The Los Angeles Lakers have gotten off to a solid start this season. Depth issues notwithstanding, the LeBron James/Anthony Davis combo has been as lethal as expected, Kyle Kuzma seems to be rounding into form, and Danny Green has been outstanding.
One rather unexpected development has been the play of Dwight Howard. The much-maligned former superstar is on his fifth team in four years, and it's been much longer than that since he resembled the dominant force he was in the earlier part of the decade. His decision to return to the Lakers, where his downhill slide began all the way back in 2012, was a bit surprising, but given AD's injury history and the fact that Howard could be signed for cheap, the fit made sense, especially once DeMarcus Cousins went down.
The reason Howard has been kicked around the league after an ugly divorce in Houston is reasonably simple--he didn't want to accept that he's no longer The Man. His skillset is a natural fit for the highly-valued role in today's game of a rim-rolling, paint-protecting big man who sets hard pick-and-rolls on every offensive possession. But he just never wanted to do that, insisting on getting his post touches. Add in his well-documented locker room issues, and Howard's presence has been such a net negative there were real questions about if he'd ever play again.
Well, he's flipped the script with a new attitude and a new haircut in Los Angeles so far. He's providing valuable minutes at the five when Javale McGhee needs to rest; an extremely important role in regards to saving lineups featuring AD as center until the playoffs. He sets hard screens, he rolls to the bucket, and he's been giving glimpses of the defender who owned the paint almost a decade ago. His individual numbers aren't wildly impressive (6.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.3 BPG in 21 MPG), but he's shooting nearly 80 percent from the field and making the most of his limited time.
Howard is 34, and we all know his best days are behind him. But his athleticism hasn't waned too much even after the injuries he's suffered, and his potential as a super-sub center has always been clear, especially with the spacing of today's league. Most importantly, he's been contributing to winning in ways he hasn't for a very long time. There are still a lot of games to play, but so far, Dwight Howard has found new life in Hollywood.