What Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are Facing Defensively

Darius Soriano —  April 22, 2013

Sunday’s loss to the Spurs showed great effort by the Lakers, but also a severe lack of outside shooting. The Lakers only made 10 of their 43 shots outside the paint, struggling to generate any sort of offensive momentum against a defense set on crowding the paint like a Best Buy on black Friday.

The Spurs understand that with Kobe Bryant tweeting from his couch and Steve Nash admittedly ailing physically, the Lakers’ offense is going to be a post heavy attack. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are the team’s best scorers and feeding them the ball to let them create makable shots is the one advantage the Lakers have in this series, even if the Spurs possess two very good post defenders in Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. It simply makes too much sense, then, for the Spurs to crowd the paint and make the Lakers’ bigs earn any basket that comes from a direct post-up while simultaneously trying to force them to pass the ball out to shooters who simply aren’t as dangerous.

For a better idea of what Dwight and Pau are facing on every touch, we go to the eye in the sky. Here’s a fourth quarter post touch for Dwight Howard right after the ball has been entered into the post:

Dwight Post 1

So far so good, right? Dwight has established good position and actually has a favorable match up against Matt Bonner. Meanwhile Danny Green is pressed up on Steve Nash and Tony Parker is watching Jodie Meeks in the corner while Kawhi Leonard has dipped to the opposite elbow to help on a potential Pau Gasol dive and/or help on Dwight should he drive quickly to the middle.

Dwight Post 1A

In order to give Dwight more room to operate, Meeks cleared the side by running to the weak side corner. Nash has slid over to the top of the key area. However, look at where Danny Green (#4) is. He’s a step away from Dwight with two feet in the paint. And look at Leonard (#2). He also has two feet in the paint, ready to rotate to Nash should Green commit to a hard double team.

Dwight Post 1B

As the possession evolves, Dwight works his way deeper down the lane line but the Spurs’ defense responds in kind. Green  is now standing a full stride below the FT line while his man (Nash) is still floating above the arc. Leonard has also taken a step closer to Dwight and turned to face him completely to better read where a kick-out pass may go.

As the clock continues to tick, the Lakers adjust and slide Nash over to the ball side to provide an outlet. Dwight hits Nash and then quickly reposts. Nash hits Howard with a pass and the same dig downs occur. This time Green helps off a bit less as he’s in the corner (which is a shot you never want to surrender, especially to Nash), but Leonard has fully committed to doubling Dwight, leaving Ron behind the arc in the process:

Dwight Post 1C

With Green in his lap and Bonner on his back, Dwight does the right thing and passes the ball out. The result was Ron taking a three pointer that Leonard got a fingertip on after an excellent contest. Leonard then sprinted up floor and got an outlet pass that he finished for an easy bucket.

What Dwight faced on that possession, Gasol also faced whenever he got the ball in the post. Here’s a 3rd quarter possession:

Pau Post 1

Ron has just entered the ball into the post and is clearing the side, heading over to set a pick on Tim Duncan. Meanwhile, Steve Blake is hovering around the top of the key waiting to slide into better position so he can serve as Pau’s outlet for a kick out pass.

Pau Post 1A

After the side is clear, Pau puts the ball on the ground looking to make a strong move to the basket. As you can see, Parker has slid down to the dotted line area, completely leaving Blake in the process. This is where Pau needs to make a split second decision. He can either pass to Blake or try to split the double team and get up a shot for himself.

Pau Post 1B

Pau chooses to shoot, swinging the ball through (and avoiding a Parker swipe in the process) and then elevates over Bonner for the short jumper. Pau hits the shot and brings the Lakers to within 4 points. However, look at where the Spurs defenders are. Within three feet of Pau there are 4 Spurs, all of them with two feet in the paint. Ginobili is the only defender not close, but even he is standing below the foul line and a good 10 feet from a wide open Blake.

This is what the Lakers are facing every time they try to establish the post. The Spurs are swarming the block and forcing Dwight and Pau to either shoot with multiple defenders encroaching on their space or happily allowing a kick out pass to a shooter who they don’t think will make enough shots to beat them. On Sunday, they were right in that assumption as the Lakers clanked countless jumpers that the Spurs turned into defensive rebounds.

Moving into Wednesday, Mike D’Antoni can make some adjustments to counter this — I’d suggest running clear-outs for the post players on every touch and stationing Nash, Meeks or Blake up high so they’re the designated outlet who can take the open three pointer — but the biggest change that needs to occur is for the Lakers to, collectively, knock more of these shots down.

The Spurs have shown they’re going to try to take away the post and let the wings shoot from the outside. It’s time for the Lakers to show they can hit them.

Darius Soriano

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40 responses to What Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are Facing Defensively

  1. If SAS is going to crowd the post consistently, LAL needs to switch to high S&Rs to get Howard lobs to the basket and then mix it up with post moves for Gasol.

    Why Pau was out on the perimeter shooting is beyond me. Didn’t they face (and beat) the same team a week ago?

  2. Dwight catches the ball at :18 seconds outside the paint defended by Bonner. Kicks it out for a repost then Leonard doubles and at :07 seconds kicks it out to Ron for a 3 outside the paint at basically the same spot he posted up against Bonner. 11 seconds of no aggression. It’s room on the baseline for a right hand hook.

    Pau catches the ball at :08 seconds further outside the paint defended by Bonner. Parker comes to double at :05 seconds Pau’s already in the paint and scores against Bonner. Pau was aggressive and did more in 3 seconds than Dwight did in 11.

  3. “…..struggling to generate any sort of offensive momentum against a defense set on crowding the paint like a Best Buy on black Friday.”

    Well played Darius!

  4. Interesting to note that none of the other three players really make a hard, committed cut to the basket or come down the lane looking for a pass. Obviously Darius and others have made this point many times, but the Lakers really suffer from not having athletic wings that can get in the paint. Howard, Clark, and perhaps Jamison in his weird, crafty way are the closest things to “slashers” left and that’s a real stretch in my mind. Team really misses Kobe.

  5. Awesome break-down, Darius.

    We all agree that Pop is a tactician coach. It was pyrite to believe that the Spurs would be easy fodder for the Lakers en route to a first round win. Consensus is that the Lakers Bigs could dominate the paint, and with the Spurs injuries at key positions (point guard and shooting guard) the Lakers had an opportunity to get past the first round. A few of the issues that plagued the Lakers since the break of training camp, i.e.; lack of consistent offense, help defense, perimeter defense, foot speed, athleticism, less than stellar bench player, and the coach’s inability to counter the slightest attack to his game plan, all came into play.

    Without Kobe to game play against, the Lakers are very easy to defend. The team’s strength is its low post players, but beyond that the Lakers have no other strengths or skill sets to exploit. Nash is slowed due to injury and/or age, so he is not a threat creating a shot for himself or others. There isn’t an energy guy that comes in to do all of the little things that help win un-winnable games—about 15 games ago, that guy was Earl Clark, however he has lost his confidence. Outside shooting is a flux, just as it has been all year. So Pop used all of the tools available to him to defend the Lakers one offensive asset. Pop fronted, doubled and stunted the post players, inviting them to pass the ball to shooters. At which point they jumped into the passing lanes for steals or when the pass got through, they dared the Lakers to make the shot.

    The Lakers coach rode his aged stars just to make it into the playoffs, had he developed role players all along they might have had something to offer in the post season. To throw a Darius Morris into the fray with little or no experience is just plain, unacceptable. To the question, so what is the Lakers coach supposed to do, he doesn’t have any options. Well, he could have surmised like any other reasonable human being that older players are incapable of playing the whole season and the entire post season, too. Thus you develop your bench over the course of the season. There were plenty of times during his tenure he could have shaved minutes off his best players, yet he made the decision not to. That’s why the Lakers are where they are today, no Kobe!

    As for the Lakers coach using the pejorative term of Kobe as a fan, and a fan like that. Well, that fan just four games ago saved his tenure as a Lakers coach. Who cares if he was joking (all jokes have some tenet of truth)? Lakers fans have not forgiven him for running Kobe into the ground (should at least given him 1-2 minutes before time outs or the end of quarters to rest). Then to turn around and call one of the Lakers G.O.A.T a fan… that’s just plain blasphemous: Strike three.

  6. In the pursuit of honesty that was one of two plays the entire game Pau was doubled. They are playing him straight up with even Matt Bonner. The Lakers need to pick on that matchup.

  7. Darius, why can’t MDA make the adjustments you mentioned during the game?I hate to keep bashing MDA, because he is not even worthy of criticism. I just like to point out that this why we lakers fans crave for motion offense. This is why after Phil, we should have got Shaw, or Rick Adelman, or even Byron Scott, all of whom run some type of motion offense. Dumping the ball to Howard and Pau is not running the post. And that simple outlet pass to three point shooters is just too easy to defend. I didn’t see much of back door cut, nor high post give and go, and nothing in the mid range post at free throw line to make room for baseline slash in lay up. I am a layman, but still can tell the offense talent of this team is not fully utilized. MDA playoff record is somewhere around (26-30) ? Enough said.

  8. People said Kobe always wants attention. Crap these BS arrogant people.

    They just hate the fact that all Kobe want is to win, not only for himself but for the entire Lakers organization.

    There will be only one Kobe Bryant in this earth. Hoping that MDA only joked on Kobe being a fan. LOL

  9. With Nash back, Blake is unfortunately no longer the lead PG. As the lead guard, Blake has been thriving. He’s been attacking the basket, getting into the paint and creating havoc for defenses heading into these playoffs. Blake is and will be the only hope the Lakers have of getting penetration from the perimeter, and hopefully, he can find his rhthm and get hot the next game.

    Nash may not be healthy, but even when healthy, he has not been able to get into the paint without a pick for at least the past few years. It was a huge mistake to start a hobbled Nash alongside Blake. It took the ball out of Blake’s hands, neutered his aggressiveness, and took him out of his rhythm…while forcing Nash to become a playmaker. We’ve learned this season that Nash is best suited to be the primary floor spreader. When the perimeter offense is initiated by Nash, this team has struggled offensively all season.

    It’s time to turn the keys over to Blake starting from game 2. It may be too much to ask from a role player like Blake, but he’s the best chance we got.

  10. I dont really understand why Mike d’antoni feels the need to make these type of jokes. Not only are they not funny, but its awkward and some people might take it the wrong way. Maybe Kobe should give Mike D lessons on how to speak in public.

  11. Here’s what we learned this season. Kobe is a better PG than Nash, a better post up player than Dwight, and a better coach than MDA. Instead of disrespecting Kobe, it would be wise for MDA to start taking notes.

  12. Chearn

    Chick could not have said it better. Calling out a 17 year super star who PUT you in the playoffs shows why you were run out of New York there Mike.

    Kobe is here to stay and you mike are just passing through. Looking forward to B. Scott as coach next year.

  13. LT

    You are preaching to the choir on Blake/Nash. MDs man love for Nash needs to end.

  14. Chearn,

    Great post.

    For me, strike one was when MDA stated that the straight up post up shot was the most inefficient shot in basketball. How can a coach avoid the post when his team has three of the best post players in the league? Just mind boggling.

    Strike two was when he stated that he wanted to win when asked why Gasol was benched in crunch time. Ummm, I’m pretty sure Pau knows more about winning than MDA.

    Strike three was when he promised all would be well when Nash returned from injury. A coach should show confidence in his players on the court. Instead, he chose to a make a lame excuse on why his system wasn’t working.

    Strike four was when I realized it was the players’ decision to start playing through the post, and Kobe’s decision to take over PG duties from MDA’s supposed savior, Nash.

    Strike five was when he decided to play Kobe into the ground, and leaving him in the game after TWO leg injuries including a hyper extended knee. Seriously, just mind boggling.

    Strike six….. he calls the player who made the important strategic changes in the regular season a fan? Are you kidding me? This guy is clueless, insecure in his coaching abilities, and can’t see more than five feet ahead. I can’t take another year of this clown.

  15. Unfortunately, Mike is right. “Post, Post, Post” does not work. If you lean on the post too many times, the defense locks in on the rhythm and timing. Passing lanes get jumped. Guards dig just as the big puts it on the floor. There isn’t enough variation to keep the defense guessing.
    You have to have some pure motion sets that never enter the post. Which means you have to make some outside shots or have guards penetrating to the rim.
    Gasol and Howard each had a great game. You cannot expect any more from them without support.

  16. Ken and LT, Nash played only 29 minutes and only about 20 with Blake. They were +1 while on the floor together, Nash was +1 in his 9 or so minutes without Blake and Blake was -14 in his 19 or so minutes without Nash.

    Blake has been playing great and I would have no problem with Nash not starting and coming in as the first guard off the bench. But Nash’s time on the court on Sunday, whether with or without Blake, had very little to do with the Lakers’ loss.

  17. Rob 99,

    You are looking at the plus/minus stats without much context. Blake was taking a backseat to Nash from the get go. He didn’t have the same aggressiveness he had in prior games to start the game, and it seemed to take him out of his rhythm. Shifting back and forth from PG to SG also likely contributed as well. The ball was also in his hands less, and he was on the court with different lineups than he had been used to…as opposed to playing primarily with the starters.

    So yes, despite the plus/minus stats, I believe the decision to start a hobbled Nash was one of the main factors in limiting Blake’s game. IMHO, Blake should be the starting PG on this team.

  18. Plus minus is not an indicator if play. If the bench only scored 8 points with mostly Blake on the court you can’t put that on him. I am sure that every bad player on the Cavs had lots of plus minutes when James was on the court. Eye ball test showed Blake was better on defense and the ball moved better when he was in.

    7-1 with Blake starting.
    0-1 with Nash
    Don’t need plus-minus on that.

  19. nefariousgnome April 22, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Ken, I haven’t really decided whether I think the Lakers are better with Blake or Nash in there, but citing win-loss record there really cheapens any credibility you have. I don’t really recall who we played with Blake starting, but any time you cite win-loss record, you are potentially falling prey to issues related to strength of schedule, especially since the one game Nash started was away against the team with the 3rd best record in the league. And of course, the fact that we only have one game with Nash starting leads to small sample size bias. I’m not saying that we aren’t better off with Blake in, particularly since Nash appears to be struggling mightily while nowhere near 100% physically, but bashing plus/minus for its potential pitfalls and then citing win-loss record really degrades the credibility of the argument.

  20. Steve Blake actually played well despite the return of Nash. He was aggressive took 13 shots scored 12 pts, played great defense and was okay all around. That’s to be expected for role players on the road for them to play to their averages at least. The games he scored 24 pts on were one a court he’s familiar with behind his home crowd. He and Nash weren’t perfect but for road games they played well. Jamison and Meeks were the opposire they were liabilities.

  21. Watching the Clippers makes me realize. Other then center the Clips are better with Kobe out in every position from 2 to 12. Every other starter. Every bench player from 6 to 12 they have better personal.

    How did that happen?

  22. Kevin,

    In game one, Blake played like the Blake of the past couple years. For the Lakers to have any chance at beating the Spurs, Blake will need to play like the Blake of the past couple weeks. With Nash taking over PG duties, the likelihood of that happening is drastically reduced, home game or not. 12 points on 13 shots ain’t gonna cut it for a team desperate for scoring and playmaking from the perimeter.

  23. Pau is a center at heart. Play him in the post.

  24. @Albert:
    You say you wanted a motion offense with this team? but we had the princeton earlier this year, and EVERYONE hated it. Including everyone on this message board.

    I find it embarrassingly hypocritical of a fan base to praise one player (kobe) when he plays with injury and then turn around on the same team to critique when another player (nash) plays with his injuries in order for his team to win. The loss had nothing to do with MDA’s “man crush” of Nash and keeping him in there. He played 29 minutes dragging his leg with hip and back issues, draining 6 shots (out of 15) and making 4/4 free throws. Nash being in the game isn’t what lost the game. Darius’ analysis above is the reason why they lost the game. The Spurs were aggressive in the post defense. To counter that, people need to hit outside shots. MWP 2-9. Nash 6-15. Blake 5-13. Jamison 1-3. Meeks 1-4. If each person hits one extra shot, the score would have been 91-89. That’s what lost the game.

    I do wish that there were more sets to put Pau Gasol in the post. He took 6 shots in the first quarter, and only ONE was inside the key. In the second quarter, Pau Gasol took 3 shots. Missed all 3. All taken outside of the key. The third quarter, he took 2 shots. Made one from the paint. one missed outside the key at the FT line. In the Fourth, 3 inside the post (2 makes) and 2 outside shots (made one). 4/5 for shots inside the key. 3/11 on shots outside the key.

  25. LT Mitchell: the 24 pt game isn’t the player Blake has been his whole career. He shot 5-13 (38%). This season he shot 42% from the field. He shot 2-5 from 3 (40%). This season he shot 42% from 3. Game 1 is the steve blake Lakers have had all year. And to end the regular season he took 16 shots for 23 pts vs the Spurs and 20 shots for 24 points. Those numbers don’t scream efficiency and are what is expected of role players. The production has to come from someone else. Either Jamison or Meeks have to pick it up if your looking for points from the perimeter. But that’s why I keep going back to my tiring point that Dwight has to do something he rarely does which is score a lot, or at least look to, and play the outstanding defense he does. The role players are supposed to ride in the wagon not pull it.

  26. Chearn,

    Quick question, if MDA had spent the year developing his role players instead of riding his stars, would the Lakers even be in the playoffs? Second, this game was winnable if guys on the perimeter made open shots, I don’t see how it’s MDA’s fault they missed.

    The Lakers miss Kobe. And IMHO, the Spurs don’t look anywhere near as injured and rusty as was advertised.

  27. Blake should start if for no other reason than his defense. He’s been really competing on that end of the floor. Gave Parker fits. Nash should come off the bench in relief of Blake. At this time, he’s just not healthy enough for us to expect him to play well. Nash has been hurt all year and has given the team very little as a result.

    Our guys are going to have to make the Spurs pay for quadruple-teaming Dwight. And Pau needs to drive the ball when he is one on one with with the Spure bigs on the perimeter. Stop settling for the jumper.

    Without Kobe, this is a tall order. Even with the Mamba, the Spurs were rightfully favored. What the Lakers can find solace in is that they played good defense and were right there until Ginobli put them away with his burst. They gave the Spurs a good game, but couldn’t take advantage of the Spurs decision to stifle the Lakers’ big men. MD’A…time to adjust. And time for shots to me made, not just taken.

  28. 36pts and 10TOs between Gasol and Howard aint gonna cut it. The rebounding numbers look good but a bit inflated because of the number of misses from both teams. Only 1 offensive rebound between the 2 of them I believe. The Spurs shot 37% yet they pretty much controlled the whole game. Gasol is shooting 34% FG since Kobe went down, while also turning the ball over at a high rate. This after calling out Kobe after the Blazers game. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. Without Kobe the past 3 games, the Lakers is shooting less than 40% as a team.

  29. Remember those glorious 14 minutes when CP3 was a Laker? Watching him at the end of LAC v MEM…wow.

  30. “To tweet or not to tweet.. I CHOOSE not 2,” Bryant wrote to his more than 2.2 million followers Monday. “Focus should be on the team not my insight. @georgelopez voice ‘Can’t DO nothin!’ #vinospeare”

  31. it is what it is. we’ve been a team that always lacked outside shooting regardless of the attempts to fix that…

  32. @Kevin Re from the other thread, if our backcourt went 20-33 instead of 12- 33 everybody would be praising Howard for his unselfishness for following the plan and his court vision. I cant fault the guy for folliwing the gameplan and his teammates nit delivering.

  33. Wow Ken, you outdone yourself, comparing a 8 game sample with a 1 game sample. Yeah that tells the whole story.

  34. And finally Kevin being a superstar its doesnt necesarily mean taking a ton of shots it means when to take them too, besides the TOs i find most of Dwight decisions to kick the ball outside sound.

  35. Chris Paul is so nasty. I can’t remember the last time I saw a game-winning shot against defense as strong as Tony Allen’s on that play. Probably Kobe’s foul-line jumper double-pump to win it over Boston in the regular season.

    Hate the Grizzlies-Clippers matchup because I want to see each get their shot at the Thunder. I want a repeat of that epic Thunder-Grizz semifinals in 2011, and unfortunately due to a bad matchup, it doesn’t look like they’ll get there.

  36. If Matt Barnes was here instead of EBanks then those plays would have made the Spurs pay for double or triple teaming the post.
    But then again we play we the cards that was dealt to us.

  37. @Radius, Fans don’t hate Princeton offense. They hate Mike Brown, his rotation, his micro management style. Above all, fans hate losing. FYI triangle offense that Phil used to run is also motion offense.

  38. ” .. if our backcourt went 20-33 instead of 12- 33 everybody would be praising Howard for his unselfishness .. ”
    ______

    Excellent Point.

    Kevin,
    I got you. We all want Dwight to be that Monster and Beast upon the opposition (in this case, the Spurs). However, there’s a right way (Smart) and a wrong way (Dumb) to play this game that we all Love. Simply put, if there are 3 individuals surrounding him, that means 2 team-mates are open. When it’s kicked out to 1 of them for an open shot, IMO (whether they knock down the shot or not), that’s considered a Smart basketball play. If he refuses to acknowledge the 2 open players, for whatever reason, and forces a contested shot against a triple team, then, once again IMO (whether he makes the shot or not), that’s considered a Dumb basketball play.

    You stated, “Dwight has to do something he rarely does which is score a lot, or at least look to ..” I totally agree, but his offensive aggressiveness has to be done in a Smart manner. With the way that Pop defended him on Sunday (swarming him the majority of the time), by kicking it out to our perimeter players, Dwight made the right (Smart) basketball play.

  39. If the paint is going to be crowded I would like to see Glock get some burn. Don’t know what he has improved on in the D-League but, the man can shoot.

  40. seems pretty ironic that MB was supposed to be a defensive minded coach that we fired for an offensive minded coach…and now the lakers are stronger on defense. of course, the injuries play a big role, but it’s still pretty ironic.