How Dwight Howard Can Space the Floor for Pau Gasol

Darius Soriano —  November 6, 2012

The version of the Princeton offense the Lakers will use this season has the chance to be an evolving oasis of offensive possibility. The sheer talent and versatility of their core four players can translate to a multitude of actions — some obvious, some not so much — that can hurt a defense in a variety of ways.

When the Princeton was first talked about as a system the Lakers would employ, one of the first things that came to mind was Pau Gasol operating at the high post. Using Pau at that spot on the floor, with Howard occupying the low block, would take advantage of his elite passing while also utilizing his ability to space the floor as one of the better mid-range shooting big men.

This, of course, has become a staple of what the Lakers do run on offense. Every game we’ve been treated to at least one Gasol dime to Howard where he makes a catch at the elbow and plays high-low basketball with his frontcourt partner. As the season advances and these two develop even more chemistry, we should see even more of this action and little wrinkles added to it to force defenses into making the types of lose/lose choices that often result in made baskets.

However, one of the not so obvious ways the Lakers have started to take advantage of their talent has been the inverting of their big men. Against the Pistons, the Lakers ran several actions that put Pau at the low block and left Howard at the high post. This is the opening play of the game:

This play starts as many Lakers’ sets have lately, with the point guard (Steve Blake in this instance) bringing the ball up the left side of the floor with Kobe on the wing and Dwight in the ball side post. Blake enters to Kobe who looks to Dwight for a quick post up. Instead of entering the ball, Kobe passes the ball back to Blake who then enters a quick pass into Dwight as he slides up the lane line to the elbow. Blake then screens away for Pau who pops open at the top of the key where he gets the ball from Howard. This is where the heart of this action comes to life.

After Pau gets the ball at the top of the key he swings the ball back to Kobe and then rubs off a high pick from Dwight to dive to the low post. Kobe hits Pau with an entry pass while Howard hovers around the free throw line. It’s important here to note how closely Howard’s man is playing him and how much room Pau has to work on the post:

Pau post up

With all this room, Pau backs his man down and shoots a half hook that misses. But since he’s maneuvered his way around his man, he follows his shot, gets the offensive rebound and scores easily on a put back. It bears repeating, in this next still Howard isn’t even in the picture and Maxiell still hasn’t left the FT line area to help on the glass and is watching as Pau scores an easy two points:

Pau put back

One of the key reasons this set works is that the Lakers have put Pau in the post and spaced the floor in a way where if the double team comes Gasol can use his tremendous passing ability to hit the open man.

Furthermore, with Dwight at the elbow, the defense has a unique problem. If Dwight’s man leaves to double team he’s allowing Howard to dive from the FT line with the best passing big man in the league ready to drop him off a pass that will surely end with either a basket, a foul, or both. Not to mention that if Dwight’s man leaves him but the pass doesn’t go to him, he still has a wide open lane to crash the glass and be an offensive rebounder.

What the Lakers have figured out — and based off how many times they ran a variation of this set, they have figured something out — is that the defense must respect Dwight if he’s anywhere near the paint. His ability to cut to the ball and score off passes or simply get to the front of the rim for rebounding chances means that his man has to keep within arm’s distance of him at nearly all times or risk being exposed.

This doesn’t have to be a full time set for the Lakers. Dwight is still best served operating from the low post and trying to score on his man via touches in the paint. Many of those touches will come from the splendid passing ability of Pau. But there will be times where the Lakers can invert their bigs and use Pau’s strength as a post scorer to their advantage and not hesitate. Even though Dwight doesn’t have range on his jumper and isn’t known as a great high-low passer, it doesn’t matter. He’s too dangerous to leave.

Offensive spacing can come from many places. In this case it comes from Dwight Howard standing at the foul line. Not sure many people saw that coming.

Darius Soriano

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19 responses to How Dwight Howard Can Space the Floor for Pau Gasol

  1. Cloud,— “…he takes Hill out, you don’t think that maybe, just maybe, he was trying to save him from possibly aggravating his back after that awkward fall…?”

    I re-watched part of the 4th quarter. Hill was on the court for at least 6 possessions without an intentional foul or a timeout (where he could have been taken out).

    He was also put back on the court a bit later.

    -So no, no I don’t think MB was trying to save him from possibly aggravating his back after that awkward fall!

    Full Rebuttal Here http://www.forumblueandgold.com/2012/11/05/around-the-world-wide-web-a-win-finally/#comments November 6, 2012 at 11:13 am

  2. Thank god. Pau is too gifted a playmaker to keep him out of the triple threat position in the low post. That first screenshot really makes clear that defenses are afraid to help onto Pau because he’s such a gifted passer and sees the court so well. This is why we won two titles with Pau in the post and Lamar on the wing.

    I’m so glad to see that Dwight, even without a credible jumpshot, can provide more spacing for Pau on the block than Bynum did. I really don’t think it’s homerism to think that our team can figure out this offense (and our defense) in time to win a title this year.

  3. one of the better posts here

  4. Impressive write up. And counter-intuitive because normally the spacing big man needs an ability to shoot.

    Would the problem with this set be is it allows Dwight’s defender to somewhat rove the paint to prevent cutters?

    If Pau misses the shot, would this cause Dwight’s defender to be in better defensive rebounding position as well?

  5. Cool.

    I was so glad to see the Lakers go to Pau in the post early in the game. He is too good down ere to turn him into solely a middling spot up shooter.

  6. @Cdog
    It is possible that Dwight’s defender could be in a better position to grab the rebound simply because one of the best rebounders in the NBA is out of the paint. However, a lot of offensive rebounds are given up because the defensive guy isn’t boxing his man out. If the defender just stays in the lane without finding Howard and putting a body on him, Dwight can easily sneak in for a tip in or a put back dunk. Whether or not Dwight indeed does crash the boards is another question, but if he does, he actually has the advantage over the stationary defender.

  7. Great breakdown of the offense. Coach says the offense is going to be looking very good soon and that Pau is killing our defense…

    NBA 2012-13: The Lakers Offense And What’s Wrong With It
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06QRSwiw7eo&feature=youtube_gdata_player

  8. Does anyone know why Jodie Meeks isn’t playing? Is he hurt or doing poorly in practices? In the few games he played, I thought he was ok at defense and his offense just needs more of a rhythm.

  9. casual fan,
    apparently mike brown is going to use metta as the backup two in the bench lineup (see pincus’ article in LAtimes), now casting two players out of position… mwp as sg, and jamison as sf. i’m not sure why he thinks that’s a good idea. his lineups really are like a rube goldberg… sooo much more complicated and ridiculous than they need to be. It really is beyond comprehension why his rotations are so horrible.

  10. aka/casual fan: Didn’t believe it at first had to look it up. I agree it seems a bit early for a 8 man rotation.

    Brown may look at Meeks and Goudelock as similar players. If that’s the case he may stay buried on the bench.

  11. Nice alliteration in the intro. I have qualms about those proposed subs as well, does not seem to be the path of least resistance; length does no good if it can’t get where it needs to be. Excited for the next game

  12. Everone is sure Dwight’s athletisim will come back… I’m optimistic if not so confident.

    http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/post/_/id/51111/dwight-howard-on-the-ground-floor

  13. Metta World Peace will get minutes at shooting guard, Lakers Coach Mike Brown said.

    “That’s going to be my second unit,” said Brown. “Metta will be the two, [Antawn] Jamison is the three, [Jordan] Hill is the four and [Dwight] Howard or Pau [Gasol] is going to be the five.”

    This means Meeks will basically be out of the rotation. Tinkering continues.

  14. I have nothing civilized to say about MB latest “idea”…

    It amuses me how he never even tryed to play the “regular” rotation with players in their regular positions:

    1-Blake
    2-Meeks
    3-Ebanks
    4-Jamison
    5-Hill

    This team has never played together. Never.

    Oh, wel…

  15. I would take Eddie Jordan or Bickerstaff at this point. Brown once again wants to overplay his veterans and make this team as slow as possible in a league where teams are getting quicker and more athletic. Meeks and Ebanks werent even given a chance to succeed at SG and SF. I wouldnt be surprised if Meeks and Ebanks get benched all year, and then suddenly start getting paying time in the playoffs after another Mike Brown panic attack. The Master of Panic’s reign of terror continues…….

  16. Fire this loser coach before Lakers fall behind 10 games in the standings!!

  17. To echo your guy’s statements… There is a reason why Metta has been played at the SF position his whole career. Same for Jamison at the 4.

  18. Two questions:

    1. Why did LA waste the money signing Meeks if MB was just going to give first DE and then MWP a chance to take the vacant slot at backup SG, which was the sole “need” Meeks was signed to fill in the first instance?

    2. IF MWP is really the backup “2” right now—what does the second unit line up as? Is it

    DM
    MWP
    AJ
    Hill
    (center??)

    With an inconsistent rookie at the PG, a guy not really suited to pick up “2’s” anymore, and another guy who shouldn’t be playing more than scraps at “3” on either side of the ball, can that unit score on or stop anyone’s bench?

    That’s a train wreck….

  19. darius: gosh, feels like a week since lakers last played a game. tonite vs utah? should be a feel good game provided the outcome is a winning one for the home team.

    waiting on your game preview any moment now?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PivWY9wn5ps&feature=autoplay&list=AL94UKMTqg-9BlAhk3mI5cGayXrwM4fwR3&playnext=7

    Go Lakers