For Dwight and D’Antoni, Simpler is Better

Darius Soriano —  May 23, 2013

Based off the evidence accumulated over the course of their careers, I have full confidence in making two pretty declarative statements:

1. Mike D’Antoni would prefer to run an offense featuring a spread pick and roll attack that generates easy shots at the rim and open three pointers around the arc.

2. Dwight Howard excels in the pick and roll, is one of the best finishers at the rim in the entire NBA, and would love to get more touches close to the rim.

Based off these two statements, from a strict X’s and O’s perspective, the Mike D’Antoni offense and the Dwight Howard skill-set are perfect matches.┬áThe goal, then, should be to find a way to maximize what both want to do while both sides show enough flexibility in order to make this partnership work. And if both sides do just that, the results will be fantastic.

The bending from both sides is actually pretty simple and straight forward once the noise and bluster is stripped away.

From Dwight’s side, he must embrace the fact that he’s one of (and likely) the best big man who can both set a screen and explode to the basket for a strong finish. He possesses a gigantic upper body and sets impressive screens when he commits fully to them. He also possesses unique athletic ability, with quick feet, excellent leaping ability, and good enough hands to make a variety of catches and then finish at the rim. Dwight must simply understand that in any offense he plays in his coach is going to ask him to set crushing screens and then get to the front of the rim to make himself available to score the ball. He’s simply too proven a player at this skill for it to not be a feature of the offense for any team he’s on.

From D’Antoni’s side, he must reinforce the idea that not every three point shot is a good one and that a look inside to his big man (be it Howard or Gasol) is a mandatory part of the offense. All too frequently offensive possessions unfolded this way: Lakers run a pick and roll with Dwight, the defense rotates away from the wing to clog the paint to take away Dwight’s dive, the ball goes to the wing and a three pointer is launched without nary a look inside to Dwight who is battling for position. Simply put, this must change. One of the ways to maximize the roll man is to roll him into post up chances. The Grizzlies do this with Zach Randolph all the time. If you go back to what made Dwight such a terror in Orlando, you’ll find that they explored this option of the offense quite often. The Lakers’ wings need it drilled into them that a look to the diving player into the post is a great option that needs to be explored more often.

Their are other issues beyond the X’s and O’s at play in order to make a Dwight and D’Antoni marriage work. If you believe recently surfaced reports, there are hurdles to clear in the form of better communication and the player leadership hierarchy also needs addressing.

However, winning often cures a lot of these ills. And the way to win is to maximize the talent you have on the floor and for the players to embrace their roles with full buy in. In order for this to occur with the Lakers, both the star big man and the head coach will need to be better at their jobs next season than the one that was just completed.

And, actually, this will need to be true whether Dwight returns or not. Because, like it or not, if Dwight actually goes to Houston he’s going to find a very similar scheme under head coach Kevin McHale as he sees in Los Angeles under Mike D’Antoni. And if Dwight really is gone next season, D’Antoni is going to find that he still has a big man in Pau Gasol who would love to get more touches in the post where he can create shots for himself and for teammates.

From where I sit, both D’Antoni and Dwight would be best off recognizing this now and coming to the realization that this really can be a match made in heaven. They only have to keep it simple and find a way to meet in the middle.

Darius Soriano

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11 responses to For Dwight and D’Antoni, Simpler is Better

  1. This is one of the main reasons I backed the MDA hire; I was picturing Nash/Howard P&Rs wreaking havoc on opponents.

  2. From a purely offensive point of view the Lakers would be better in the post with just Pau. It’s Howards defense and rebounding that we covet. I look at Howard like a Bill Russell type of player. Good offensive game but his identity was on the defensive side of the ball. Unfortunately Howard sees himself as Shaq and he just isn’t. He lacks the sheer size and post moves that Shaq had. And if he goes to Houston he will face the same reality. He will never be happy until he embraces his skill set and stops trying to be something he is not.

  3. Kobe’s injury provides certain 7 foot players on this team- and Mike D’Antoni – with a huge opportunity. No one is taking over the game here. If we want to win, we are going to be forced to rely on Pau and Dwight to make it happen during the season.

  4. I would agree with all the points if Dwight had never had the back and shoulder injuries. We never had a chance to see what Dwight could do this season and we do not know how much more he will recover. For the P&R to work to perfection, you need a quick trigger man who can drive to the basket. That no longer describes Nash. Also, the top Western teams have added big men who are not afraid to use their fouls. Dwight still needs to prove that he can make teams pay for fouling him. If the Lakers are going to build around the P&R, then they need to find a quick point guard to run it and hope that Dwight has fully recovered from his injuries.

  5. Like Darius has said before D’Antoni did adjust somewhat to his team’s strengths. But the turnovers, no touch and lack of fundamentals limit Dwight as much or more than a system. Going up against M. Gasol, Perkins, Duncan, Pek, Asik 4 times a year will expose you. Pau really started to thrive when the change occurred as far back as the away Brooklyn game. At some point Dwight has to stop pointing finger and looking for the perfect situation and become a better player. A lot of times he didn’t make the most of the opportunities he was getting. Being right under the basket or making a move to then be stripped by a guard we remember all too well.

    Michael H: good post. Not sure Dwight knows his limitations as a 9 year vet. And when he wants to add a mid range jumper to his game when he hasn’t mastered anything else it makes you wonder does he even know what kind of player he wants to be. So much indecision from him.

    Al Farouq Aminu 22 year old unrestricted wing who could fit D’Antoni’s system. Has progressively gotten better all around except his 3 pt range. He had a higher rebound percentage then Josh Smith, Paul Pierce, Jimmy Butler and Paul George. He can also push the ball and finish at the rim. Shot 47% as a role player and is a pretty good defender. Would also be an upgrade and if Ron is still with the team being an understudy of a former dpoy and on ball defender is priceless.

  6. There will be a lot of available fga’s on this team since Kobe won’t be around for the majority of the upcoming season. I for one am hoping Howard decides to stay. And I believe Gasol has a place on this team. For all that talk about the NBA changing and becoming smaller, it’s worth noting that three of the four remaining teams have fours &/or fives who play both sides of the ball well.
    And given a choice, I’d rather have Howard & P. Gasol to Zeebo & M. Gasol, Duncan & Splitter, or Hibbert & West.

    Howard last two season’s have been his worst from the line (.491 & .492), not a very good sign, since those happen to be his most stress filled years. Career wise he’s at .577, his best year was his rookie year at .671, probably when he was at his most relaxed.

    Howard has to hit a minimum of 67% (2 out of 3) from the line to be offensively effective. Hopefully he’s practicing this offseason.

  7. darius: unlike rocket science, your inference that the kiss method is best for all parties concerned, i concur. the trick of course would be realization and then the implementation whether it be with or without howard as you say. too bad that wasn’t implemented this prior season or at least a semblance of it but guessing here all the recurring injuries clouded the vision needed to put in place these basic principles. your subliminal message sent was that this method was not clearly evident in coach d’s approach to the offense this prior season but could and should be this upcoming season, all things being equal.

    way to keep the laker fire burning.

    Go Lakers

  8. Actually, Mike D. did evolve this last season. The real question is, “Will Dwight Howard evolve?” If Dwight is worried about who likes him and who listens to him he is less likely to improve on his game. I would like to see Dwight back and for the coach, Pau, and even Kobe to help him improve his game next year. If he doesn’t come back then Pau has the skills and intelligence to be able to fit well into this system. Our defense will definitely suffer and we will surly need to make more improvement on the perimeter, to make up for his loss – our signings will need to be mostly defense first players.

  9. given how many fast pgs/fast teams on the west coast, i would expect most teams to recover pretty well to any p & r. And maybe it was due to injuries, but I saw DH drop or lose control of too many balls this year.

    The lack of fundamentals referenced earlier is a big issue. What’s the point of p&r if you will get fouled – and you have a lousy ft %!

    I thought dwight looked best when he scored off rebounds, or when pau fed him. There were just great, high passes that only dwight could reach.

    If we are lucky to get DH back, and we still have MDA (hope not), I’d work with DH to let him run the defensive end and hire someone to help him develop a post game and consistent FT. But at 28, I don’t know how willing DH wants to learn.

    If DH is really cares about winning the big one, he’ll need patience in Houston. The players in Houston today are not guys who can rise above their coaches’ limitations. MDA is a better coach than McHale.

  10. … and I’d expect McHale to be a hard nosed, no nonsense type of coach that DH may find to be a tough nut to crack.

    DH may think firing coaches then leaving is the way to go, but ala a famous TV shrink, I’d ask, “how’s that working for you?”

  11. Does anyone else think Dwight is really a power forward and not a center? Seems to me he should be modeling himself more after Karl Malone instead of Shaq or Hakeem or any other centers. He’s not as tall as those centers and he has no go-to post moves that he can execute in traffic like they did.

    This whole past season I was wishing they’d run the offense through Pau in the low post (not DH) and then encourage Pau to look for his own shot. Pau can still score down low, as we saw in the playoffs. That setup would allow Dwight to be on the weak side and therefore have more room to operate — which is what his face-up game needs.