Here we go again.
According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Dwight Howard has reached a buyout with the Memphis Grizzlies and intends to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even though Howard's first rodeo in Los Angeles didn't go to plan, the signing doesn't come as much of a surprise as the Lakers find themselves back on the market for a center after DeMarcus Cousins suffered a torn ACL in a workout that is expected to sideline him out for the entire 2019-20 season. Without Cousins, the Lakers were left with JaVale McGee and Anthony Davis as the only real centers on its roster, complicated further by Davis much preferring to play power forward.
"I like playing the 4," Davis said in his introductory press conference with the Lakers. "I'm not even going to sugarcoat it. I like playing the 4. I don't really like playing the 5."
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Howard was arguably the best centre available to the Lakers in wake of Boogie's injury - their other options were Joakim Noah, Marcin Gortat, Salah Mejri or Mo Speights - but it's difficult to project what sort of impact he'll make next season. Due to a back injury, he appeared in only nine games with the Washington Wizards in the 2018-19 season, posting 12.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 0.4 blocks in 25.6 minutes per game.
The rebounds, blocks and minutes were the lowest marks of his career and Howard has only ever averaged less points once before, back in 2004-05 when he was a 19-year-old rookie drafted straight out of high school.
The hope for the Lakers would be that Howard will be more like the player he was in 2017-18, when he had a bounce-back season of sorts as a member of the Charlotte Hornets. While the Hornets failed to make the playoffs, Howard started in all 81 regular season games he appeared in and averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per contest.
Howard made his presence felt the most on the offensive glass in Charlotte. With an average of 3.1 offensive rebounds per game, he helped the franchise go from being one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the league to being slightly above league average. Those rebounds were a huge source of offence for himself, scoring the fourth-most points in the league off of putbacks that season.
Having already acquired one of the league's best offensive rebounders this offseason in Davis, the Lakers should have no problem generating second chance opportunities with both of them on the floor together.
Howard will otherwise be expected to fill a McGee-like role on offence, with him hanging out in the dunker spot or setting screens and rolling hard to the basket when he doesn't have the ball in his hands.
Howard has always been a dynamic roll man because of his size and athleticism, making him someone who can catch lobs with ease.
Those same tools make him a solid cutter - he's quick off his feet and capable of playing above the rim.
Howard's problem in the second half of his career has been the frequency with which he posts up. According to NBA.com, he averaged the third-most post-up possessions in the league in 2017-18 despite ranking in the 39th percentile with 0.83 points per possession. In addition to being an inconsistent scorer with his back to the basket, he was a turnover machine with the Hornets, coughing the ball up on nearly a fifth of his post-up possessions.
Howard didn't post-up quite as much with the Atlanta Hawks in the 2016-17 season but it was still a huge part of his game and he once again struggled with efficiency, ranking in the 38th percentile with 0.84 points per possession.
With Davis and LeBron James leading the way in Los Angeles, there wouldn't be much of a need - if any - for Howard to post-up next season. His willingness to post-up less will therefore go a long way in making it work alongside the two superstars. It could otherwise become a source of tension between the three of them if Howard continued to post-up at the same rate as a Kristaps Porzingis, Blake Griffin or Karl-Anthony Towns because he's no longer good enough to warrant those touches.
As for the other end of the floor, Howard's days of being on the ballot for Defensive Player of the Year are almost certainly over, but he's still a decent rim protector. His 1.6 blocks per game tied him with Andre Drummond and Cousins for the ninth-most in the league in 2017-18 and he limited opponents to 57.6 percent shooting at the rim, which was slightly below their expected field goal percentage.
Most important of all, Howard is better suited than McGee and Davis to matchup with traditional centres the Western Conference has to offer. It starts with Nikola Jokic and extends to the likes of Steven Adams, Hassan Whiteside and Jonas Valanciunas.
It could also become a factor should the Lakers make the Finals, as the Philadelphia 76ers - a preseason favourite to make it out of the Eastern Conference - are built around an All-NBA centre in Joel Embiid and added five-time All-Star at the position this offseason in Al Horford.
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Having missed basically all of last season with an injury, there's obviously no guarantee that the 2017-18 version of Howard is the one the Lakers will be getting next season - and even that version of Howard had attributes that would complicate his fit in Los Angeles, such as his insistence on posting up and his overall decline as a defender. But if nothing else, it provides a blueprint for him to follow if he is actually prepared to do whatever is asked of him.
Howard says he is, but the pressure would be on him to prove that he can still contribute in a meaningful way at this stage of his career.
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