Is Dwight Howard the LA Lakers Problem or the Solution?

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 14, 2012

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - DECEMBER 07:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during play against the Oklahoma City Thunder December 7, 2012 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Oklahoma City defeated Los Angeles 114-108. 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 Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Brett Deering/Getty Images

The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers have had their season defined by two things: not enough wins and too many scapegoats.

First, blame fell on former coach Mike Brown. His ill-conceived Princeton-offense experiment failed and he was shown the door just five games into the season.

Then, blame shifted over to 11-year veteran Pau Gasol. The big man struggled through the first 17 games of the year (12.6 points on 42 percent shooting) before being sidelined by tendinitis in both knees.

Darius Morris and Chris Duhon, two fringe-rotation players thrust into starting spots by a rash of injuries in L.A.'s backcourt, have each shouldered their own share of the blame.

Laker shooters emerged as scapegoats early in the season. Jodie Meeks took a while to rediscover his perimeter stroke (38.8 three-point percentage), while Antawn Jamison's still searching for his (32.0).

Even MVP candidate Kobe Bryant has seen fingers pointed his way. The fluky, oft-cited statistic of the team's performance during 30-plus-point outings from the Black Mamba (1-11) has brought some unwarranted, backhanded blame Bryant's way.

But two players on the roster have been largely kept out of the blame game: Steve Nash and Dwight Howard.

Nash's Laker career has consisted of all of 50 minutes with the team. He's been sidelined since suffering a leg fracture in the team's second game, but he could be closing in on his return:

New story: Steve Nash plans on returning to practice next week es.pn/W3LuHS

β€” Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 14, 2012

Howard, meanwhile, has taken some heat for his free-throw struggles (49.2 percent). But he's not yet healthy from the back surgery that prematurely ended his 2011-12 season.

He may not be putting up his typical numbers, but he's doing what he can:

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

β€” Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) December 13, 2012

In total, though, what kind of an impact has Howard made on his new teammates?

He's provided the club offensive production when he's touched the basketball. He's averaging just the third most shots per game, (11.3, trailing Bryant's 20.2 and Gasol's 11.8) despite leading the team with a 58.3 field-goal percentage. With 10.4 attempts per game, Metta World Peace is nipping at Howard's heels.

Defensively, Howard's been one of the few plugs in L.A.'s leaky defense. He's grabbed the fourth-most rebounds (11.9) and swatted away the fifth-most shots (2.52) in the league.

Given the defensive lapses that L.A.'s perimeter players fall prone to, Howard's done his best to anchor their interior. If he weren't forced into helping on penetrating guards, his rebounding numbers would be even better:

A team with Dwight Howard at C should never let a team rebound 42% of their misses at the offensive end, he's being forced to help too much

β€” Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) December 10, 2012

Howard is as big of a part of the solution to the Laker woes as coach Mike D'Antoni allows him to be. He has the second-highest player efficiency rating on the team (20.8), yet appears to fight for the limited touches he's been given.

It shouldn't take a healthy Nash to find the big man near the basket.


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