If the Los Angeles Lakers' critical victory over the reigning Western Conference champion Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday proved anything, it proved that star center Dwight Howard shouldn't be heavily involved in the team's offense moving forward.
This positive blip should turn into a trend for the struggling LA squad, a team that is desperately fighting to remain in the postseason discussion. Howard is not only relatively raw in the post in his ninth NBA season, but he's a total liability at the free-throw line.
In close and hotly contested games that will require clutch freebees to be knocked down, D12 is not the ideal go-to guy down the stretch.
After the game, Howard vented some frustration at how his situation with the Lakers has been portrayed by the media, as documented by Sam Amick of USA TODAY:
I hear what people are saying. I don't need to say anything about it, but I'm the one that gets the bad end of the stick. Something happens on TV, something happens on ESPN, and they're saying it's me. I just try to play through it and stay happy and lead this team in any way I can.
If Howard truly does want to lead the team any way he can, he should stick predominantly to defense rather than trying to establish himself offensively.
The Oklahoman's Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry posted a humorous Howard quote on Twitter:
Dwight Howard: "I think this is our first win over a good team, right?"— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) January 28, 2013
But this is exactly why Howard isn't needed on offense as much. He went 2-for-10 from the free-throw line and attempted only seven shots, yet LA cruised to a win.
The Lakers have plenty of weapons on that end of the court, and more consistent options than Howard at this point. Pau Gasol is at his best when he operates in the post, and the paint is only big enough for one of them.
When the ball is dumped into the post, it should be Gasol on the block, with Howard positioning himself for an offensive rebound or pushing his way into the key for an easy dunk.
Beyond that, Steve Nash is an extremely efficient shooter who doesn't get enough attempts since he distributes the ball a lot. If given the choice of Nash or Howard taking shots—particularly with Nash's far superior free-throw shooting—I'd take Nash every time.
The superstar led the league in scoring at the beginning of the year, but has posted 14 assists in each of his past two contests. Bryant can score almost at will, but this is a pleasing, atypical trust in his teammates recently.
As logged by ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi, Nash expressed concern that Bryant lost faith in his teammates at times, which has made chemistry inconsistent:
Steve Nash: "I think sometimes Kobe loses a little bit of faith in his teammates and goes into scoring mode."— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) January 28, 2013
The Lakers are seeing Gasol settle into his new role under head coach Mike D'Antoni. Nash is becoming more assertive, and LA is getting unprecedented offensive production from Metta World Peace.
All of those factors mean that Howard should just stick to what he does best: defense and rebounding. If he were going to be a truly dominant offensive dynamo with outstanding finesse, such a development would have already occurred at this juncture in his career.
There is still room for Howard to improve on that end, but with all the scoring talent on this Lakers squad, there is no need.
D'Antoni's offense is based on quick shots and fluidity, and posting up to Howard—who isn't the greatest passer from the post—only stagnates everything.
If Howard really does want that elusive NBA championship ring, he should defer on the offensive end to his more explosive teammates with superior skills that better fit the "Seven Seconds or Less" scheme.
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