Dwight Howard brings invaluable leadership to a young Sixers core

NBA: MAR 08 Lakers at Clippers
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 08: Los Angeles Lakers Center Dwight Howard (39) looks on before a NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 8, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

Typically expectations are low when a player is signed to a veteran’s minimum, $2.6 million contract. As what was probably the biggest surprise move of the offseason, the Sixers dished this type of deal out to Dwight Howard in order to provide valuable backup minutes to Joel Embiid. After collecting a ring with the Lakers last season, the 8-time all-star, 5-time all-defensive team member, and 3-time Defensive Player of the Year set his sights on raising the competitive bar in the Sixers locker room.

While the career averages of 16.7 points and 12.3 rebounds per game are appealing, Dwight has resurrected his career in recent years by transitioning into a much more complementary role. Howard will play a valuable role with the Sixers catching lobs, setting screens, and scoring put backs on the offensive end, and be counted on to block shots and secure rebounds on the defensive end. He is the most talented big man to back up Embiid throughout his career and will be able to fill the large shoes Embiid leaves when he is forced to miss a game.

The on-court impact makes a ton of sense and the relentless energy that Howard brings has already made an impact in the first two preseason games. He has also shown flashes of great production in the pick-and-roll with Shake Milton which should be utilized often this year. Regardless of the on-court fit, the biggest benefit that Dwight brings to the team has nothing to do with his basketball ability. The 16-year vet has carried over a championship mindset and winning attitude and been a valuable leader amongst the youthful Sixers roster.

Immediately following the victory over the Pacers in the final preseason game, Doc Rivers was quick to praise Dwight after his first start with the Sixers. After speaking highly of his fitness level by saying, “Dwight is probably in better shape than every guy on both teams,” Rivers continued on to speak on how Howard has been essential in the identity formation of this team. Rivers spoke on the importance of the second unit as a whole and emphasized that Dwight is an extremely key part of this.

Ben Simmons and Justin Anderson also were quick to mention Dwight as a “standout leader” on the team. Joel Embiid spoke glowingly about having Dwight backing him up this season, rightfully referring to him as the best backup he has had. Tony Bradley, the young third-string center on the roster, spoke highly of the way Howard has rallied the big-man group from day 1. Bradley specifically spoke on what he has learned from Howard on the defensive end and that he is overall just, “such a good leader.” Dwight also gave Tony Bradley the nickname “battery-pack” due to his role of bringing energy to the team.

Having Embiid and Howard on the same page could pay major dividends for the Sixers as they progress into the regular season. As Dwight put it himself, “a big part of our team is to mentally destroy the other team and it starts with Joel and myself.” This sounds like exactly what Joel would want to hear and, on the heels of a big-man pairing that blew up in the Sixers’ face, it will be extremely exciting to watch play out.

Dwight Howard has made headlines for many things throughout his career. Whether it be the high-flying dunk contest performances, public feuds with coaches, or questionable off-the-court rumors the big-man has been through it all in his career. The signs of him turning a new page and staying out of the headlines is exactly what the Sixers hoped for when dishing out the contract to Howard. As Dwight put it himself, “I just try to lead by example.” Despite attempts of bringing in guys like Jimmy Butler or Al Horford, there has yet to be a fitting veteran presence amongst the team in recent years. The early feedback on Dwight’s impact on the team suggests he may be the perfect guy for this role.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire