Return to the NBA Journey, Week Two: Co-op Mission - Super-Man

What good is a series without a trilogy? For the third time, The Sports Fan Journal heads on the NBA Journey. For the first two years, we had a level of surety as to where our destination would be. In the first year, we were correct. The second, we were correct in location, but not in victor, as the Toronto Raptors won the title last year. Now, the NBA springs anew and for the first time in a while, we're not totally sure where our destination lies. This allows for a current kind of exploration. Let's continue with our next installment after a week of games.

Before we do that, another has joined us on the journey. Ronnie "Hamp" Hampston, a fellow TSFJ member and actual living legend, will be contributing this season. Other monikers he's known by, including others, are:

    • Heat Check Hamp
    • Hamp Van Vleet
    • No-Look Hamp
    • Hamp-Anthony Towns
    • Detlef Hamp

Whichever of the aliases he's using, Hamp is a brilliant mind with a quality perspective. This journey has now become a co-op mission, where both of us will join forces to reach the destination properly. This isn't like Super Mario World or Ghosts 'n' Goblins, where players alternate whether a level is completed or not. This joint venture is more like Cuphead, where we're both playing simultaneously to raise our chances of success like using the best NBA betting sites to improve betting odds of players winning NBA awards. With that said,  here is where Hamp wants to take our journey. Take it away, Worldwide Hamp...

Song of the Week: Cuphead OST - "Clip Joint Calamity"

Life can be comical at times. If I were to tell you that Dwight Howard was a huge piece in the Los Angeles Lakers hot start to the 2019-20 NBA season, it would be hard to believe. The same Howard who has been a shell of himself for several years - in large part due to injury - and the same one whose first stint in L.A. was a total failure, is having a great start to the young NBA season. Howard has been far and away better than what many expected of him. In 2019, he isn’t soaring in the air like Superman, but he is more like Clark Kent.

We all know that Kent is no superhero, but he is someone with superpowers. Superman is the hero and his suit is symbolic of this shift from ordinary to extraordinary. Those days are far and few between, but Howard has shown some resemblance to the Man of Steel.

Once upon a time, Dwight Howard was on top of the basketball world. From All-Star nods and big paydays to winning a Gold Medal and being named the Defensive Player of the Year four times, Howard’s Hall of Fame resume is undeniable. His on-court talent complemented with his jovial personality and dance moves that would make Fabo proud, the Atlanta native could do no wrong. Howard was the original “fun guy” in Orlando. But when Howard’s health and passion for the game declined, his game went south as well. Since departing Orlando, Howard had stints with the Lakers, Hornets, Hawks, and Wizards. With his career and reputation on the line, Howard has found solace in a once-familiar place.

Howard became a member of the Lake Show (again) on August 26th soon after DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending knee injury. The signing brought reservations from the Laker fans due to Howard’s 2011-12 season – a season where they were ousted in the first round of the playoffs.

After a much-maligned first stint with the Lakers, Dwight Howard as reemerged as a reserve. (NBC Sports)

Fast forward to today, and the Lakers are atop the Western Conference early in the season. It’s easy to point to LeBron’s and Anthony Davis’ MVP-caliber play, but the player formerly known as “Superman” has been arguably the third-best player on the team.

Howard’s role off the bench allows him to play against the second-team big men, which greatly benefits him. Many have called for him to start in place of Javale McGee, but Howard is a huge asset in anchoring Frank Vogel's reserve unit. While Howard’s numbers (6.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 79 percent from the field) may not quite have us screaming that this is his best season, we have to admit that Howard is playing at an All-NBA level. The numbers don’t lie, especially when we look at them per 100 possessions. He is averaging 15.2 points per game 18.2 rebounds and 5.2 blocks.

It’s easy to point at the numbers, but the things that don't show up in the stat sheet also deserve our attention. He blanketed Kristaps Porzingis in a primetime game against the Dallas Mavericks, and because of Howard, the landscape of the game changed. That type of effort was also on display tonight against the Chicago Bulls as he set tough screens and protected the rim, just as he did in the prime of his career. Without a doubt, his high motor on both ends has been on full display. Through seven games, Howard looks rejuvenated and if he keeps it up, look out.

In Howard's second chance as a Laker, he is looking to help the team win their first NBA championship in nearly a decade. In his previous stint, Superman and Los Angeles were met with kryptonite, although - of course - they wanted to see confetti fall from the rafters in the Staples Center. This time around, as Clark Kent, Howard is no longer a fabled hero in need of a phone booth to morph into someone else, but he is being the best version of himself without much acclaim.

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