Dwight Howard's problem isn't that he's underachieving; it's that the expectations placed on his broad shoulders were so outrageous that failure was the only possible outcome.
This isn't about making Howard into some sort of sympathetic figure, because that would be an effort in futility. Nobody feels sorry for Howard, and if I'm being honest, I'd look sideways at anyone who did.
But let's be real, shall we?
As Howard reminded Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, he isn't even supposed to be on the court right now (via Twitter):
Dwight Howard on critics of his game: "I wasn't even supposed to be playing until January and I'm playing now. What do you expect?" #Lakers— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) December 13, 2012
Some may see that as Howard making excuses, but it's a fact. Howard returned earlier than anyone expected that he would, and he is still working his way back toward being 100 percent.
Howard is constantly getting better, something that is evident in his numbers.
In 14 games in November, Howard had six double-doubles, and he averaged 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
Through nine December games, Howard has seven double-doubles and he's averaging 17.4 points and 13.4 rebounds per contest.
Those are solid numbers, and he would be doing an even more efficient job of cleaning the glass if he weren't constantly forced to step up and take on penetrating guards who are consistently getting past the Lakers perimeter defenders.
Even Superman has his limits.
While there is little doubt that the Lakers are, and forever will be, Kobe Bryant's team, ESPN's Stats and Info pointed out last week via Twitter that there is a direct correlation between how much Howard touches the ball and the Lakers' record:
#Lakers are 1-7 this season when Dwight Howard attempts 10 or fewer shots. Lakers are 8-5 when Howard attempts 11+ shots.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 10, 2012
How much of the blame should Dwight Howard carry for the Lakers' early season struggles?
Since then, the Lakers have split the four games that the team has played. Those records are now 2-8 when Howard takes 10 or fewer shots, 9-6 when he puts up at least 11 shots.
Look, Howard isn't totally without blame for the Lakers' early-season struggles, but he certainly isn't the primary culprit either.
Making Dwight Howard the scapegoat for everything that is wrong with the Lakers is foolish, for he's one of the few players that is actually pulling his own weight.
It's time for the rest of the roster to follow suit.