5 Ways Dwight Howard Must Use Kareem-Abdul Jabbar to Improve His Offensive Game
Howard even suggested that he'll work with Kareem in some capacity once he's cleared by doctors to do so.
That's good news for Lakers fans, especially the ones planning on sticking around when Kobe Bryant retires. If Howard sticks around that long too, he'll almost certainly be asked to play a more integral role in the team's offense–a tall order for a dominant big man who remains somewhat one-dimensional on the offensive end.
While there's little Howard can improve as a rebounder or defensive presence, he still needs some help perfecting his scoring approach.
Abdul-Jabbar is the perfect candidate for the job. The NBA's all-time leading scorer (in total points) averaged 24.6 points per game over the course of his career and proved that centers can score in a lot of different ways while he was at it.
Here's a look at five things D12 can take away from the icon.
Slowing the Game Down
When you have Dwight Howard's strength and athleticism, the temptation is to get to the basket before help defenders have the opportunity to stop you.
That's translated into a post-game that sometimes feels rushed and predictable. It's also limited the extent to which Howard can be used with his back to the basket in the first place. He remains at his best when he already has position in or near the restricted area, waiting ever so briefly for a pass (or lob) which he can immediately cash in.
Howard's need to make a quick move to the basket also makes it difficult for him to play a more complete game in which he can size up the defense and pass to perimeter shooters.
A little bit of patience could go a long way in diversifying Howard's game and putting him in a position to make plays rather than merely make baskets.
This kind of approach came fairly naturally to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who relied on his skill and versatility rather than sheer quickness and brute force.
How to Make the Most of Steve Nash
Steve Nash isn't exactly a carbon copy of the much larger Magic Johnson, but they do share a few things in common.
The most important being a rare court vision and penchant for making all the right passes at all the right times.
Jameer Nelson was a fine sidekick for Dwight Howard in Orlando, but he's by no means a Nash-like facilitator. That kind of presence will create new opportunities for Howard, and it will also require him to adapt his game in subtle ways–looking for passes when he might not have otherwise, taking advantage of fast-breaks and understanding where to go without the ball in his hands.
These are the kind of things Kareem Abdul-Jabbar mastered during his time with the Showtime Lakers in the 1980s.
He'd always been a lethal scorer and dominant go-to option, but his years in Los Angeles were far more successful when he was playing off of Magic and letting the up-tempo offense come to him. These Lakers might not run quite as much, but Nash has made a career out of pushing the pace.
Adding Some Range to His Shot
There will be situations in which Dwight Howard just can't get the position he wants, times when defenders collapse to the paint so much that he'll either have to defer or make a mid-range shot. As he ages and loses some of his athleticism, these situations will become all the more common.
And with the threat of intentional fouls making Howard's ability to attack the rim all but useless in late-game situations, a consistent mid-range shot would do wonders for his ability to become a legitimate first option.
That might not be as crucial this year or next, but the pressure on Howard to become such a scorer will be amplified whenever Kobe Bryant leaves the game for good.
It goes without saying that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's touch was far softer than those belonging to the vast majority of big men prior or since. He could hit jumpers, and his patented sky hook had unbelievable range.
It's one thing to work with a shooting coach, but it couldn't hurt to take some advice from a fellow center who learned that kind of shot when it was relatively unprecedented for a man that size to do so. Howard may never be the next Dirk Nowitzki, but he could certainly stand to extend his game outside the painted area a bit.
Playing with His Back to the Basket
Dwight Howard certainly isn't unaccustomed to backing his man down in the post, and his training with Hakeem Olajuwon has already helped him polish that facet of his game.
Nevertheless, you won't see him do much beyond spinning out of the post for a dunk or baby-hook, with maybe a pump-fake or two thrown in for good measure. The moves are effective in limited doses, but Howard's still at his best when he can use his quickness to make a move to the basket—often when he's facing up.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hasn't been especially pleased with that tendency among ostensibly capable post players (via ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin):
"If you just take the time to figure out the fundamentals and work on it for a couple months and get it down, you have a shot that can't be blocked," Abdul-Jabbar said. "But [for] so many of the players, the whole idea of working your way down into the paint and setting yourself up with your back to the basket, it doesn't appeal to them so they don't do it."
Abdul-Jabbar goes on to cite LaMarcus Aldridge's post repertoire as one of the most impressive in today's game, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him nudge Howard in that direction. The goal will be to make Howard's game less predictable and expand the number of moves with which he has to work.
In short, it should function as a continuation of the work Howard did with Olajuwon.
Dwight Howard has never averaged more than 1.9 assists in a season, and his career mark is 1.5.
Given how often he touches the ball, you'd certainly like to see him finding his teammates for open shots a bit more often. Who could help him develop that kind of court vision?
You guessed it (or at least you'd better have by this point).
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 3.6 assists for his career, posting as many 5.4 a game in 1978-79. Those numbers began to drop a bit when Magic Johnson came along, but he'd already demonstrated an understanding of distribution that few big men ever learn.
That came in handy on a number of important occasions, including the 1985 NBA Finals in which he averaged 6.5 assists in the Lakers' four victories (in addition to 30.2 points and 11.3 rebounds).
You could make a good argument that this should be priority number one for Howard given that he'll have scorers like Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks hanging out around the perimeter.