NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series by Kyle Wright and Sam Shin regarding potential candidates for Comeback Player of the Year in the NBA for the 2019-2020 season. While we are aware there is no such distinction, we thought it would be interesting to consider who would receive the award if there was to be such a recognition.
62 G | 19.2 MPG | 7.5 PPG | 7.4 RPG | 1.2 BPG | 73% FG
Kyle: Dwight Howard lands at #2 on my list. The future Hall of Famer has seen rough days the past few seasons, as he is on his fourth team in four years. Howard has dealt with injuries throughout his career, but in Atlanta and Charlotte, Howard played in 74 and 81 games, respectively. Last season with Washington, however, Howard only played in the first 9 games of the season, and became the butt of jokes (I’m sorry, I had to) missing the rest of the season after undergoing spinal surgery to relieve pain in his glutes.
This season, his second stint with the Lakers, has gone much better than his first, as Howard has enjoyed a fresh start in a reduced role, while also appearing in 62 of a possible 63 games. While Howard has played a career low minutes, he was efficient and productive, putting up a solid per-36 of 14 PPG, 13.8 RPG, and 2.3 BPG.
Howard posted a career-high .732 FG% and a career high .600 3P% (3/5!!), as well as a career-low in TOV/36. Howard’s REB/36 and BLK/36 were the fourth best of his career, with his 5.6 BLK% the third-highest. Add in the fact that his 126 ORtg per100 is a career-high and a full 10 points higher than his second best season, and that his 1.4 DBPM is the first time he has posted a 1.0 or higher in the last seven seasons (ironically the last time was his first season in LA), Dwight has been a solid piece both on the court and in the locker room for the #1 seed in the West.
Of course, the role is much smaller now, and it’s against backup units, but for the past few seasons it seemed as if maybe Howard’s career had run its course. He experienced numerous injuries and locker room troubles. In his fresh start with the Lakers, and with a healthy body, Howard has proven he can still contribute at a respectable level for a championship contender. If he played a larger role he might earn my #1 spot, but those days seem to be long in the rearview. Nevertheless, Howard is deserving of recognition as a possible Comeback Player of the Year.
Sam: This one might not be as obvious, but I’m going to have to put Dwight Howard at #2. I get it, his numbers on paper don’t look impressive – 7.5 PPG, 7.4 RPG, and 1.2 BPG. Sure, he’s shooting 73%, but we know most of those are dunks assisted by LeBron James. So what’s the big deal?
First of all, let’s cut him some slack; the dude only plays 19 minutes per game. Second, he may not be the “Superman” we all knew him to be, but he’s certainly made strides in buying into the team, providing key minutes off the bench, and even being a great teammate. Just take a look at his per 36 averages: 14.1 PPG, 13.8 RPG, and 2.3 BPG. Those rebounding and block numbers would put him in the league’s top five for those categories.
Do I mean that if he started on a team, at age 34, that he would actually achieve those numbers? Probably not. But for anyone that’s watched the Lakers play this year, Dwight’s been a comeback story for the ages. For a guy that was signed to a non-guaranteed deal during the summer of 2019 with a contract guarantee date of January 7, 2020, Dwight has certainly looked the part of a player performing with urgency as well as motivation:
Let’s not forget, this is a guy that hadn’t played since November 2018 since he underwent spinal surgery. Despite that, Dwight has been a spark plug and a defensive monster off the bench, even regaining some of his elite athleticism and bounce. He’s had multiple big games this year already, dropping 16 points (8/8 FG), 10 rebounds, and 4 blocks against Charlotte in the third game of the season and putting up 21 points and 15 rebounds against the Cavs in mid-January.
Dwight Howard has played an extremely pivotal role on a championship-caliber team. What more can you say?