Player Capsule: Dwight Howard
The impressive overall numbers for Dwight Howard in his first year as a Laker - 17.1 points, 12.4 rebounds (led the NBA) and 2.4 blocks on 57.8 percent field goals (second in the NBA) - belied the fact that it was quite the disappointing season for him both individually and from a team standpoint.
Physically, things started off on the wrong proverbial foot due to season-ending back surgery in his final season in Orlando before he was traded to L.A. over the summer.
"My back was pretty much painful the whole year," Howard explained at his exit interview. "I came back five or six months earlier than I was supposed to, for this team, for this city because I wanted to win so bad."
Howard acknowledged that since he was on the court, he was healthy enough to play, but he certainly started slowly. Howard struggled to find the form that made him a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, grabbing only 10.9 rebounds in November and 11.8 before the All-Star break. By comparison, he averaged 14.5 boards per game in 2011-12.
If Howard wasn't himself physically, he had the further challenge of having to first forget what he learned of coach Mike Brown's system, and then try to learn a brand new one when Mike D'Antoni took over in early November. Meanwhile, Howard and his fellow bigs were without the services team's top two point guards – Steve Nash and Steve Blake were both hurt – during the changeover. In early January, Howard compounded his physical issues by tearing the labrum in his right shoulder. The injury kept him out of six games, though it will not require surgery over the summer.
It was almost a perfect storm of things gone wrong, with Howard describing a "nightmare" as losses mounted, juxtaposed against enormous expectations.
But as the team began to turn things around in mid January, so did Howard. He grew in strength physically, and made progress mentally, figuring out a way to better work with his new teammates, while improving his production in nearly every category:
Pre All-Star: 16.3 ppg on 57.8% FG's and 49.5% FT's, 11.8 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 1.1 spg, 3.0 topg's
Post All-Star: 18.4 ppg on 57.8% FG's and 48.8% FT's, 13.6 rpg, 2.6 bpg, 1.2 spg, 2.9 topg's
He was the key to a defense that rallied down the stretch, the Lakers rolling off 28 victories in 40 games, keying a playoff push that secured the No. 7 seed for a team that had been as far as eight games below .500 in January. This was far closer to the Howard L.A. had seen on the other side of the court in previous seasons.
In four postseason games against San Antonio, Howard averaged 17.0 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks on 61.9 percent field goals and 44 percent from the foul line, despite the Spurs loading up on him and Pau Gasol as L.A.'s top four guards – most notably Kobe Bryant – were out injured.
That, certainly, mirrored how the season went for Howard and his team. However, the big man is looking forward to the type of summer he wasn't able to have last year.
“I’m just going to work on everything … not having an opportunity to work on it last summer," said Howard. "I can really sit down and try to re-define some of the things I can do on the floor, instead of just being one dimensional and sticking myself in the post and play out of there. I want to expand (my game).”
"You look at what he’s done in the second half of the season, it’s been pretty impressive – coming off of back surgery as well," added Bryant. "He has all summer to get himself in tip top form and next year I think he’ll be unbelievable."
Howard, a free agent, has a big decision to make over the summer, deciding whether to return to the Lakers or go elsewhere. His current teammates and management universally expressed the desire that he remains in purple and gold, convinced that he can rebound from a difficult season and help lead the Lakers back to the place they know better than most.