Dwight Howard: How the Los Angeles Lakers Will Use Him in the Princeton Offense
It might not have taken Dwight Howard long to feel at home in Los Angeles, but his return to the floor won't be without its adjustments.
With the All-Star center now looking to debut in time for the Lakers' first regular-season game, Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the coaching staff is busy at work introducing its prized acquisition to elements of the Princeton offense.
For Howard, this isn't just a matter of learning some new plays—it may also be a matter of becoming a new player, at least in a few respects. One of the Princeton's original innovators, Pete Carril explains that Howard's first order of business will be growing as a passer (via Sports Illustrated's Sam Amick):
"If [Howard] takes instruction and he listens, and of course he's playing with better players now too. He's got two Hall of Fame players for sure on that team at guard, so they're going to have a profound influence on him. So when they get him the ball, and he's in a position to pass as opposed to score, you're going to hit Steve Nash for a three-point shot. That thing is going in. And that's true with Kobe."
But head coach Mike Brown and Princeton specialist Eddie Jordan won't be banking on such a transformation entirely. Princeton schemes frequently rely on big men to pass from the high post (think Vlade Divac and Chris Webber with the Sacramento Kings), but there's certainly room to modify half-court sets to keep Howard closer to the basket and more focused on scoring.
As much as Howard will be challenged by a system that relies less extensively on him dominating the ball in the post, Brown is the one ultimately responsible for putting him in a position to succeed.
And with Pau Gasol already an able passer, the Spaniard will be expected to reprise that Divac/Webber role from the high post, looking for plenty of high-low opportunities with Howard in the process. In those scenarios, Howard will act as a cutter more often than not, using his explosiveness to reach lobs from the likes of Gasol and Steve Nash.
Otherwise, we'll see modifications of the Princeton wherein L.A. feeds the ball to Howard in the low-post and initiates its movement and screen-setting from there.
This is where the new offense won't be all that dissimilar from the Triangle system Phil Jackson brought to the Lakers, with Nash and Kobe moving when the ball's in Howard's hands.
This is also where the new offense is a promising opportunity for Dwight. For all the talk about the Princeton's emphasis on ball and player movement, it still involves a fundamentally inside-out standard operating procedure. Howard will get his touches early and often, forcing opponents to make difficult choices between helping to defend him and clinging tightly to their assignments.
Of course, Howard will be doing plenty of what he does best, too—rolling to the rim in pick-and-roll situations. Because the Princeton offense is predicated upon reading and reacting to different defensive approaches, many of those situations will simply emerge in the flow of an average half-court set.
But it's also worth remembering that Brown isn't planning to use the Princeton to the exclusion of the plays that have made the Lakers' future Hall of Famers so successful (via HoopsWorld's Bill Ingram):
“The way that we’ll put it together, Steve’s going to have an opportunity—he’s going to quarterback the team—and so he’s going to have an opportunity to come down the floor every possession and in early offense play pick-and-roll if he wants to,” Brown said. “It’s up to him, based on where he decides to take the ball or a call that he makes or an action that he does, it’s up to him to get us into some of the looks of the Princeton offense."
It may very well be the case that Howard ends up doing most of his damage outside of the Princeton sets, whether via the two-man game with Kobe or Nash, in traditional post-up plays, or off offensive rebounds.
Though Howard will see plenty of touches when Los Angeles runs some Princeton variant, he'll be expected to make the right pass more often than not, relying on perimeter scorers to make the most of good looks produced by their movement and spacing.
One way or the other, that was always bound to be part of his transition to life as a Laker. His team is more capable now, and there will be times when the most valuable contribution Howard can make is a timely and accurate pass. And inevitable though it may have been, the Princeton affords Howard a structure within which to learn and execute that role.
The results may not look perfect from day one, but no one is expecting this team to play its best basketball in November.
By the time March rolls around, Howard will either be buying in and making the Princeton look good, or we'll see Nash calling more and more of that pick-and-roll action.
Not bad for a Plan B.
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