Why Mike D'Antoni's Defensive Rep Will Improve with Dwight Howard as Anchor

Zach BuckleyNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 22, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 16:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the basketball game against  Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on November 16, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Giving Mike D'Antoni the chance to coach a defensive player of Dwight Howard's caliber is like giving the nerdiest kid in school a prom date with the school's No. 1 catch. Howard is such a defensive menace that D'Antoni's defensive reputation was already boosted before he even graced the Lakers sideline.

To put Howard's defensive abilities in to perspective (for those of you that missed his three Defensive Player of the Year awards) consider this—his 2.82 blocks per game are the third-most in the NBA and his 11.7 rebounds per game are the fifth-most.

And he's managed those numbers while still clearly working his way back to 100 percent following his 2011-12 season-ending back surgery.

Given the collective age of the Lakers starting five (32.8 years old with a healthy Steve Nash), D'Antoni will dial back his seven-seconds-or-less offense considerably. This slower-paced attack will by itself improve upon the unsightly defensive performances of past D'Antoni teams.

But Howard's presence will have a much more dramatic effect on the Lakers' defensive stats.

For starters, he's an accomplished shot-blocker who can challenge opponents' shots without even leaving his feet. A sculpted 6'11", 265-lb. Howard is someone that teams need to account for on every offensive possession.

Simply seeing the big man under the rim can lead opposing players to forcing premature jump shots when there are driving lanes available. He's too strong for rivals to back him in the post, and the former Slam Dunk Contest champion has the kind of hops to erase turnaround or fadeaway jumpers.

He also has the lateral quickness to stay in front of the trendy undersized bigs of today's NBA. While drawing him away from the basket with an established perimeter attack will help an opponent's teammates, it does little for that player if they can't find their way around Howard.

His natural defensive instincts and ability to understand schemes see him rarely out of position, even when one of his teammates gets beaten by his man. His help defense will be needed considering the Lakers' leaky backcourt, but it's not as if he grew accustomed to sharing the floor with lockdown defenders during his eight seasons in Orlando.

On the glass, Howard's a tenacious rebounder on both ends of the floor. He's been the NBA's best rebounder in four of the past five seasons and is in good position to add yet another rebounding title to his growing list of accolades.

If opponents are settling for outside shots (and therefore not pulling him away from a good rebounding position) his work on the boards will help the Lakers limit their opponents to single-shot offensive trips.

But Howard can also help D'Antoni's defense on the offensive end.

He's still learning how to score efficiently near the basket, but even a missed shot from point-blank range won't expose the Lakers to the long rebounds that errant perimeter attempts would. The long rebounds off the quick shots of D'Antoni's former teams allowed opponents a number of fast-break chances.

A controlled Laker offense with a heavy dose of Howard (both in post isolations and pick-and-rolls) should grant L.A. the ability to set its defense more often than not. Attacking a Steve Nash-Kobe Bryant backcourt in the half court set doesn't sound like the most daunting task, but with Superman at their backs, it doesn't sound like the simplest one either.

Howard won't transform D'Antoni in to a defensive guru by any means. But he'll keep D'Antoni from being the defensive punchline he was in Phoenix and New York.