The Los Angeles Lakers traveled to Brooklyn, NY and were victorious in their second clash of the season with the Brooklyn Nets, beating them 92-83. The Lakers also won the first game, outlasting the Nets in Mike D’Antoni’s Lakers coaching debut. However, unlike the first time these teams met, the Lakers were without Dwight Howard who missed his third straight game with a shoulder injury. His frequent absence from the court this season had me thinking: Did the Nets end up better off when they decided to end their pursuit of Howard this summer?
Let’s leave team records out of this. To blame Howard for the Lakers disappointing 23-26 record is unfair. The Lakers have endured injuries, major roster overhaul, and an in-season head coaching change. There’s a lot of turmoil in L.A. for a team that had championship aspirations in the pre-season.
However, this isn’t about the Lakers. This is about the Nets. There’s no hiding the fact that the Nets wanted Howard. They were ready to discard Brook Lopez at the snap of a finger to land Howard. The Nets thought highly of Lopez, who had a promising start to his career, but after a season where Lopez played only five games due to injury, the Nets were ready to upgrade to arguably the best center in the NBA.
At times, the deal seemed imminent. Dwight wanted to play in Brooklyn and was set to opt out of his contract with the Orlando Magic and become a free agent this past summer. However, Dwight Howard shocked the sports world when he gave into pressure from the Magic and opted into his contract for the 2012-2013 season. The Nets tried adamantly to acquire Howard via trade in the off-season. However, a deal was not made and the Nets opted to sign Brook Lopez. Some Nets fans felt like the team was forced to settle for Lopez. But did they really end up settling?
Lopez is averaging almost 19 points per game which is a career high. Howard on the other hand is sitting at 16.5 points a game, down from his 20.6 points average last year with the Magic. While Lopez’s game is known mostly for his scoring ability, Howard is known more for his rebounding and defense. I give the nod to Lopez on the offensive side of the ball.
Let’s look at what helped Howard become a three-time NBA defensive player of the year, blocks and rebounds. This is the aspect of Howard’s game that made him more appealing than Lopez. Lopez has been a one dimensional player for much of his career. He came into the season averaging just under 8 rebounds per game along with just under 2 blocks. Howard, however averages over 12 boards per game with 2.2 blocks over his career. This season, Howard is averaging 11.9 rebounds to Lopez’s 7.4 and also holds a small lead in blocks with 2.2 per game compared to Lopez’s 1.7. Advantage Howard.
If you asked me right now, I’d say that Lopez is the better player this year because Howard is hurting out there. If Dwight were healthy, I believe he’d be the best. But I’m not trying to say who is the better player. I’m arguing whether or not the Nets are better off without Dwight Howard for this season.
The Nets are better off with Lopez. There, I said it. This team is built to succeed with a guy like Lopez down there this season. I mentioned before that he’s pretty one dimensional and I stand by that. But with the supporting cast that the Nets have, he can afford to be one dimensional. The Nets have Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans doing all the things Lopez struggles with. They are scrappy players who combine to grab over 15 rebounds per game. They wont score much, but as we can see from performances such as Lopez’s 30 point outing against the Lakers, Lopez will take care of the scoring in the paint. I really like the way these guys compliment each other and can only them getting better as the chemistry grows throughout the season.
The Lakers didn’t get hurt by this deal. At full strength, Howard will be a force inside and hopefully this team can grow to play together. Still, the Nets are having a great season with Lopez down low. Am I saying they made the right move? If we are talking about the 2012-2013 season, yep they made the right move.