In Mike D’Atnoni’s introductory press conference he wowed media and fans alike with his calm confidence, humor, and bold proclamations about what the Lakers can be on the offensive side of the ball. He expressed a willingness, no a desire, to let his players be the decision makers on the floor and allow their talent to shine through.
More important than what D’Atnoni said about the Lakers’ offense was his take on their defense. He noted that he has the type of defensive talent for the Lakers to a be “a bear” on that side of the ball and mentioned several times that in the period his players get up to speed on what they like to do on offense, the team will need to win games with energy and defense.
D’Antoni then laid on effusive praise for Dwight Howard and for good reason. While acknowledging that Howard is still not 100%, he expressed the need for Howard to carry the team on the defensive side of the ball in the short and the long term. This isn’t a foreign concept as it’s what we’ve all believed to be true as well. Howard’s pedigree on that side of the ball is well known and it’s impact there that had fans most excited about him becoming a Laker.
Through the first 8 games to the season, the Lakers haven’t gotten that guy. At least not consistently. He’s had his moments to be sure, but his timing and freakish athleticism haven’t come all the way back on an every play basis just yet. But, we may just be seeing a breakthrough. In the San Antonio game, Howard made one play that stood out to me as maybe his best defensive sequence of the season:
On this play, Howard did everything you’d want a big man to do. He hedged on the pick and roll to prevent dribble penetration. He then recovered to his man to contest what would have been a 15 foot jumper. After his man faked the shot and put the ball on the ground, Howard slid with him and then challenged the shot to force a miss. Then, as the ball caromed off the rim, he quickly leapt again to secure the rebound.
Dwight may not be all the way back but it’s plays like this that show me he’s getting closer. The angles, recovery, the challenge, and the second jump were all there.
Moving forward if Dwight can make these plays consistently, he’s going to make his coach look like a very smart man.