Mike D'Antoni's Lakers Won't Yield Results Until Dwight Howard Is Himself
But the end results (D'Antoni reunited with Steve Nash and coaching by far the most talented team of his career) could very well justify the means; if D'Antoni can bring the franchise its 17th NBA championship, that is.
That "if" is not nearly as big as the team's record (3-5) or conference standing (tied for 13th) would suggest.
In fact, according to vegasinsider.com, the Lakers are the second favorite team (3/1) to win the 2012-13 NBA championship, trailing only the defending champion Miami Heat (9/5). Clearly those odds are more reflective of the team's immense collection of talent and less of their slumberous start.
On paper, the club possesses a nearly unprecedented hoard of skills, savvy and smarts. The Lakers starting five (Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard) features two former MVPs (Nash and Bryant) and two former Defensive Players of the Year (World Peace and Howard).
But there's one of these award-winning players that D'Antoni will need more than the rest—the 6'11", 240-lb. Howard.
Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year (2009-11), will anchor a D'Antoni defensive system that has typically ranked somewhere between selecting his post-game attire and setting his fantasy football lineups on the coach's priority list.
Granted, D'Antoni has never coached a player who could even approach Howard's defensive acumen. Truth be told, he's never even had one who could approach that of World Peace.
No one knows how his defensive sets will look. Probably because we've all been too busy envisioning the myriad of possibilities of a D'Antoni offense featuring five different players who've averaged better than 20 points per game in a season (Bryant, World Peace, Gasol, Howard and Antawn Jamison) and Nash (fifth all-time in assists, 9,924) at the wheel.
But given the players in place, we have more than an inkling that this will be an offensive club. Nash has never played defense, and Bryant's used that end of the floor to save his energy for the past few years. Even the second unit is littered with offense-only players: Jamison, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake.
Howard's clearly weeks (maybe even months) away from 100 percent after undergoing season-ending back surgery in 2011-12. His shot-blocking prowess (2.5) may suggest that he's got his legs back under him, but his rebounding numbers (11.1, his lowest average since his rookie season) would signal that they're not.
A fully healthy Howard could largely mask the defensive deficiencies of his teammates and his coach. But his offensive output in D'Antoni's offense could make an even bigger impact.
D'Antoni will eschew his seven seconds or less philosophy with a rotation full of elder statesmen. But he won't abort the heavy pick-and-roll schemes that he's so often featured.
D'Antoni teams don't typically run many isolation post plays, which is great news for Howard since that part of his game is still a work-in-progress. Rather, the coach will put his new athletic big man into the same role that another (less talented) big man, Amar'e Stoudemire, thrived in. As the primary roller, Stoudemire averaged 22.4 points or better in three of his seasons under D'Antoni.
Stoudemire excelled thanks largely to his explosiveness attacking the basket. Howard is a former Slam Dunk Contest champion (2008). Needless to say he's not lacking for explosiveness.
Consider the fact that Howard is stronger than Stoudemire—and thus more capable to finish through contact—and it appears that Howard will be even more productive under D'Antoni than Stoudemire was.
But he needs to get healthy first. And D'Antoni needs him healthy, too.
Stats used in this article were accurate as of 11-15-2012.
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