's leading the play-through-pain campaign is Kobe Bryant. Don't listen to Kobe. He's got a screw loose. Only the most severe injury would keep Kobe off the court. Dwight doesn't have that kind of drive and tenacity. Hardly any players do, so that's hardly a crime.

You're not going to get the best of Howard when he's injured and playing in a system that doesn't emphasize defense. He's not a wimp. He's just being cautious and sensible

So get off Dwight's back.