The Los Angeles Lakers have two starting-caliber centers, in JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, on their roster. Which leaves the question, who is going to win the starting center spot?
In early July, the Lakers were sitting on cloud 9. They had signed numerous starting-caliber free agents, and had padded the roster with fantastic depth and experience.
One of those key free-agent signings was DeMarcus Cousins. Having spent the majority of his career with the Sacramento Kings, Cousins had proven to be one of the most dominant big men in the NBA. However, the Lakers were able to acquire Cousins at a reasonable price due to his recent injury history.
The Lakers received encouraging signs from Cousins during the off-season. He lost a considerable amount of weight and had ample time to rest and get healthy. Then tragedy struck. Cousins suffered a serious knee injury which effectively ended his season before it had even begun. But the purple and gold were still in a relatively strong position as they had already re-signed last years starting center JaVale McGee.
With McGee, the Lakers get a familiar face who showed growth last season and an ability to be an elite shot blocker. However, with Cousins out for potentially the entire season, Pelinka and Co. needed to add depth at the 5, fast.
In enters former 3-time defensive player of the year, Dwight Howard. While Howard is not the superstar center he once was during his time with the Orlando Magic (2004-12), he still can contribute to a contending team.
With both McGee and Howard on the books to cover the center position, many have been discussing who will start for the purple and gold this coming season.
To most, JaVale McGee is the obvious choice. He held the position last season and did a good job for the majority, whilst starting. With McGee, you get one of the most athletic big men in the league. Standing at 7-feet tall, he is extremely agile, energetic and can impressively get up and down the court with ease.
While he may not be the most skillful, or have the highest basketball IQ, he is capable of slamming down every single lob that comes his way. He can block shots at a borderline All-Star level, and when locked in, he is going to give you non-stop effort.
McGee, when he was locked in last season, looked like a borderline Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Swatting shots left, right and center, he was certainly a big asset to the purple and gold.
Although, with McGee, the good can sometimes be outweighed by the bad.
While he is capable of doing all the above, it all depends on whether he is tuned in or not. An example of this can be seen last season. McGee seemed locked in early on in the season, but when LeBron James‘ injury occurred, McGee’s production went off a cliff.
In his defense, he did suffer pneumonia in December of last season, which is an extremely severe condition. But upon returning he just didn’t seem the same for the remainder of the campaign.
McGee is also likely to make several frustrating decisions each night, which leaves both fans and spectators alike shaking their heads. This can be legitimised by his numerous appearances on “Shaqtin’ a Fool”.
Is having McGee in the starting line-up worth the time and effort? Will we see the shot-blocking borderline Defensive Player of the Year candidate, or are we going to see the lackadaisical, comes in and out of games without making much of an impact, McGee?
If the Lakers get the latter JaVale McGee, then his time in the starting line up will be very short-lived. This is now championship basketball. Title or bust appears to be the expectation in Lakerland.
If he can maintain his focus and lasers in on being the best version of himself he can be, then McGee could be odds on favorite to win the starting job.
The former Laker, turned villain, is once again a member of the purple and gold to the disgust and anger of a faction of Lakers Nation. The hate is somewhat understandable. During a pivotal and franchise-altering period for the Lakers, Howard departed a mere season after his trade from the Orlando Magic.
Howard leaving left the Lakers high and dry as Kobe Bryant was recovering from a torn Achilles and Steve Nash was fighting an injury that would eventually end his illustrious career. It has taken the best part of a decade for the Lakers to get over his betrayal and now, the former 3-time Defensive Player of the Year has returned.
Why should Howard be considered for the Lakers’ starting spot? Well, while he is not the uber-athlete and dominant big man he used to be, he still has some mileage left in him. Let’s not forget, this is the same guy who was the best player in the Magic-Lakers NBA Finals series of 2009.
While Howard isn’t a 20-point a night guy anymore, he is still a walking double-double. He can still be categorised as an elite rebounder, and while he isn’t the premier shot-blocker of his past, he is still able to disrupt play around the rim forcing opposing players to alter their shot.
Let’s also not forget, Dwight Howard was one of the scariest pick-and-roll big men in the entire NBA once upon a time. Watching Howard set a bone-crunching screen and rolling to the basket was the stuff of nightmares for opposing players.
If Howard can get back to a fraction of that level, he could be very effective alongside one of the best pick-and-roll passers in the game, in LeBron James. Having reportedly losing a considerable amount of weight to be in peak physical shape for the coming season, we might just be getting motivated, in-shape and humbler Howard.
His championship and big moment experience could prove valuable in a playoff series, and could very well be the difference between winning and losing.
So, who should be the starting center for the Lakers?
Verdict: Dwight Howard
This could be an unpopular opinion, but Dwight Howard should be the starting center for the 2018/19 season. A few reasons justify this decision. Those being:
- Dwight Howard with starters minutes on the Charlotte Hornets through the 2017/18 season averaged 16.6 points and 12.5 rebounds, per game. That season he only missed one game, featuring in 81. Even in his prime, JaVale McGee has never been able to average close to that in points or rebounds.
- If Howard is in shape and has some bounce left in his legs, he is going to get a ridiculous amount of open looks with the level of attention that LeBron James and Anthony Davis are going to receive.
- While Howard can’t shoot, LeBron and Davis can, so they are going to keep the opposing defense honest, allowing for him to destroy people in the paint.
- Howard’s big-game experience will be extremely beneficial to the Lakers when it comes to closing out games both in the regular season and playoffs. I wouldn’t be confident that McGee would have that level to his game he can call upon night after night.
- With Kyle Kuzma on the bench, having McGee join Kuzma makes the most sense from a chemistry point of view. With both, you have pre-existing chemistry that would be extremely beneficial in that 2nd unit. Add the likes of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso to that and you have a group of players who know how to play together and know each other’s tendencies. With that grouping of players, you could have one of the most potent 2nd units in the NBA.
The possibility of Dwight Howard getting back close to an All-Star level is too much to ignore. The odds are stacked against him being Orlando Howard, but you have to give him a chance to get back to that level because if he can get close, the Lakers would be getting a very valuable contributor to a team that already has championship aspirations.
I firmly believe it will be a battle in training camp between Howard and McGee. It could go either way and McGee has a real chance to stake his claim for the spot, I wouldn’t be shocked if he was given the nod, but the potential of Howard could be too much to ignore.
Keep it simple, Dwight; play a role, work hard, win a championship, and ride off into the sunset.
By Jonathan Kiernan (@KiernanJonathan)
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