Dwight Howard and the 5 Best Pick-and-Roll Defenders in the NBA Today
There's a reason every team in the NBA employs the pick-and-roll to at least some degree, if not as a featured component in their offensive approach—it creates some serious challenges for even the best defenses.
Defending the play successfully requires a big man who's quick enough to hedge against the ball-handler before getting back in position to challenge his man's jump shot or roll to the basket. It also requires a big man with a strong basketball IQ. Reading what the offense's preferences are enables defenders to react accordingly.
His addition doesn't come a moment too soon, as the Los Angeles Lakers attempt to hold off pick-and-roll happy contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Dwight and players like him have become a hot commodity in the NBA. On the one hand, teams want centers who are big enough to defend the post. On the other, they need bigs who are mobile enough to disrupt the pick-and-roll.
Here's a look and Dwight and five others who get that job done as well as any.
Omer Asik–C, Houston Rockets
You could certainly make a good argument for including a veteran like Tim Duncan on this list, or perhaps even a newcomer like Anthony Davis. We'll leave them as honorable mentions for now, though, because pick-and-roll defense is such a defining part of Omer Asik's game.
When you watch him getting the job done, you might begin to understand how the restricted free agent was able to get the Houston Rockets to cough up so much money.
Asik will block his share of shots, but the thing that really distinguishes him is how well he moves and reacts in pick-and-roll situations. Under the tutelage of the defensive gurus on Chicago's coaching staff, Asik has learned how to make the most of his physical tools and has become one of the league's best all-around defenders in the process.
He may not be a prolific scorer, but in today's game, he does something just as important.
Tyson Chandler–C, New York Knicks
The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year has made his name on the defensive end in a number of ways.
He's not just a shot-blocker; in fact, he only ranked 19th league-wide in blocked shots last season.
Instead, Chandler sets himself apart with outstanding defense in the post and first-rate pick-and-roll coverage. Though not quite as quick as someone like Kevin Garnett, Chandler never stops moving ,and he's well-adept at using his size to disrupt passes and impede moves to the rim.
When you're 7'1" and have good hops, perfecting your craft is just a matter of knowing your opponents and understanding defensive rotations. Chandler has done all of the above.
Kevin Garnett–F/C, Boston Celtics
No one should be shocked to see Kevin Garnett on this list.
Between his enduring athleticism and 17 years worth of experience defending the play at the NBA level, you really couldn't ask for a better combination of skills for stopping pick-and-rolls in their place.
When you see him in action, you'll notice not only that he covers as much ground as any big man in the game, but also that he anticipates the play and immediately puts himself in position to hedge against the ball-handler before recovering and finding his man.
KG has excelled at so many levels that some of his subtler contributions sometimes go unnoticed. This one definitely shouldn't.
Dwight Howard–C, Los Angeles Lakers
There's been no shortage of talk about what Dwight Howard will mean to the Los Angeles Lakers, but head coach Mike Brown notes just how widespread his impact will be (via HOOPSWORLD's Yannis Koutroupis):
"His athleticism combined with his power, strength, quickness and energy is phenomenal. Defensively here’s a guy in my opinion is one of the best pick-and-roll big defenders in the game, to ever play the game. He’s one of the best paint protectors to ever play the game. Just knowing that he’s down there around the basket is a deterrent."
You won't find a big man more capable of recovering and getting back to the pick-setter once he starts to roll. Plus, he's explosive enough to block or alter shots in the paint that initially seem to be in the clear.
D12 will make life difficult for all but the very best jump-shooting teams, and even then, those teams' ability to drive and kick will be compromised with Howard's interior presence alleviating the need for corner defenders to collapse and help.
Serge Ibaka–PF, Oklahoma City Thunder
You probably know Serge Ibaka best for his shot-blocking and explosive dunking abilities, but the 23-year-old has rounded out his game to become one of the league's best interior defenders.
Teammate Kendrick Perkins has taken notice (via HOOPSWORLD's Susan Bible):
“The way Serge has been locked in and focused, that’s what we needed from him all season,” Perkins said. “I think his on-the-ball defense has been the best it’s been all year. We know he’s going to block shots. His pick-and-roll defense has been great, too, the way he’s been showing on pick-and-rolls and getting back.”
Ibaka's development in this regard shouldn't come as too much of a surprise.
He has the leaping ability to challenge scorers that get by him, and he has the quickness to ensure that not too many actually do get by him. Ibaka also has the luxury of playing with a solid interior defender like Perkins, who's more likely to defend post-up scorers while his teammate roams the mid-range or hovers on the weak side.
Together, they won't score many points, but they'll prevent plenty of baskets.
Joakim Noah–C, Chicago Bulls
If you've ever wondering why Joakim Noah is considered such a first-rate defender, his pick-and roll defense has a lot to do with it. It had as much to do with his selection to the 2011 All-Defensive Second Team as the 1.5 blocks he averaged that season.
Noah isn't only quick—he plays with an insane amount of energy, and he's never afraid to get physical.
The Bulls' second unit will take a hit on the defensive end without Omer Asik, but Chicago was willing to part with the defensive specialist in large part because of how good Noah is at doing all the same things.
There are plenty of other explanations for why Chicago's defense is so stifling, but it starts with Noah.