Dwight Howard's Lack of Championship Mindset Might Be L.A. Lakers' Undoing
It's hard to imagine anyone being passive on Mike D'Antoni's L.A. Lakers.
Through 15 games, the Lakers (7-8) have attempted the sixth most field-goals in the NBA. And remember, D'Antoni's only been at the helm for five of those contests.
But it's hard to call Dwight Howard's play anything but passive under his new coach.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year has never been a volume scorer. In fact, he's never averaged more than 13.4 field-goal attempts per game (which would tie Detroit's Greg Monroe for 45th in the NBA this season).
But this year has seen even fewer offensive looks for Superman. His 10.9 attempts per game in 2012-13 are his second fewest shots since 2006-07.
And that number's actually dipped since D'Antoni's arrival. After finding 11.3 shots per game under former coach Mike Brown and interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff, Howard's seen just 8.6 in D'Antoni's five games. And that includes a four-shot effort (in 40 minutes no less) in the Lakers' deflating 113-97 loss in Sacramento in D'Antoni's second game.
Howard surely expected a dip in his offensive chances given the quality of his teammates. And he should have anticipated seeing fewer looks than teammate Kobe Bryant. But given Pau Gasol's recent struggles, which have only worsened this season, there has to some frustration in the fact that Gasol, not Howard, has been the team's second option.
A lot of this blame falls on the coaching staff. There isn't an excuse for not drawing up more plays for their star center, particularly when his size advantage is growing given the league's shift away from physically imposing bigs.
But Howard has to share in this blame as well.
He has to demand more touches from his teammates and coaches. If he's going to continue to start possessions on the elbow, he needs to set better screens and force his man to move towards the ball handler. He needs to explode off of those screens and bully his way into better position. And when he has the ball in the post, he needs to get into his post moves quicker so perimeter defenders can't bring the double-team.
This is easier said than done, of course. He can't force his teammates to feed him the ball.
Howard has stressed patience with his offensive game and the overall performance of his team (according to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times).
But there are steps that he can take to limit the length of this transition period.
For starters, he needs to get back to attacking the offensive glass. His rebounds on that end (3.2) have dropped below the average of any of his previous eight seasons. Even if his legs aren't fully underneath him with his recovery from back surgery, he can fight for better rebounding position to hide the limitations in his springs.
He can also force D'Antoni to call his number more often by limiting the coach's fear of his free-throw shooting. His percentage from the charity stripe has been atrocious this season (47.8 percent), and teams are simply wrapping him up anytime he touches the ball near the basket. Free-throws are nothing more than muscle memory. An increased focus in the gym could alleviate some of his struggles.
The Lakers have no guarantees with Howard beyond this season. Their biggest negotiation piece would be bringing him his first NBA title.
That is, if he carries enough weight to make that championship run possible.
All statistics used in this article accurate as of 11/29/2012.
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