L.A. Lakers Should Consider Letting Dwight Howard Rest Until He's "Right"

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2013

January 4, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard (12) reacts after fouling Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul (3) during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Dwight Howard hurt his shoulder in the Los Angeles Lakers' 107-102 loss to the Clippers on Jan. 4 and there's a chance he could miss some time because of it.

Dwight Howard says he might not play tomorrow vs. DEN because of sprained right shoulder sustained vs. Clippers. #Lakers

— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) January 5, 2013

Technically, this qualifies as adding injury to insult, right?

Kidding aside, a little break might be the best thing for Howard, Pau Gasol and the Lakers as a whole.

The Howard Angle

It's nearly impossible to read a recap of any Lakers game without coming across some allusion to the fact that Howard simply doesn't look right. He's a step slow in his defensive rotations and he lacks the lift that once made him a dunk contest regular.

Lately, he's been involved in a few high-flying plays, but not in the way he'd prefer.

That's anecdotal analysis, though. It's easy to watch Howard and say he looks like a shell of himself, but what do the numbers say?

Well, it turns out they corroborate the eye test. According to 82games.com, the Lakers are actually a better defensive team when Howard is on the bench than they are when he's manning the middle. Per 100 possessions, L.A. gives up 107.8 points with him and 106.3 without him.

That's not a massive difference, but it definitely shows that Howard is not the same player as he was even a year ago. As a member of the Orlando Magic in the 2011-12 season, Howard made his team about seven points per 100 possessions better when he was on the floor.

Howard told USA Today on Dec. 25 that he was still experiencing numbness and tingling in his legs and that he wasn't yet 100 percent recovered from his April surgery to repair a herniated disk.

So maybe a little rest for his ailing shoulder could also benefit his balky back. It's clear he's not himself yet, so it might be best to give him some time to heal before the Lakers hit the stretch run.

The Gasol Angle

Things are just about as bad as they can get for Pau Gasol. In the Lakers' loss to the Clippers on Jan. 4, Gasol rode the pine during the fourth quarter because he was so ineffective for the first three. He has become an easy target for critics and comedians alike:

Should be Pau Gasol instead. RT @adamzagoria The Lakers today re-assigned rookie center Robert Sacre to the Los Angeles D-Fenders

— Not Bill Walton (@NotBillWalton) January 5, 2013

Though he has dealt with knee and foot issues that have slowed him down considerably, the biggest problem for Gasol has been the way that coach Mike D'Antoni has used him.

Instead of going to work on the block and at the elbows, Gasol has been spending entirely too much time away from the basket. He's putting up more shots per game from long range (0.8) and 16-23 feet (4.3) than he has in any year of his career. Compounding the problem, he's getting a career-low 3.3 looks at the rim (via Hoopdata.com).

The logic behind that strategy seems to be that Gasol is a good enough shooter and passer to thrive on the perimeter, while his absence in the paint frees up room for Howard to post up.

Obviously, that hasn't worked out. Not for anybody.

If Howard took an extended break, it might allow Gasol to spend more time on the block. Maybe a return to his former role would help Gasol put up some better numbers and rediscover his confidence. The guy can still do a few things underneath—even on D.

If nothing else, planting him down low and re-establishing his status as an excellent post scorer could help showcase Gasol's ability to be an inside presence. And who knows, if some other teams saw that for a couple of weeks, the trade market for Gasol might suddenly improve.

The Championship Angle

The Lakers were built to win championships, and the best way to salvage their title chances in this massively disappointing year is to find a way to finish the regular season with a healthy Howard and a confident Gasol.

Shutting Howard down so his shoulder (and to a much greater extent, his back) can completely recover serves both purposes.

The scary part, of course, is that a prolonged absence for Howard could mean the Lakers won't win enough games to even make the postseason. But we've established that he hasn't really made them that much better this year.

And consider this: L.A. didn't have Howard last year and they were still a good team. Sure, Andrew Bynum was around, but maybe Steve Nash can be as productive (albeit in a very different way) as the Lakers' former center was.

If all of this sounds crazy, maybe that's a good thing. The Lakers haven't managed to get much accomplished this year by thinking inside the box. It might be time to think outside of it instead.