Is Dwight Howard the Right Star for LA Lakers to Build Future Around?

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistDecember 20, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 02:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to his foul during a 113-103 Magic win at Staples Center on December 2, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Dwight Howard holds the key to the Los Angeles Lakers' future. Whether that key opens the door to a realm of prosperity or failure, though, remains to be seen.

Or does it?

When the Lakers acquired the big man from the Orlando Magic, they had a specific vision in mind. One that had them contending for titles immediately and culminated in the then six-, seven- or eight-time world champion Kobe Bryant passing Los Angeles' torch to Howard. And from there, the Lakers would contend some more.

But is Howard the right player for the Lakers to build their future around? Is he the player that will continue to perpetuate the greatness that is a associated with the Purple and Gold? Can we honestly say that the big man is a worthy candidate to succeed Bryant as the face of this organization?

Yes, three times over.

It's easy to look at Howard's performance thus far and be disappointed. It's even easier to look at the Lakers' 12-14 record and be disheartened by the center's inability to win alongside superstars. And it's even easier yet to look at centers as a dying breed and conclude that Howard's presence won't mean as much a few years from now.

But to put stake in such sentiments and premature conclusions would be a mistake. Though both the Lakers and centers in general are currently on life support, Howard remains a superstar worthy of and capable of carrying this team.

And that holds true even if we assume Mike D'Antoni is a part of Los Angeles' future as well. It's actually especially true if D'Antoni is to remain a part of the team's future.

Howard may be averaging a lukewarm 18.1 points and 12.2 rebounds per game. He may be shooting a horrendous 50.6 percent from the free-throw line. And the Lakers may be both scoring more and allowing fewer points with him on the pine. But it doesn't matter. None of it matters. Not right now.

What does matter is what Howard has the potential do, the impact that he can have as one of the game's only remaining dominant big men.

When we look at D'Antoni's system we see a blueprint built around the point guard. We see a schematic that won't work without a distributor. What we don't necessarily see is how important Howard is to such a schematic.

Would D'Antoni's system have been as successful with the Phoenix Suns or New York Knicks without Amar'e Stoudemire to help compress the defenses?

Absolutely not. And that's what Howard does. He draws in double- and triple-teams that create opportunities for others; he makes those around him better.

Just look at what Howard did for Ryan Anderson. Or what he is beginning to do for Jodie Meeks.

Even Bryant (via Dave McMenamin of buys into such an observation:

"Go set screens, roll down the paint and free guys up. He's really good at that. By him rolling down the middle of the lane, it makes guys better," Bryant said of Howard's moving with a purpose when the team runs pick-and-rolls. "Then at the end of the game, when he posts up and they come and double, kick it out, make guys better. They play you straight up, then shoot the ball 20 to 30 times. If they double you, kick it."

That's what Howard can do in this system. It's what he'll do in any system. Centers may be dying out, but that only increases the value of what Howard does for this team. Surround him with deft shooters and you essentially become an instant contender.

Defensively, he stands to save the Lakers as well, especially in an uptempo system such as D'Antoni's where defense is often an afterthought. He contests every shot at the rim, defends well in transition and is a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year recipient.

So let's not emphasize that the Lakers are allowing fewer points with him off the floor. If the team collectively understood the concept of defensive rotations better, this wouldn't be the case.

Don't believe for a second that Los Angeles is struggling because of Howard either. Is he part of the problem? Of course, but right now, everyone is. We're begging him to take more shots, yet that is a borderline unrealistic request for someone who thrives off pick-and-rolls and currently doesn't have a quality point guard to run them with.

Do we want him to take more shots, improve his free-throw percentage and become more aggressive offensively? Most definitely. But is his need to improve in various facets of the game cause enough to consider him a failure? Most definitely not.

It's clear that Howard is still recovering from surgery, and we undoubtedly expected more from him this year. Yet knowing that the behemoth is struggling and still managing to average a double-double while swatting away 2.6 shots per game and converting on 57.6 percent of his field-goal attempts is encouraging.

Yes, Howard's performance thus far—by his standards—is not up to par. And yes, he does have various adjustments and improvements that he still needs to make. 

But he's still—rehabilitating back and all—one of the most mobile bigs in the game. He's still one of the most formidable defenders the league has to offer. He's still the most dominant post presence there is.

He's still pretty damn good.

Recently, we've forgotten that.

Just like we've neglected to acknowledge how bright the Lakers' future outlook is with him as their foundation.


All stats in this article are accurate as of December 20, 2012.