Nash, the offensive genius, was seen as the player that could help prop up the Lakers' offense via his playmaking, shooting, and ability to run the offense. Howard, the defensive juggernaut, would raise the level of the Lakers' defense through his shot blocking, ability to hedge and recover in the pick-and-roll, and overall paint presence.
And even though both players will prove to be immensely valuable to the Lakers through the course of the season for what they bring to the table, what will be clear is that Howard will have the bigger impact for this team.
The reason is simple: Dwight Howard will not only prove to be a fantastic defensive player, but will also be a major weapon in the Lakers' offensive attack. It's this ability to impact the game on both sides of the ball that will separate Howard from his point guard.
Of course, what Howard is known for is his defense. When the opposition attacks the basket, Dwight will be the player that is supposed to make sure that the opposing player does not score:
This is a classic example of what Howard brings to the table as a rim protector. When a perimeter player gets beat off the dribble, Howard recognizes he needs to help, slides across the lane, and them elevates to reject the shot at the rim. Plays like this not only save two points, but also reinforce the idea that challenging him at the rim is a bad idea. This helps deter shots from even being taken and that only helps the Lakers' defense further.
What you should also take away from the clip above is the initial defender that got beat off the dribble. Yes, that was Steve Nash. Not to bury Nash, but he'll have his challenges staying in front of quick point guards and it's this difference in defensive ability that already shows how Dwight can have a bigger impact. Nash, for all his scrap and attentiveness to team defensive schemes, simply can't come close to matching what Howard will deliver on this side of the ball.
Nash, though, will bring plenty to the table on the other side of the ball. It's on offense where he'll do most of his damage and where he will really be a net positive for the Lakers:
In these clips you see Nash show off his entire arsenal. He opens with a nifty left handed bounce pass to Metta World Peace where only he can catch it to set up a basket. He follows that up with a leaning jumper off a pick and roll. Later he'll run a picture perfect fast break, hit a circus scoop shot with his defender draped all over him, and sliver baseline for another lay in. For good measure, he'll also knock in a couple more jumpers and dish out more assists too.
Nash's ability to do it all on offense will make the Lakers offense more versatile but will also allow his teammates to get easier shots simply because he's such a threat once he has the ball.
But like Nash, Howard will also prove to be very important to the Lakers' offense and will hurt defenses in multiple ways. It starts in the post where he's not just a dunker:
This is a basic set up by the Lakers who are looking to get Dwight a touch on the low block. The play starts with Gasol handling the ball at the high-post, directing traffic so that everyone is in the proper position. Once everyone is in place, he hits World Peace in the corner and gets the ball to Dwight in the post. Dwight proceeds to face up his man, drive middle, and hit a running hook shot.
This type of play is simple yet very important to the Lakers' offense. First, it nets them two points. But beyond the affect on the scoreboard, it sets the premise that Howard is a real scoring threat and the defense will need to respond to this set later in the game lest they want to continue to give up makeable shots.
Of course, what Howard can also do is finish in the pick-and-roll:
Two things stand out in this play. First is that Howard makes a fine roll man regardless of who the ball handler is. He doesn't necessarily need Nash to be the trigger man in this action, he can rely on Kobe just as easily to set him up for chances at easy baskets.
The second thing that stands out is the fact that Howard got fouled on this play. Forget the fact that he actually made the basket for a second. Howard is perennially at the top of the league in fouls drawn. On this play he dove hard to the rim and the weak-side help had no choice but to try and hack him because he was so close to the rim with a chance to score. Dwight finished anyway but that's not even the point here.
The bigger issue is that Howard will have a positive effect on the Lakers offense simply because he's a magnet for contact. He'll get his team into the bonus earlier and that will lead to more free throws for his teammates. He'll also draw fouls on the opposing team's starting front court and that will typically lead to putting weaker players on the floor who can be exploited on both ends of the floor.
In the end, both players will be sure to help the team in countless ways big and small. Both are too good a player to not put their stamp on this Laker team over the course of the season. Howard, though, will simply impact the Lakers more. His dominant defense and underrated offensive game just mean more to the team than even the great work that Nash does.
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