Dwight Howard’s 13-14 Los Angeles Lakers have not lived up to expectations, but the team can’t say that they didn’t get what they expected from Howard: A perennial candidate for and three-time winner of the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.
D12 has been playing his way into form from a back injury, which caused him to miss the end of last season and the Olympic festivities in the following summer. He’s noticeably not yet the same player who physically dominated opposing NBA frontcourts on a nightly basis. Yet, Howard’s statistics are beginning to approach the averages that he posted in seasons that he won Defensive Player of the Year recognition.
In 36.7 minutes per game, Dwight is grabbing 8.2 defensive rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.6 blocks and 3.8 personal fouls. He’s fouling at a career-high rate, which is to be expected as he waits for his trademark top-notch athleticism to return, and only outrebounding his rookie self.
However, his blocks and steals are on par with the numbers that Howard put up during his three DPoY campaigns: 2.7 blocks and 1.1 steals from 2008-09 to 2010-11. Aside from number of games played, even his statistics from 2011-12 trumped those produced by that season’s award winner: New York Knicks center Tyson Chandler.
Over 54 games, Dwight averaged 10.8 defensive boards, 1.5 steals, 2.1 blocks and just 2.9 personal fouls in a career-high 38.3 minutes a night. Chandler played 33.2 minutes per game in his 62 appearances, posting averages of 6.5 defensive rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.4 blocks and 3.0 fouls.
But Chandler changed a culture in New York.
Under his on-court leadership, the Knicks transformed from a defensively disinterested team looking to simply outscore opponents to a squad that takes care of business on both ends of the floor. With his length, Chandler altered far more shots at the rim than he was able to deny, as is true of the great shot-blockers in the game today.
That’s why Howard has a good chance to win his fourth Defensive Player of the Year trophy: He makes prospective layup/dunk artists think twice about attempting shots at the rim every time. However, the Lakers aren’t a top-notch defensive team, despite Howard’s presence in the paint—perhaps a testament to his ongoing recovery efforts.
Howard recently told USA Today that he still has steps to take with things as fundamental as conditioning. If he’s averaging 2.6 blocks per game while still getting tired at times that he didn’t before, there’s still some upside to his box score potential with the Lakers. That goes double now that defensively deficient floor general Steve Nash is back on the floor.
As long as he can take away jumpers and funnel driving point guards to a healthy Howard, the big man can erase and change countless shot attempts.
Dwight’s other competition for Defensive Player of the Year this season may be in the form of center Joakim Noah, who’s got the Chicago Bulls leading the NBA in points allowed per game. Noah’s minutes have jumped to 39.9 per game this season—and his stats have predictably followed suit.
He’s averaging 6.9 defensive rebounds, 1.4 steals, 2.2 blocks and just 2.7 personal fouls per game in his sixth season. Surprisingly, Noah brought more boards down on the defensive end in his third year (7.6) with almost 10 fewer minutes per game (30.1 MPG in 2009-10). His blocks and steals are career-highs, though, and his foul rate is a career-best.
Noah may actually be the front-runner for the award thus far this season, but two variables have yet to be determined: One has to do with the return of a certain former NBA MVP, Derrick Rose, who has resumed practice with his team.
The other is Dwight’s ability to resume his physical dominance.
All stats used in this article were accurate prior to games played on Dec. 25, 2012. For more NBA analysis, follow Jamal on Twitter: Follow @StatManJ