When the Los Angeles Lakers traded for Dwight Howard, they brought in a player who has been one of the most dominant defensive presences in recent memory. He has been named to the All-Defensive First Team four times; he’s led the NBA in blocks twice, and he has earned Defensive Player of the Year honors three times since 2009.
But the question is how can the big man’s defense help spark a Lakers offense that is struggling early in the 2012-13 season.
At its most fundamental level, the game of basketball is really quite simple. Score more points than your opponent, and you emerge as the victor. The new-look Lakers are scoring just 96.5 points per game, and they're in desperate need of simple transition buckets while they continue to acclimate to one other on the court.
The Princeton offense was a dud, and it’s now gone as quickly as it arrived. With Mike D'Antoni now in command, the team is going to get more looks in a much faster pace, and Howard's shot-blocking abilities are going to lead to easy opportunities for a team learning its second new offense of the young season.
When fully healthy, Howard will epitomize the notion that the best offense is a good defense. Less points by the opposing team compensates for the learning curve that comes with a new system, and it will allow the Lakers to make mistakes early in the process without losing too much ground.
D’Antoni’s “seven seconds or less” method is no secret around the NBA, and what better way to put it on display than with the most athletic big man in the game running the distance of the floor?
Howard has quick hands and excellent timing, which will be on full display when he can get the stop on one end and finish in transition on the other.
If there’s one thing to be said about a fast-paced offense, it’s that it is completely addicting throughout the NBA. Squads that like to slow it down will run against up-tempo units because most fast-paced teams ignore defense altogether.
Teams are going to try and run against Los Angeles, and if the Lakers are truly trying to outscore their opponents, they must play the defense necessary to limit the opposition’s success in transition.
Luckily for the Lakers, Howard can get from one end of the floor to the other on defense, which can create unexpected fast-break opportunities in their favor.
One player who has never been known for his defense is Steve Nash. The veteran point guard has never been a great defender—or even a good one, for that matter—and he's not likely to be any better at this stage in his career.
At 38 years old, if Nash were forced to use his energy defensively, who knows how long he’d last? His minutes are much better spent pushing the tempo and facilitating the offense, as the Lakers knew what kind of player they were getting well before the thought of D’Antoni on the sidelines came to fruition.
Having Howard in the paint is going to compensate for Nash’s perimeter deficiencies, and it’s going to allow Nash the luxury of making up for a botched defensive possession when the ball goes back to L.A.
Any defensive stop helps an offense, but it’s especially useful if the stop leads to a turnover for the other team. Blocking the ball out of bounds may get the crowd going—which can certainly help your offense—but keeping possession is key.
Howard may be known for his swats that send the ball sailing into the crowd, but he is also smart enough to save a possession when he sees the opportunity.
So what can the Lakers expect on both sides of the ball as the year progresses?
We’ve all heard that it’s defense that wins championships, but the championship-or-bust Lakers might want to grasp a new concept as they attempt to learn yet another new offense.
Defense will be what earns the team offensive opportunities, and success on both sides of the floor is what will help them achieve their goal of an NBA Finals appearance in 2013.
Howard is the dignitary of the defense, and if he is able to create offense with his shot blocking, the way he has in the past, he will be the one who removes the pressure from a struggling offense sooner rather than later.