So far this season, a general consensus has been reached regarding Dwight Howard’s defense: it just isn’t what it used to be.
Most expected this to be an issue early in the season as the former Slam Dunk champion progressively gets himself back into basketball shape after a back injury that sidelined him last season.
And yet his individual defense has been terrific. He is playing physical defense in the paint, and making it extremely tough for opposing centers to set up shop in the low block by fighting them for post position and bumping them out of the paint. And even when big guys get a touch down low against Howard, it’s extremely tough for them to score against him because he plays good position defense and contests shots to force misses.
MySynergySports tells us that NBA players facing D12 have only converted 5-of-22 shots from the field (22.7 percent) in post-up situations. That translates into 0.47 points per possession, which is the best figure in the Association.
Those are great figures, and that’s why the Los Angeles Lakers only surrender 96 points per 100 possessions when Howard is on the court—a mark that is identical to what he did last season with the Orlando Magic.
One would be inclined to believe that Howard is all the way back, but that would be fool’s gold. His lateral mobility pales in comparison to last season, which makes sense considering his type of injury. The end result is that teams occasionally expose him when he defends the pick-and-roll or they simply attack Gasol in the screen-and-roll action, knowing full well that the big man might be late in his defensive rotations. At least, such was the case earlier in the season.
However, at present time, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year seems to be overcompensating for his lack of mobility by sacrificing good defensive position. He is coming out a little faster to help out against opponents who drive down the lane and is leaving his feet to contest shots before actually seeing the ball go up. Consequently, the big man is now leaving his man unattended for a pass from the driving ball-handler or is simply giving up good rebounding position.
This helps explain why Howard’s rebound rate (percentage of missed shots that a player rebounds) has plummeted to a career-low level at 16.1. He is getting himself right into the thick of the action a little too rapidly, which takes him away from the rim and allows opponents to crash the offensive boards. Furthermore, his activity in the paint has made him foul-prone.
It’s worth noting that Dwight Howard has a knack for getting called for questionable fouls, but he tends to put himself in bad positions defensively where he tries to swipe at the ball or nudge players around the ribcage area as they drive down the lane and go up for a layup. Referees are quite adept at catching these actions, and given that he has been doing it more so this season because of the physical challenges he’s faced, he is averaging a career-high 3.8 fouls per game.
Put all together, the Lakers big man has been good defensively this season, but far from legendary. That is just one of the many problems plaguing the team at present time. For all the talent on the roster, they just haven’t yet reached a level of chemistry where they can all perfectly play off one another.
Great defensive teams can usually work through rough patches because their ability to get stops can overwhelm some opponents or simply keep the contests close against elite teams, making victory a 50/50 proposition. But these Lakers are not yet a great defense, and that starts with Howard.
It’s quite possible that the purple and gold will continue to struggle until he is capable of reclaiming the title of best defensive player alive.