Dwight Howard continues to thrive or toil (depending on who you ask) over in Taiwan for the Taoyuan Leopards, after having played for the Los Angeles Lakers from 2020-2022. Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets are well on their to their first NBA championship with potentially more down the road.
These developments have some questioning if Nikola Jokic is indeed the best player in the league currently. Regardless of Jokic’s status as the best player, the Nuggets are not necessarily a lock to dominate the league. As dominant as Jokic and the Nuggets look right now, there has never been better parity in the league. This parity means that there are several teams that are just a couple of roster tweaks away from competing with the Nuggets.
The Boston Celtics are probably chief among those teams. Despite constant hand-wringing about how well Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown fit, they are always in the title mix. And though the Nuggets handily swept the Lakers in the Conference Finals, the Lakers are not without hope. Back in the bubble NBA Finals of 2020, Lakers were able to handily defeat the Nuggets in 5 games, in no small part thanks to Dwight Howard.
To be sure, the Denver Nuggets have obviously improved since then, but so have the Lakers. The main problem that the Lakers ran into against the Nuggets was their inability to slow Jokic. As a genius playmaker and scorer, stopping Jokic is just not a realistic gameplan. However, taking away at least one of those aspects of his game is realistic with the right personnel.
Because its is far more difficult to prevent a playmaker from finding his teammates, stopping his own scoring has to be the gameplan. With that in mind, the Lakers do not have a player that can contend with Nikola Jokic one-on-one. And it should be a given that double-teaming Jokic is a no go.
Enter Dwight Howard. Though Howard is far removed from his Defensive Player of the Year contender prime, he is still a defensive problem. Howard remains an athletic, strong defensive presence with excellent timing. After securing Rui Hachimura, Austin Reaves, and D-Angelo Russell, the Lakers have assembled a competent and deep basketball squad.
Adding a Jokic stopper to the mix might be exactly what the doctor ordered for a team that had few answers for the Nuggets in the Conference Finals. Despite the fact that the Lakers were swept, every game was close. It always felt like they were an adjustment away from turning the tides on the Nuggets.
This mythical adjustment never came. Not because Darvin Ham failed the Lakers, but rather because they did not have the personnel to make the most needed adjustment. Contain Jokic’s scoring. Jamal Murray will get buckets, Aaron Gordon will contribute, and Michael Porter Jr, will do MPJ things.
Nikola Jokic does not need to score 30 points, nor does he needs to grab 10-12 rebounds. Those aspects of his game can be contained by the right defensive presence. Though it works in stretches, Davis on Jokic is not a viable defensive solution over the course of a 7 game series.
Without question, the Nuggets are in the best position to attain dynastic dominance in the NBA currently. However, one can never fully count out a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The Lakers have already proved they can improve on the fly before, and Dwight Howard might just be the missing piece to greatness.