The new-look Dwight Howard could be the NBA’s most confusing player.
The 33-year-old eight-time All Star has fans, and commentators scratching their heads after a dramatic weight loss heading into his final roll of the dice with the Los Angeles Lakers this season.
The former superstar once known as “Superman” during his dominant seasons with Orlando found himself in the NBA’s version of the last-chance saloon this off-season after being traded away by Washington last season where he played just eight games and struggled to recover from back surgery.
His trade to Memphis — where he was waived without ever playing a game — made it five teams in five years. He was a player still worth the gamble because of his record years with the Magic, but after five flops with the Lakers, Houston, Atlanta, Charlotte and Washington — Howard’s credit had run out.
He admitted as mush earlier this year — forcing him to undergo a bizarre body transformation that has the 2.08m centre back as one of the most intriguing players in the league this season.
After a pre-season weight loss with the Wizards, Howard reportedly shed another 25 pounds (11.3kg) after his trade from Washington.
There are reports Howard has lost as much as 40 pounds (18.1kg) from the player that arrived at the Wizards last year at 265 pounds.
Howard said he felt in the best shape of his career this off-season after committing to a 30-day fast, which he partnered with a running program.
“It was really good, it was something that really just tested my mind and my body,” Howard told ESPN’s Mason and Ireland.
“Fasting is not easy, and when you only have one meal a day — especially how I was training — it’s like, ‘Man, what am I doing?’
“But it really just helped me get over a lot of mental barriers that were in the way of me getting to where I needed to get to as a person.”
NBA expert Bill Simmons says he has never seen a body transformation like it.
Howard’s slim-down stands out starkly against fellow star centres in the league recently, who have added more size to their frame late in their careers to out-muscle their opponents.
“The Dwight Howard thing is just bizarre,” Simmons said on The Bill Simmons Podcast.
“He’s lost is appears to be 40 pounds, it’s just a lot. This is a guy who was awe-inspiring how huge he was.”
Simmons said he could barely believe the Howard that stepped onto the court for the Lakers’ season opener against the Clippers last week was the same player he saw cutting his way through the league seven years ago.
“Dwight Howard was just a mammoth specimen of a human to watch,” he said.
“And then tonight, he looked like a guy who had been living on Redondo Beach, on the water, doing a vegan diet, doing hot yoga every day. You know, he was a skinny guy and he was wearing a uniform that wasn’t baggy or anything. It seemed like he was borrowing Avery Bradley’s uniform. It was tight. And the way he played, it was like he was a second round pick from Senegal, who was still trying to learn how to play basketball, but one thing he could do was sprint from end to end. I’ve never been more riveted by anything.”
While Howard may have struggled against the Clippers, he has since shown signs that the Lakers gamble could pay off.
Howard was among the best players on the floor in the Lakers’ punishing 120-101 win over Charlotte, scoring 16 points with a perfect eight for eight from the field and adding 10 boards and four blocked shots in a game where he was given 28 minutes on the floor.
Howard’s new physique leaves him in danger of being bullied under the rim, but he has his best chance in years to play out a full season.
It’s why commentators are divided over the Lakers’ gamble on the former All Star.
“When centres get old, they just sort of mummify,” Simmons said.
“We saw that with Shaq, Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar), Hakeem Olajuwon. They just mummify and this was the opposite. He’s turned into vegan, hot yoga guy. He’s completely lost all of his explosiveness, he got stuffed under the rim.
“I’ve never seen this version of a washed up NBA star before. I’ve seen mummified version, I’ve seen lost-seven-steps version. He used to call himself Superman, he’s Clark Kent now. “He’s lost all of his muscle. What happened to it.”
Former NBA star Jalen Rose, however, says it’s increasingly common for NBA big-men to slim down late in their careers simply out of necessity.
“As you start to get older, you drop weight. That’s what you do,” Rose told ESPN’s Jalen and Jacoby.
“You drop weight to take pressure off your lower extremities. This is something Zion’s going to have to do.
“So good luck to Dwight Howard, re-inventing himself.”
The Lakers, and head coach Frank Vogel, is certainly enjoying the new look Howard.
“Dwight’s shown bursts like that all throughout camp and I said all along, he and JaVale (McGee) are playing at a really high level and a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish,” Vogel said of Howard.
“Tonight, in particular, he was off the charts. Obviously 8-for-8, scoring the way we want him to score by crashing and rolling to the basket.
“Defensively is where I felt he was dominant. He had four blocks but he changed several other shots, got every rebound it seemed in his area, and he was 16-10 with four blocks. He had a hell of a night.”