Dwight Howard is going to do something in Los Angeles that he was never able to accomplish in eight seasons with the Orlando Magic—he’s going to take home the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award in the 2012-13 season.
Concern over his surgically repaired back was put to rest on Sunday night when he made his preseason debut in a Lakers uniform, pulling down 12 rebounds and swatting four shots while shooting 8-of-12 from the field for 19 points against the Sacramento Kings.
While it was only preseason action—and the Lakers lost—we saw glimpses of the effect that Howard has on this Lakers team.
His presence in the middle demands attention from opposing defenses when the Lakers have the ball; the opposition needs to keep a body on him at all times, which opens things up on the perimeter for his teammates.
When they want to drive the lane, his teammates find space that didn’t previously exist, as defenders cannot afford to slide off of Howard. If they do, Howard is sitting wide-open under the basket, resulting in an easy two points—with the chance for more.
Much like the days of “Hack-a-Shaq," teams are going to foul Howard often, knowing that he’s an atrocious free-throw shooter with a 58 percent mark for his career.
Not only does Howard at the line stop the clock, but it allows the Lakers to set up defensively, taking away opponents ability to get out and run in transition.
With both Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant not quite as quick as they once were, that’s an invaluable thing for a Lakers’ team that in no way, shape or form would be considered young.
Sure, Dwight Howard is going to have some issues.
He'll occasionally not put a body on someone, resulting in put-backs like Thomas Robinson had on Sunday.
Every once in awhile, an attacking player will get a head of steam and dunk on him.
Everyone in the NBA has miscues like that, but those mistakes are few-and-far between for Dwight Howard.
For a player to win the MVP Award, he not only has to put up big numbers himself and play on a winning team, but he needs to make his teammates better.
Dwight Howard does all of those things.
I mentioned before that Sunday night offered us glimpses of what the Lakers look like with Dwight Howard on the floor.
I say glimpses, because let’s be realistic—it was the first real basketball he has played with his teammates. They are going to get better as a team as they continue to gel.
As a result, Dwight Howard is going to get better.
With all due respect to the reigning MVP, LeBron James, it’s time for the King to abdicate the throne.
Because Superman is going to take the MVP crown away from him, and there’s no kryptonite in the King’s arsenal—or anyone else’s—to slow him down.