We are approaching the month-old mark in the 2012-12 NBA season. While the Lakers struggled out of the gate and went through one of the biggest whirlwinds in years, the team survived and are determined to come out of the storm stronger and more focused. On this Thanksgiving week, when things that we are grateful for aren’t overlooked, Laker fans should be grateful that the Lakers have Dwight, and don’t judge what he represents by the last two games.
The presence of Dwight Howard is truly amazing to watch despite the two past games. When he is involved and “on”, Howard’s influence on the floor adds to this amazement, especially when you consider that he is performing at only 75-80 percent capacity from his back surgery and Steve Nash has only appeared in one a a half games so far this season. As Kobe Bryant recently said per ESPNLA’s Dave McMenamin:
“Teams have to make a decision,” Bryant said when asked about his two-man game with Howard. “When I’m coming to the basket, I’m in the teeth of the defense, they have to make a choice. Either they’re going to give me a shot, or they’re going to give up the roll or they’re going to give up the big kind of rolling up [the lane] or they have to give up the opposite corner. So, they got to make a choice.”
“It makes the game very easy,” Bryant said of playing alongside No. 12. “It puts a lot of pressure on the defense when he’s rolling to the basket, and you can always dump the ball into him in the post because he’s a much better post player than people give him credit for. It just makes it easier for everybody.”
I wrote about the “Dwight Howard effect” on Kobe Bryant’s game, which I believe is a big reason for Bryant’s increased efficiency. Unlike previous seasons, Kobe is covered man-to-man on defense, which he has has too many skills to not take advantage of. Like Bryant says above, the defense is consistently on their toes when deciding who to guard and where to guard. This leaves them a step behind and can easily run them down, which leaves the Lakers’ offense in control and in charge.
Not only is Dwight doing work in the low post, which is essentially a given if you are familiar at all with his game, but Howard is affecting so many other elements for the Lakers. His inside presence automatically spreads the floor, leaving guys on the wing with a ton of space to convert. In fact, on Tuesday night Mike D’Antoni remarked that Metta World Peace can easily get ten three-point attempts per game as a result of the defense sliding their focus to the inside.
While his offensive contributions and what his mere presence does for the rest of his teammates on the offensive side are essential, it is his defense that is the potential game-changer for the Lakers. Defense has been a hot-topic around Lakerland for a while now. Their defense was chaotic during the start of the season under Mike Brown and has been questioned under Mike D’Antoni’s system, even though he has only officially coached in two games.
D’Antoni knows the importance of defense to win a championship. Those that say he does’t care about defense for the Lakers, check out his introductory press conference again. Howard is the outright defensive anchor for the Lakers, and can easily dictate the outcome of a game based on his defensive input. This is something D’Antoni is more than well aware of since he is hoping Dwight puts the “D” back in his last name.
Dwight Howard’s offense has played a major role, either positively or negatively. So far on the season, Howard is averaging 18.2 points and 10.9 rebounds on 59.9 percent shooting. Per Synergy Sports, post-up plays account for 48.4 percent of Dwight’s offense, where he is converting 46.7 percent of the time. As a pick-and-roll man, which accounts for 7.3 percent of his offense, he is shooting 75.0 percent. As a cutter, Dwight is converting on 70.8 percent of those shots.
On defense, Dwight is allowing just 25.0 percent of post-up plays to score. Additionally, Howard’s defense on post-up plays results in 12.5 percent of those plays becoming turnovers. While defending the pick-and-roll, Dwight is allowing 53.3 percent of pick-and-roll plays to convert. Howard is defending particularly well against spot-up plays, which accounts for 28.4 percent of Dwight’s defensive possessions. With spot-up shots, Howard is only allowing 19.0 percent of these shots to score. Howard is also averaging 2.8 blocks per game.
It is quite remarkable how much influence Dwight Howard has on both ends of the floor. His two-man game with Kobe Bryant and his affect on his other teammates are going to be critical for the Lakers, especially with the continued absence of Steve Nash, who has no timetable for a return. Rest may become more important for Dwight in the coming weeks, especially on the road and back-to-backs, since his fatigue from his back is still a lingering issue. The loss to the Kings and the Grizzles evidenced how important Howard’s contribution and involvement is to the team’s success.
However, it is truly exciting for Laker fans considering that Dwight is posting solid numbers without full health, without performing completely in the D’Antoni system and without Steve Nash. Lakers Nation should be grateful for Dwight Howard and to Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family for bringing him to where he belongs. Laker fans would be even more grateful if Dwight got his free throw percentage to just 60 percent at least.