Breaking Down How Los Angeles Lakers Must Utilize Dwight Howard in the Post
Dwight Howard is often maligned as an offensive player. He's often criticized as not having "any moves" and looked at as a player that relies on his athleticism more than skill. If you ask Shaq, he'd tell you that Brook Lopez is a better Center than the Lakers' new big man due to the fact that Howard is a "pick and roll" player and not a back to the basket one.
While this analysis (yes, that's sarcasm) does have a hint of truth to it (Howard is a devastating pick and roll finisher), it clearly sells Howard short as a post up option. Howard possesses enough skills to be one of the top tier post players in the league, ranking 55th in points per play while shooting 49.9% from the floor on post up plays in the 2011-12 season.
The Lakers would be wise to explore all facets of Dwight's offensive game and not just his ability to catch and finish in the pick and roll. Dwight has shown that he's more than capable of doing damage from the block by designing sets to get him the ball in the post—this sort of play should be a priority.
This starts with utilizing Dwight's natural strength and his ability to earn position on the strong-side low block. Howard is probably the best big man in the league today at carving out his spot in the post and making himself an easy target for the ball to be delivered. There's nothing glamorous to this approach and there's no trickery involved.
It's simply run Dwight to the block and let him go to work.
Here you see how Dwight walks his man down the lane line, seals him off, and then makes the catch. Omer Asik is one of the better post defenders in the league, but even he's not really able to put up much of a fight against Dwight once he's turned and called for the ball. Howard then is able to turn and face and use his quickness and explosiveness to finish over the top of his man spectacularly.
The Lakers could do much worse than finding ways to run simple sets like this multiple times a game just to get Dwight the ball down low so he can attack his man. More times than not, he'll either be able to finish or earn a foul call.
A variation of this action is to bring Howard from the weak to the strong side of the floor where he can step into his man and then make the catch. Rather than have Dwight pound his way down the lane on the ball side, he can use his combination of quickness and power to beat his man to a spot to get the ball.
What the Magic did here was start Dwight at the opposite elbow and then have him slide towards the middle post to make the catch. After he caught the ball his J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson cut through to clear the side. This clearance gives Howard the operating room he needs to attack his man in space, ultimately using his superior quickness to get an easy shot right at the rim.
For the Lakers, this exact set can be used to get Howard the ball and then the teammates clearing the side would be Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Imagine how much space Howard would have in a scenario that involved those guys clearing through and occupying their defenders.
The beauty of Howard's strength is that he can not only establish position, but he can reestablish it should the defense force the ball out of his hands. Re-posting can be a staple of how the Lakers utilize Dwight, especially in those situations where he has a mismatch that they really want to exploit.
As you see above, Howard did an excellent job of establishing the deep post on his initial catch but surrendered his position to avoid a three-second call. When he made his secondary move, he was immediately met with a double team from Paul Pierce in order to make Dwight give up the ball. Undeterred, Howard re-posted and called for the ball again. This ultimately led to a nice sweeping hook that was taken before the defense could send a second double team.
The Lakers can also run actions that don't always rely on Dwight having to get open on his own, too. Utilizing screen actions where teammates pick off Howard's man can do wonders to free him up so he can make his catch without having to bang on his defender or beat him outright with his quickness.
In this example, the play is run for Gasol but the principal would remain the same for Howard. After a guard to guard entry to the wing. the passer cuts to the lane as if he's making himself available for a pass. After pausing momentarily, he then cuts across the lane to screen for his big man. That simple cross screen action gives the big man (in this case Pau) a split second to break free from his man and make an easy catch inside ten feet from the hoop.
For Gasol this leads to a simple fade-away that he knocks down. Howard, though, could probably set up another power move, or a spin and finish or a simple hook shot. Understand, this action derived from the Triangle offense but with the Lakers switching to the Princeton this season, there will be similar opportunities to set up these cross screen actions in order to free up the Lakers' bigs.
There are several ways to utilize Howard in the post but for the Lakers, it will be best to stick to simple actions that he's used to running and plays they're already comfortable with. Within the Princeton O, this will likely mean a lot of straight post ups on the strong side where Howard bullies his man to get position or quick duck-ins on the weak side. From here, Howard either cuts to the opposite side of the floor and waits for a ball reversal or sets a pin down for Kobe or Nash and then seals his man to get the ball.
In any event, the Lakers are well set up to utilize Howard on the block and that variety in their attack should only make their offense stronger.
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