Los Angeles Lakers: Dwight Howard is enjoying a defensive awakening

NBA Los Angeles Lakers Dwight Howard (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
NBA Los Angeles Lakers Dwight Howard (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Through the first few weeks of the season, Dwight Howard has been a key cog for the Los Angeles Lakers’ top-ranked defense

This past offseason, when the Los Angeles Lakers made the push to acquire Dwight Howard from the Memphis Grizzlies, there was no indication he would be a spark off the bench that would positively impact them.

Dwight Howard so far this season has been a defensive juggernaut that’s been surprisingly efficient. It’s highly unlikely anyone can claim they saw Howard’s second wind coming this season, after all at this stage in his career he’s not going to be the dominant player he once was with the Orlando Magic.

However, Howard’s backup center role in his second stint with the Lakers could not be a more perfect fit for him. These first few weeks of the season, the Lakers have been putting together some impressive defensive performances.

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Obviously, most of the team’s defensive success can be attributed to Anthony Davis and LeBron James, but Dwight Howard has also been an efficiently added bonus.

Since Dwight Howard’s time with the Magic ended in 2013, he has not found himself in many good “basketball situations” systematically speaking and there were plenty of rumors dealt around that some of his antics did not sit well with various organizations he’s played for the past six seasons.

It was unclear what to expect from Howard this season. Howard, now 33, has been questioned in regards to his overall effort, plus he had only played in nine games for the Washington Wizards last season, a decline almost seemed inevitable.

There is no doubt he would benefit to some extent playing with the likes of Anthony Davis and LeBron James. From the outside looking in, it was apparent he would have to play with the DeMarcus Cousins being out for the season, but Howard clearly taking advantage of his opportunity was unforeseen. I will note, taking in one look at the guy, he took his offseason conditioning very seriously.

The proof is in the numbers. This season Dwight Howard has been a part of the Lakers’ most efficient defensive lineups. He is not averaging as many minutes per game than he has in the past and he’s not scoring as much as he did in previous seasons, but the minutes he’s providing have been an asset to the Lakers defense and overall success so far this season.

In addition to being a part of the Lakers’ most efficient defensive lineups, he also ranks third in the NBA in defensive box plus-minus thus far in the year.

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Splitting time with JaVale McGee and playing with Anthony Davis and LeBron James could not be a more perfect situation for Howard at this stage of his career. The season is still very young with lots left on the table to prove, but at this pace, the Lakers have been one of the top defensive teams in the NBA (in fact, they currently have the best defensive rating in the league). And Dwight Howard has been a big reason why.