How Dwight Howard Propels the L.A. Lakers into Elite Defensive Team

Roy Burton@thebslineContributor IAugust 28, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 28: Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic looks on against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on March 28, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown is well-regarded in NBA circles as a defensive specialist. However, in Brown's first year out in Hollywood, the Lakers weren't much to write home about defensively, allowing nearly 96 points per game during the 2011-12 season.

Dwight Howard is set to change all of that.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year is the most intimidating force in the league today, and his ability to dominate a game on both ends of the floor makes the Lakers immediate title contenders.

Part of the Lakers’ struggles on defense last season was due to the fact that their playmakers—namely Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake—had difficulty staying in front of the elite point guards in the Western Conference: Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker, to name a few. At times, Kobe Bryant would slide over and help out on the perimeter, but more often than not, Sessions and Blake could only watch as their man drove past them on the way to the basket.

Former Lakers center Andrew Bynum altered his fair share of shots over the past few years, but he doesn't possess near the same level of speed and lateral quickness that Howard has. And now that Steve Nash (a notoriously bad defender) is running the Lake Show, expect Howard to rack up quite a few blocks as LA's last line of defense this season.

"[I]n a pick-and-roll situation defensively, he's going to help guys like Steve Nash and Kobe and Metta [World Peace] and whoever else we have on the perimeter...because that is the way the league is going," said Brown when talking about Howard in an interview with ESPN earlier this month. "Teams are playing smaller, quicker, faster...and to have a guy like Dwight involved in that or on the weak side coming over to help is something special."

An example of Howard's skill at bailing out his teammates to can be found in this clip from a recent Orlando-Oklahoma City matchup:

Thunder forward Kevin Durant decides not to use the screen set for him by Russell Westbrook, electing instead to drive to his left past Hedo Turkoglu. Howard is guarding Nick Collison on the opposite side of the key, but as soon as Durant attacks the rim, Howard comes over from the weak side for the block.

Other than Howard, Orlando hasn't had any standout defensive players in recent memory, yet the Magic is notorious for making its opponents struggle on offense. In terms of points allowed, here is how both the Magic and the Lakers have fared over the past four seasons (league rank in parentheses):

   Los Angeles Lakers      Orlando Magic      
2011-12    95.9 PPG (15th)     93.4 PPG (7th)
2010-11    95.4 PPG (8th)     93.7 PPG (4th) 
2009-10    97.0 PPG (9th)     95.3 PPG (4th) 
2008-09    99.3 PPG (13th)     94.4 PPG (7th)


The Magic's success can be attributed almost entirely to the mere presence of Howard: With him on the court, Orlando allowed 102.7 points per 100 possessions last season, nearly seven points less than they gave up while he was on the bench (109.5 points per 100 possessions).

Howard frequently made up for the shortcomings of Orlando's perimeter players, and will do the same for the Lakers. He isn't just limited to being a rim protector or a help defender, however: Howard is fast and agile enough to close out on jump shooters 20-plus feet from the basket.

Blocks and shot alterations aside, the Lakers will be much better at limiting their opponents' second-chance opportunities with Howard roaming the paint. Last year, Los Angeles allowed 11.5 offensive rebounds per game—the 12th-worst mark in the NBA. Conversely, Howard has led the league in defensive rebounds in each of the past five seasons, and Orlando limited its opponents to a league-best 10.1 offensive boards per game in 2011-12.

So not only will Howard make the Lakers an elite defensive team, but he'll create additional chances on offense as well. And once the 6'11" center fully immerses himself in Brown's playbook, there's little reason why Los Angeles can't dominate the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.