Dwight Howard is no stranger to contact.
The Los Angeles Lakers are postseason-bound. If they plan on enjoying any type of success during the playoffs, findings ways of combating the hack-a-Dwight is an absolute necessity.
Teams have employed the strategy during the entire season against the Lakers and it’s had mixed results. Every time Dwight Howard gathers the ball near the rim, defenders grab him and force him to convert shots from the charity stripe.
This is one form of the hack-a-Dwight. The second one involves simply fouling him away from the ball. Unless the rules change by the time the playoffs start, the Lakers do not have any counterstrike available for such a strategy.
The obvious tactic involves Howard hitting a larger percentage of his free throws. However, given his inability to do so throughout his career, we’ll write that one off.
Hence, we’ll be looking at the options at the Lakers’ disposal to keep Howard off the line.
Pau Gasol is a terrific low-post option. His combination of passing, shooting, footwork and post moves makes him a nightmare matchup for just about every opposing big man in the league.
Consequently, running the offense through him alleviates Dwight Howard’s burden on the block. Indeed, posting up Howard makes him an easy double-team target.
Thus, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is better off coming off screens and cuts where he can simply catch and quickly finish.
Hence, the Lakers might be best served putting the ball in the Spaniard’s hands in the high post or in the low block. With Howard playing off Gasol and cutting, he should be afforded with multiple clean looks at the rim.
Steve Nash runs pick-and-rolls with Pau Gasol.
Kobe Bryant’s absence coupled with Steve Nash’s injury has robbed the Lakers of their primary creators off the dribble. Consequently, running pick-and-rolls are far more difficult now without their starting guards.
But impossible it is not.
Steve Blake is a decent playmaker and can hold his own on this front. Given the attention Howard attracts, Blake should get a few driving opportunities in the pick-and-roll with his center in the postseason.
But the good stuff revolves again around Pau Gasol.
The Atlanta Hawks have a beautiful pick-and-roll set they love to run with Al Horford and Josh Smith. It certainly seems as though Mike D’Antoni has been paying attention because he’s used it on a few occasions.
Both Gasol and Howard start out in the high post. The point guard feeds Gasol and cuts away from the big men. Upon seeing the Spaniard catch the ball, Howard directs himself in direction of Gasol and sets a hard screen and cuts straight to the basket.
Gasol is such a skilled passer at his height that he routinely connects with the superstar center for a quick pass and score or simple alley-oop play.
Synergy Sports tells us Howard is converting 79.2 percent of his shots as the roll man in the pick-and-roll. Thus, putting the ball in his hands in this set gives the Lakers high-percentage scoring opportunities and diminishes the odds he gets fouled.
Metta World Peace to the hoop.
Going forward, the Lakers must obviously rely on their twin towers. However, they can also use an occasional break from the heavy lifting.
Getting out in transition for easy baskets certainly qualifies as a relief method for the Laker frontline. If the Purple and Gold spend less time in the half court, it means Dwight Howard’s offense isn’t as needed as much.
Entering the contest against the Houston Rockets on April 17, the Lakers were only scoring 10.4 transition points per game, good for 22nd in the league per Team Rankings.
During the month of April, the Lakers have been in the top 10 in rebounding according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool. This means they are snatching up a multitude of misses but not doing much with them.
During the postseason, the Lakers have to speed up the tempo and get the likes of Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark running the break.
Howard’s free-throw woes make him a candidate for multiple trips to the charity stripe. Hence, easy baskets are almost mandatory at this point for a team that relies on Howard’s interior scoring.
What direction is Steve Blake going in?
The use of misdirection plays is a thing of beauty with imposing physical specimens. Normally, coaches run these sets and fool the defense into thinking the ball is going one way when in fact it’s going in the opposite direction.
For instance, Dwight Howard will post up on the right block. Steve Blake will run a pick-and-roll with Pau Gasol on the left side of the court and then quickly pass the ball to the perimeter player within proximity of Howard.
Because the player defending Howard was forced into helping initially because of the pick-and-roll with Gasol, he will get stuck behind Howard in the post.
Because the three-time Defensive Player of the Year is incredibly strong and athletic, he can keep the defender pinned behind him right underneath the basket. Once he receives the ball, Howard can go up for an easy score without the fear of getting fouled.
Mind you, defenses are only fooled if the first action was convincing and didn’t have the feel of a dummy play. Hence, the Lakers can set up this action by running a few pick-and-rolls with Gasol.
These plays require patience, obviously, but their use keeps Howard off the free-throw line.
Simply put, the Lakers need three-point shooting. Teams with good or great post play usually complement it with spacing.
Good shooting keeps defenses honest and allows interior players to operate against single coverage. Against one defender, Howard can beat his man and score in the paint.
However, with a second defender in the fold, it’s far more likely he gets fouled.
In this instance though, the Lakers don’t need more shots from downtown. They simply need better ones.
NBA.com’s advanced stats tool tells us the Purple and Gold has taken the third most three-pointers from above the break (all three-pointers excluding those from the corners) this season.
They have converted these shots at a league-average rate. That’s not bad, but it’s not great either.
Instead, the Lakers must devise a game plan that helps them attempt more corner three-pointers.
Granted, NBA.com’s advanced stats tool tells us they are in the top 10 in attempts.
But the Lakes can certainly do a better job creating more of these shots. Swinging the ball side to side certainly helps on this front. Also, because teams love sending an extra defender at quality big men, smart teams position their shooters in spots on the floor that lead to corner shots.
It’s worth noting that entering the April 17 contest against the Houston Rockets, the Lakers were converting 36.8 percent of their corner three-pointers, a figure that places them in the leagues bottom half.
However, their conversion mark is still superior from the corners when compared to their percentages from above the break.
Because defenses despise giving up three-pointers from the corners, it makes double-teaming the post an incredibly risky proposition.
As Stan Van Gundy proved when coaching the Orlando Magic, more treys means more Howard field goals.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.