Grading Dwight Howard's Debut with the Los Angeles Lakers

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2012

Grading Dwight Howard's Debut with the Los Angeles Lakers

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    Dwight Howard's debut with the Los Angeles Lakers was, in a word, disappointing, as both he and the team failed on multiple levels in losing to the Dallas Mavericks, 99-91.

    Howard's impact in the season-opening loss was a lot a less prominent than his 19 points and 10 would indicate, though not everything that was bad was Howard's fault. 

    In breaking down his performance into several key components, we'll take a look at how he did in his first game with the Lakers. 

    It also bears mentioning that the Dallas Mavericks deserve credit for getting the win. However, this is not an evaluation of the game; instead it is an evaluation of Dwight Howard's performance.

Comfort Level in Offense: C-

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    While Howard is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, he's also a pretty good offensive player. In fact the 20.7 points he's averaged over the last five seasons is the best of any center in the NBA

    Needless to say the Lakers just didn't get him for his defense. They were hoping he might be able to chip in some points as well. 

    At the start of his first game as a Laker, Howard didn't disappoint. He showed an ability to pass that we never saw in Orlando. Sometimes we confuse not doing something with not being able to do it. 

    After the first quarter though, he seemed to disappear, though to be fair, it was hard to determine how much was his fault and how much was Mike Brown's. 

    The offense was deplorable. The Lakers didn't push the ball in spite of the fact that they had an athletic advantage. They didn't force the ball inside in spite of the fact that the Mavericks were missing their starting power forward and starting center. 

    It shall henceforth be known as Mike Brown's Failure. 

    Ultimately Howard fouled out on an offensive foul, which seemed appropriate for the way the game went. 

    Howard gets a C- instead of a lower grade because asking him to be comfortable in that offense is akin to asking someone to be comfortable sleeping on a bed of broken glass. 

Defensive Presence, F

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    The three time Defensive Player of the Year, should be the four-time defending Defensive Player of the Year. He didn't stop being the best defensive player in the game last year; voters just stopped voting for him because of the "Dwightmare" he created for Orlando. 

    He comes to the Lakers being fully expected to anchor the defense. 

    At the outset of the game, he did just that. But there are a couple of numbers that demonstrate that he struggled more than he should have.

    First, Howard had only one block. In a game where he had such an inside advantage, it is remarkable that he didn't challenge more shots. Howard often showed half-heated effort on defense, which is not something we are used to seeing. 

    He simply did not bring the energy we are used to seeing from him on defense. Whether that was because his back was hurting, he just isn't in game shape yet or he was frustrated with the joke of an offense, he wasn't engaged and that hurt his defense.

    The one play where he showed any interest was more an act of vengeance than an aggressive basketball play: Retaliating for what he thought was a foul not called on Elton Brand, Howard shortly thereafter committed a flagrant on the other end of the court.

Focus, F

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    If Howard has been thought to have had a weakness in the past, it's his lack of focus. His amiable, perhaps even comedic, nature is something that has worked against him, as he loses concentration at stretches during the game.

    One thing that will be monitored during the season is how much Kobe Bryant's stern leadership—and to a lesser degree Steve Nash's more gentle guidance—will keep him "in the game" while he's in the game. 

    He came out strong, scoring seven points in the first quarter. He was remarkably sharp.

    However during the second quarter he went on a vacation. He occasionally trotted, but more often walked up the court. He didn't seem to be in any hurry on either end. To say he was disengaged would be giving him too much credit. 

    He perked up briefly after the flagrant and again for a couple of minutes during the fourth quarter, but for the most part he stopped playing after the first quarter. 

    If there could be an F-, Howard would get that but we'll have to settle for a solid F. 

Skill Level, F

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    For some bizarre reason there is a conversation as to whether Dwight Howard is the most skilled center in the game today. The only way that makes a remote amount of sense is if the only skill you're observing is free throws. 

    Still because the comparison is out there, and because Howard is now playing in the former stomping grounds of Andrew Bynum, the comparisons are going to come. 

    After tonight, those who hold such bizarre notions are going to be gloating tomorrow. 

    Howard was awful from the stripe, hitting on only three of his 11 charity throws. 

    But he also failed where he is has enormous skills. He wasn't boxing out. He wasn't rolling the way he is so successful. 

    Even on defense he wasn't utilizing his skills. He wasn't stepping up and challenging shots. He wasn't contesting for rebounds on the defensive end, either. He wasn't fighting for position. 

    He doesn't get an F for the skills he didn't learn. He gets an F for the skills which he's proven he has but didn't exhibit.

Intangibles, C-

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    There are a couple of things that aren't so negative. There were brief flashes where we saw what this offense could be when they have had more time playing together. 

    Remember this is really only the second game this new collection of Lakers they've played as a group. That the offense is not yet a highly polished, finished work shouldn't be surprising (though the walking up and down the court seemed "strategic" in the sense that giving your queen to your opponent so you can capture his or her pawn is "strategic" in chess.)

    Positively there are times when both on defense and offense, Howard and Pau Gasol seemed to work remarkably well together. On defense, as they gel, they should eventually provide a fearsome tandem in the paint. 

    Howard also showed more passing ability than we've see in the past. 

    On the other hand the lethargy was unpalatable, as was the flagrant foul. 

Playoff Readiness, Incomplete

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    The bad news is the Los Angeles Lakers are nowhere near playoff ready and Dwight Howard is a big part of the reason why. 

    The Lakers might have been laughing at the Philadelphia 76ers with Andrew Bynum's knee issues. But the Orlando Magic are laughing at the Los Angeles Lakers tonight. 

    The whole team isn't playoff ready, though, and the offense is so far away from playoff ready that it can't get there buying a ticket for a Los Angeles Clippers game. 

    It's really just too much to lay on his massive shoulders. The offense is ineptly designed and you can't execute inept no matter how much you practice. 

    Given time, and hopefully an attack of reason by Mike Brown, the readiness of this team will be better judged. Right now it's not even good enough to fail, though.