The team has struggled mightily, and while they’ve certainly improved as the season's progressed, they’re far from being elite in a tough Western Conference.
But let’s get one thing straight right now. Regardless of the team's record, and regardless of their spot in the playoffs, Howard is the game’s best center; no questions asked.
For Howard to be considered anything less than the league’s best center, that would mean somebody else would have to claim that title. Can you think of anyone else in the league who is as physically dominant yet athletically gifted as the Lakers big man?
Howard is a rare breed of player who can impact both sides of the ball. His timing and leaping ability make him one of the best shot blockers in the NBA, and his ability to clean up shots at the rim creates for easy buckets on offense.
The big man may not have the most refined low-post skills, but when you're athletic enough to create high-percentage shots, the back-down game becomes icing on the cake; not a requirement.
No center rebounds as well as Howard, no center puts the ball in the basket as often and no center shoots as high of a field-goal percentage while taking double-digit shot attempts.
Howard is still the best in the game at the center position, and it’s a matter of reminding those who have simply forgotten.
The main thing that Howard has going against him is his health. As of Dec. 23, 2012, Howard is still in the process of coming back and working toward becoming his old self (according to USA Today’s Sam Amick).
There have certainly been times where we’ve seen him lumber up and down the court, and there’s been more than one occasion where he hasn’t jumped—or even boxed out—to grab a rebound; but he’s slowly working his way back into game shape, and when he gets there, there’s not a soul in the game who can stop him.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, nobody knows when that's going to be. Howard has looked better as the year has gone on, but they're going to need him healthy before the season comes to an end to even stand a chance out West.
If the worst should happen and Howard is never able to fully recover, it's going to affect how dominant he can be as his athleticism begins to fade. That being said, even if his health stays where it is (whatever percentage that may be), he's still the only dominant center in an era of superstar point guards.
The other thing that has caused such a negative perception is the Lakers’ success—or lack thereof.
When the Lakers are losing, people want to point their fingers. Howard is the new guy in town, and he’s coming off the 2012 “Dwightmare,” making him an easy target for criticism.
The Lakers are one of the most highly scrutinized teams in all of professional sports, and whether they’re winning or losing, they’re going to be targets around the league.
The thing that’s actually in Howard’s favor is that his numbers don’t lie, and when it comes down to it, the 2012-13 season hasn’t been a horrible one for the highly publicized center.
Fellow center Andrew Bynum officially entered his name into the running for best center in the game in the 2011-12 season. He had career highs all across the board, and he looked as if he might challenge Howard by the time 2013 finally rolled around.
However, that notion has been brought to a screeching halt with Bynum’s inability to return from injury. He’s yet to help the Philadelphia 76ers in any way, shape or form, and until he can prove that his career year was more than a fluke, Howard remains the game’s best, and most productive, center.
In the NBA, winning solves a lot of problems. The Lakers struggled from the get-go of the 2012-13 season, and as a result, nobody could do anything right in the eyes of the general public.
As Howard’s health becomes less of a problem, his individual performance will improve accordingly. And, once the team starts competing out West, the perception of the big man should alter quickly, as there’s nobody in this league who can do what he does as a center on both ends of the floor.
*All statistics and standings are accurate as of Dec. 26, 2012 at 12:00 AM.
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