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Lakers Countdown: At #4…

J.M. Poulard —  August 26, 2012

Sometimes unfair labels get cast on athletes or teams and for whatever reason they just tend to stick. At times it’s because the label itself has some minor truth to it even though previous events have proven to the contrary, and at times it’s just easier to roll with them.

As the story went, the Boston Celtics owned the Los Angeles Lakers; and they always would. It didn’t matter which year, which decade or which millennium it was, the Celtics had the ghosts on their side that always tipped the scales in their favor. Whether it was a missed shot at the end of regulation, a critical injury, a bad pass that led to a game going into overtime or an inability to execute in crunch time, Boston would always get the breaks at the expense of the Lakers…

Until they no longer would.

At some point, the curse would eventually come to an end.

Clocking in at the fourth spot in the Los Angeles Lakers title teams countdown…

The 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers

Larry Bird would lead the Celtics to a victory over the Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals after a tough seven-game series. With the championship lost, the purple and gold would spend an entire summer hearing about how James Worthy was a choker — with the Lakers leading by two points in Game 2 and the game essentially won, the Lakers inbounded the ball with the shot clock turned off and Worthy lofted a pass that was intercepted by Gerald Henderson that led to a score that sent the game to overtime where the Lakers lost — while Magic Johnson would be named Tragic due to his inability to deliver late in ball games and the Lakers would be seen as a team lacking mental toughness.

Consequently, when training camp opened the following season, the Lakers knew they needed to play better and get tougher; but they also needed for their big guns to rise to the occasion and lead the way.

And yet, the start of the season wasn’t necessarily impressive by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, the road back to redemption would start with back-to-back losses to open up the season and a 13-7 record. In the first 20 games of the season, the Lakers had eclipsed 130 points four times, but the defense had yet to catch up with the offense.

That theme would hold true until mid-January, when the Lakers lost a tight contest in Boston, which dropped Pat Riley’s record to 26-14 for the 1984-85 season. Not a bad record at all, mind you the Celtics were now 33-6 and seemed poised to continue to take over the regular season as well as possibly the postseason that was still a little over two months away.

The Lakers’ defense wasn’t bad, but given the pace at which they played, they gave up a lot of points but didn’t necessarily always put enough on the board. But with the loss to Boston, the Lakers seemingly opened things up even more and allowed themselves to truly unleash Showtime on the rest of the NBA.

After faltering against the Celtics on the road, Magic Johnson and his teammates went on a 36-6 run to close out the regular season with a 62-20 record.

The Los Angeles Lakers finished the regular season with the best offensive efficiency in the league and the seventh best defensive efficiency in the NBA. In addition, they had three winning streaks of nine games or more during the regular season, which helped them sport a plus-7.4 average scoring margin.

The regular season mind you would hardly matter. It would come down to the playoffs and vanquishing the Celtics in the title round should they be there waiting for them.

The Lakers would obliterate the Phoenix Suns (36-46) in the first round, sweeping them out of the playoffs and winning each game by an average of 20.3 points.

The second round would pit them against the Portland Trail Blazers (42-40), who would hardly prove to be a match. The Lakers would dispatch them in five games, and sport an average scoring margin of plus-11 in the series.

The Western Conference Finals would prove to be the same type of yawner as the Lakers would also take out the Denver Nuggets (52-30) in five games and even put up a whopping 153 points in the clincher. L.A. defeated another western opponent by an average of double-digit points to set up a rematch against the Boston Celtics (63-19) with all the chips on the line.

The NBA Finals would open up with the famed Memorial Day Massacre as Boston would spank the Lakers in a 148-114 victory in which Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looked every bit of his 38-year old age on his way to 12 points and three rebounds.

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer would rededicate himself and get into better shape with a few days off between games and lead the Lakers to a Game 2 victory at the Garden thanks to his 30 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists. Read that stat line again, he was 38 years old.

With the games now shifting to the Forum, the trio of Magic, Worthy and Abdul-Jabbar led their unit to a Game 3 blowout victory over the Boston Celtics and a 2-1 series lead. The Celtics would bounce back in Game 4 and steal one on the road to even up the series, thus setting up a monumental Game 5 at the Forum.

Magic would orchestrate things masterfully, scoring 26 points and dishing out 17 assists, but James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would combine for 69 points on 29-for-45 shooting from the field to win the contest and give themselves an opportunity to close out Boston in the Garden.

Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens and John Havlicek to name a few had given the Celtics an aura of invincibility in the title round. Consequently, to say that the team and its fans were confident at home would be putting it mildly. No road team had ever celebrated the title at the Boston Garden and their ghosts and leprechauns would make sure of that in Game 6 and Game 7.

Mind you, the Lakers never got that memo.

The Lakers would prevail in Game 6 on the road and finally avenge their 1984 NBA Finals defeat. The center labeled as too old would win the Finals MVP with averages of 25.7 points per game, 9 rebounds per game and 5.2 assists per game on 60.4 percent field goal shooting.

James Worthy who had been called by many a choker kept showing up with big performances in the finals while the player dubbed Tragic led many to wonder if he was perhaps the best maestro the league had ever seen given his ability to score, rebound, pass, run the offense and lead.

The ’85 Lakers would not only win the title, but do so in convincing fashion. They would end their title run with a 15-4 postseason record as well as an impressive plus-10.7 playoff average scoring margin despite the huge score differential in their Game 1 loss to the Celtics.

Between the good regular season and the terrific postseason showing, the ’85 Lakers were a no-brainer for many of the FB&G staff at the fourth spot, and it says something about the three teams left in the countdown for this squad to finish this “low”.

Three teams to go…

Lakers Countdown: At #5…

J.M. Poulard —  August 25, 2012

The 1990s gave us a new era of basketball as Michael Jordan’s Bulls dominated the decade and won three titles in a row on two separate occasions with Hakeem Olajuwon’s Houston Rockets managing to win back-to-back titles in between the Bulls’ three-peats.

Then, the 2000s hit, and Shaquille O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers also won three titles in a row and were then followed by Kobe Bryant’s Lakers who won titles in consecutive years to close out the decade.

It wasn’t always this way though. Repeating as champions had become seemingly impossible since the Boston Celtics had done it in 1969. But ultimately one team had to break through and do it.

Clocking in at the fifth spot in the Los Angeles Lakers title teams countdown…

The 1987-88 Los Angeles Lakers

Fresh off a title run at the end of the 1987 postseason, Lakers head coach Pat Riley decided to throw a monkey wrench into the celebration plans of his team by going on the record and guaranteeing that his team would repeat the following season.

Although winning the championship is usually enough to serve notice to other teams about which unit is the one to beat, it almost feels as though Riley wanted to make sure that everyone was well aware not only that his band of players had reached the mountaintop, but that they would do it again and that there was nothing the rest of the NBA could do about it.

How’s that for a bull’s eye?

And yet, with a roster loaded with talent and future Hall of Fame caliber players, it’s easy to see why the charismatic and fierce head coach could go on the record and make such a proclamation.

The Lakers had not only the best point guard in the league, but the player that many agreed was the best in the NBA. In addition, the purple and gold also had arguably the best player in the history of the sport in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing next to a do it all forward in James Worthy and terrific finisher and shooter in Byron Scott.

And just for good measure, the Lakers had possibly the best defensive player in the association in Michael Cooper (he won the DPOY the year prior) as well as a terrific pair of big men in Mychal Thompson and A.C. Green that were versatile enough to run the floor, play in the half court and apply pressure on defense with Riley’s zone trap.

All the talent in the world.

Really, the only thing that could potentially derail this unit would have to be injuries and they would have to come in bunches to truly become problematic for Riley. Luckily for the Lakers, they faced some concerns on that front, but nothing truly major. Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Michael Cooper combined to miss 38 games during the course of the season.

They had a few minor bumps in the road, but the Los Angeles Lakers finished with a 62-20 record, tops in the league during the 1987-88 season.

Indeed, they finished the regular season second in offensive efficiency and ninth in defensive efficiency. Also, they sported a plus-5.8 average scoring margin during the regular season but this says very little about how they treated the 82-game grind despite the little bumps and bruises.

To know how good the Lakers were, one can point to their win streaks. Indeed, although they had some small five and six-game stretches where they always emerged victorious, they also knew when to turn it on and seize control of the regular season.

The 1987-88 Lakers started out the season with an eight-game win streak and then in early December went on a rampage until the middle of January, winning 15 games in a row. And just when things became dull for the team after a few losses, they turned things up once again in late January and won 10 consecutive contests and saw their streak end near the end of February.

The Lakers rounded up into form for the postseason with some good momentum and dispatched the San Antonio Spurs in three games in the first round.

The remainder of their playoff run would be the toughest one for any championship team in league history as the Los Angeles Lakers needed the full seven games in the Western Conference semifinals as well as the conference finals to advance to the title round.

With the NBA Finals set to take stage, the Lakers would have to dispatch a team that many saw as a bunch of basketball hooligans given their antics, physical play and intimidation tactics: the Detroit Pistons.

The team took their identity from their leader.

Isiah Thomas was a scrapper that never relented and that did anything and everything possible to gain an advantage over opponents and his teammates followed in bruising fashion. Their style of play earned them the moniker of Bad Boys.

The Pistons hit you on every drive to the basket, fought for every rebound and made sure to inflict as much punishment as possible when opponents went in for lay ups. With no flagrant fouls being called at the time, it gave Detroit a license to do everything short of murdering players in the paint.

Thus, the NBA Finals became the battle of Showtime versus the Bad Boys.

Detroit drew first blood by winning Game 1 at the Forum and then the Lakers bounced back by winning consecutive games by double digits. With the purple and gold now seemingly in control of the series, the Pistons went on to win Game 4 by 25 points and Game 5 by 10 points to take a huge 3-2 series lead back to Los Angeles with a chance to clinch the title on the road.

Detroit would come close to getting champagne poured on them as they led Game 6 by three points with just about a minute left in the game but failed to close out the contest and instead watched the Lakers execute down the stretch with championship poise and steal the contest from the Bad Boys and set up a winner take all Game 7.

The finale would be a seesaw battle that would eventually lead the Lakers to the brink of a blowout but Detroit would claw back in the fourth quarter and make things interesting but ultimately falter down the stretch.

James Worthy would earn the Finals MVP with a monstrous triple-double performance in Game 7 in which he scored 36 points, snatched 16 rebounds and dished out 10 assists.

The Los Angeles Lakers became the first team in nearly 20 years to repeat as champions and they did it with a flair for the dramatic.

Their regular season performance combined with their postseason run makes them one of the greatest Lakers teams of all time and thus worthy of the fifth spot in our countdown.

Why “only” fifth though?

The ’88 Lakers finished with an unimpressive 15-9 playoff record — no team has ever won the title with as many postseason losses — and were defeated by double figures a whopping six times during their playoff run. In addition, two of those six double-digit losses were by 25 points or more; which partly explains their seemingly low playoff average scoring margin of plus-2.5.

Nonetheless, Magic Johnson and his teammates will be remembered in the history books as the first team to repeat in 19 years as well as the franchise that paved the way for it to become a reality for the rest of the NBA.

Lakers Countdown: At #6…

J.M. Poulard —  August 23, 2012

As we continue to rank the Los Angeles Lakers title teams, we take a look today at not only a great unit that won a championship, but one that shall forever be immortalized throughout Lakers and NBA history as the team gave the path to one of the National Basketball Association’s most iconic figures: Magic Johnson.

Without further ado, clocking in the sixth spot in our countdown…

The 1979-80 Los Angeles Lakers

As the story goes, Magic Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores in the 1979 NCAA title game and it propelled him to an incredible NBA career in which he was great from day one.

The story is often recited as such but that isn’t an entirely accurate depiction of reality.

Indeed, Johnson joined the Los Angeles Lakers as a rookie in the 1979-80 season but he wasn’t seen as a savior or even as the team’s de facto point guard. Indeed, many wondered if he could actually play the position given his 6’9’’ frame and the requirements that went along with the position. In addition, the Lakers already had a great player in Norm Nixon playing the position for the team and he was more experienced at doing so in the professional ranks than the former Spartan.

Opposing coaches and general managers thought that Magic Johnson would be better suited to play forward and they weren’t entirely wrong given the star in the making’s gifts as a basketball player.

But the team instead chose to have him play in the backcourt with Norm Nixon with both players sharing point guard duties, although their relationship would often be tested during the course of the season as both players felt as though they could play the position best and thus did not require to share responsibilities. Mind you, by season’s end, they would realize that complemented each other perfectly.

Far be it for a team to face just one difficult situation in an 82-game campaign, the Lakers lost head coach Jack McKinney to a bicycle accident 14 games into the season. Assistant coach Paul Westhead was thus promoted to interim head coach and the task of directing the team fell square on his shoulders.

Westhead had two great ball handlers in Nixon and Johnson and thus favored the transition game much like McKinney but also deployed lineups in which Magic Johnson played at forward (small or power) given his rebounding prowess — he was the team’s second leading rebounder that season with 7.7 rebounds per game — and that allowed the Lakers to play Norm Nixon and Michael Cooper in the backcourt.

With Westhead pulling the strings, the Los Angeles Lakers finished the regular season with a 60-22 record. They sported the best offensive efficiency in the league during the 1979-80 season as well as the ninth best defensive efficiency.

Although the team was statistically dominant given their record and efficiency numbers, one could have expected them to flex their muscles a little more during the regular season.

At no point did the 1979-80 Lakers have a double-digit win streak during the course of the season, instead settling for multiple five and six-game winning streaks with their longest one of the season extending itself to seven games. Mind you, it’s worth pointing out that the two best teams in the Western Conference other than the Lakers were the Phoenix Suns and Seattle Supersonics, which happened to be divisional foes that the purple and gold played a combined 12 times in the regular season.

The Lakers finished with a plus-5.9 average scoring margin during the regular season and faced off against the two best teams in the conference in the playoffs.

In the first round, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Phoenix Suns in the first three games of the series by a combined 15 points. Perhaps sensing they had the series won, the top seed in the west was blown out in Game 4 by 26 points; and then came back to win Game 5 at home.

The following series would have the Lakers face off against the Seattle Supersonics, who would steal home court advantage with a narrow 108-107 victory in Game 1, thanks in large part to Fred Brown and Gus Williams combining for 62 points. Just when it looked as though the Lakers might be in trouble, they reeled off four games in a row to propel themselves to the NBA Finals with the Philadelphia 76ers (59-23) their opponent to be.

It would prove to be an exciting championship round as both teams split the first four games, setting up an all too important Game 5 at the Forum.

Game 5 would go back and forth as Philadelphia and Los Angeles would trade back the lead, but the Lakers would gain some sort of control on the contest in the third quarter but would lose Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to a left ankle injury. The team would stay afloat just long enough to buy the six-time league MVP time to come back early in the fourth quarter to close out the game with 14 points in the period to complete his 40-point masterpiece and give his unit a 3-2 series advantage.

The victory came at a huge price, as Abdul-Jabbar would not be able to travel to Philadelphia for Game 6. Instead it was suggested he remain at home and get rest and treatment with the hope that he would be able to suit up for Game 7.

As good as that plan sounded — having Kareem play in Game 7 was seen as the best case scenario since few expected the Lakers to actually win Game 6 — Magic Johnson had better ideas. The promising guard had already proved to many that he could play at a high level in the NBA with his playmaking and scoring, as evidenced by his 18 points per game, 7.7 rebounds per game and 7.3 assists per game on 53 percent field goal shooting that season; but few truly knew just how special he really was.

On May 14th, 1980, Magic Johnson started at center for the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the title round and submitted arguably the greatest performance in NBA Finals history. Johnson became a legend on that night by doing everything humanly possible on a basketball court. In fact, the only things Magic failed to accomplish was dance with the cheerleaders, provide color commentary and direct the halftime show. Other than that, Magic rebounded, scored, set up teammates, directed traffic, got out in transition and gave the team the boost it needed with its leading scorer injured.

Magic Johnson submitted 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals and helped the Lakers clinch the world title on this fateful night in Philadelphia. Jamaal Wilkes also poured in 37 points but the night belonged to the rookie, basically setting up the remainder of the decade for him.

His performance would earn him the NBA Finals MVP, although the award rightfully belonged to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The 1980 Lakers would close out the postseason with a 12-4 playoff record and a plus-4.3 average scoring margin in the playoffs. The sixth spot is perfect ranking for this team given its historical significance for both the league and the franchise but one could argue that the team was great but not legendary in terms of its accomplishments and what it did on the court.

Indeed, the story in itself is fantastic, but the team falls short of the top five.

Now the really good stuff is on its way…

The question posed in the title might seem utterly ridiculous given that it’s a widely accepted fact that the former Magic big man is the best center in the league and also perhaps arguably the second or third best player in the NBA.

Many will readily admit that he is the standard by which all active defensive players should be measured and that no one does a better job of fighting for position and tracking down rebounds during games in addition to his offensive responsibilities. Thus, Dwight Howard is an elite player; and once again, many are quite fine with this notion.

But here’s the problem: when it’s time to quantify that, he tends to get shortchanged. Sounds preposterous right? Well have a look at the MVP voting in the past few seasons and it paints a perfect picture of how undervalued the best center in the game is.

One can forgive the fact that Howard came up 7TH in voting for the 2011-12 season given the fact he missed a small chunk of the season and kind of turned off voters because of his trade demand — although one could argue that his request should in no way affect his candidacy — but what about his previous seasons?

He finished the 2010-11 regular season second in MVP votes to Derrick Rose, but one could make the case that he would have finished third if LeBron James wasn’t carrying a huge bull’s eye on his back that stemmed from the Decision and the Miami Heat welcome party.

The 2009-10 season saw D12 finish fourth in voting behind LeBron James (winner), Kevin Durant, and Kobe Bryant respectively.

And if we look back to the 2008-09 season, the former Defensive Player of the Year finished fourth again behind LeBron James (winner), Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade in that specific order.

This is not to say that Howard should have won the Maurice Podoloff trophy in three of the past four seasons, but perhaps he should have obtained more votes and finished higher than where he eventually landed. Granted, voting occasionally comes down to biases — a voter that resides on the east coast may have more chances to watch a player from the Eastern Conference than one in the Western Conference — as well as other subjective requirements that make it tough to accurately gauge who should win the Most Valuable Player award.

But in this case, the argument isn’t that Howard should have won, but rather that more consideration should have been thrown his way.

Normally, when voting for the award, it’s impossible not to look at the player’s production, his contribution to his team and obviously the team’s overall record. Typically, fans and voters alike look for a player to be one of the best in the league, to be dominant in games and to lead his team to somewhere along the lines of a top five record in the NBA. It’s not a perfect science, but this partly explains why LeBron James has won three out of the past four MVP trophies, and why Derrick Rose won the award at the conclusion of the 2010-11 season.

But if we look deeper, we’ll notice that Howard’s performance in the past four seasons was more than worthy of finishing in the top three in voting.

During the 2008-09 regular season, Howard led the league in rebounds per game and blocks per game all the while putting up 20.6 points per game for an Orlando Magic team that finished with an impressive 59-23 record (fourth best record in the league).

His brilliant defense combined with his presence on offense allowed an Orlando Magic team to not only have one of the best records in the league but also to make it all the way to the NBA Finals before falling at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Given that the Cleveland Cavaliers finished with a 66-17 record and that the Lakers finished with a 65-17 record, one can understand why LeBron James and Kobe Bryant finished first and second respectively in voting. Both were playing at the top of their games with teams that finished with the two best records in the league.

Mind you, the Miami Heat finished with a mediocre at best 43-39 record on the strength of Dwyane Wade’s superhuman performance that season as he finished second to LeBron James in player efficiency ranking thanks to his Jerry West-like statistical line of 30.2 points per game, 5 rebounds per game and 7.5 assists per game on 49.1 percent field goal shooting.

Clearly a case can be made that Wade’s impressive season could warrant supplanting Howard’s; but Dwight’s team won 16 more games and the current Lakers’ center was an overall plus-6.7 that season in terms of plus-minus rating (according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool) whereas the player formerly known as Flash was a mere plus-0.3. Although D12 should have gotten the nod, one can understand why Wade got more votes given his great performance that season.

If we jump to the 2009-10 regular season, Howard somehow got lost in the shuffle and finished fourth in MVP voting. LeBron James won his second Maurice Podoloff award on the strength of his Cavaliers having the best record in the league all the while submitting the best PER in the NBA.

Kevin Durant finished second in the voting with the Oklahoma City Thunder going 50-32 and earning the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs. KD led the league in scoring that season and also submitted good rebounding numbers, which in the mind of many made him a stud that OKC could not do without. The Thunder forward finished the season with a plus-3.5 plus-minus rating, mind you his defense at the time needed some work.

The case for Durant was a relatively good one at the time it seemed, but sometimes the benefit of hindsight can help give some perspective. Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers had the best third best record in the league while the Black Mamba played to his usual standards as he submitted a cool 27, 5 and 5 line for the season and enjoyed his last season as an at times elite level defender. His great defensive energy came in spurts during the regular season and showed up during the playoffs, but Bryant was clearly a top player in that season and perhaps should have finished higher than Durant in MVP voting given the multiple facets in which he affected games (scoring, playmaking and defense).

But one thing that is definitely clear is that Howard should have cruised to second place once all the votes had been accumulated at the end of the 2009-10 season. The perennial All-Star once again led the league in rebounds per game as well as blocks per game and provided his stellar brand of defense as usual and led the Orlando Magic to the second best record in the league. Much like he is today, he was a matchup nightmare and a player that often had to be doubled in order to limit the damage he did on the interior against opponents. And keep in mind, much like he had for most of his career, D12 appeared in all 82 regular season games and yet finished fourth in the voting.

In addition, one can easily make the claim that no one did more with less in terms of talent than both LeBron James and Dwight Howard during this stretch. Both players had to maximize the talent of those around them regardless of how poor it was and yet they respectively led their teams in 2010 to the two best records in the league despite glaring weaknesses on their squads as well as the fact that they constantly had to play at a high level for their teams to be competitive even against some of the weaker teams in the NBA. And somehow James was crowned as the most valuable player in basketball whereas Dwight was nothing more than afterthought.

Considering Dwight Howard’s level of production in recent seasons and the almost surreal level at which he defends, it seems awfully silly to sit here and regurgitate the fact that he has been at least for the past three or four seasons one of the three best players in the league and that his high level of play has not only kept the Magic contending for playoff appearances but also put them in the top echelon of teams judging by their overall record of 207-105 (66.4 percent winning percentage) in the last four seasons. And yet, it seems necessary to throw out reminders given that few seem to have recognized this.

Perhaps the issue is not Howard himself, but rather how fans, media members and other players view the league as a whole. Indeed, it’s easier to appreciate a perimeter player’s game given the beauty, grace, aesthetics and polish that one can directly see in it. Thus, watching the likes of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Dwyane Wade operate on a basketball court is far more enjoyable for most than observing Dwight Howard battle on the block for post position, rebounding position and what have you. In addition, there is a stigma associated to centers, where more just seems to always be expected.

Consider this tidbit, in the last 20 NBA seasons, only three centers have been crowned as the league MVP (Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal), with the most recent one getting awarded in the spring of 2000 (O’Neal).

It may not be fair, but in order for Howard to ever get great consideration for the prestigious individual honor, he may have to surpass the terrific level of play he has given fans and the league in recent seasons.

But there may be an ace in the hole for the former Olympian: should he produce at the same rate during the 2012-13 season that he has in the past and that the Los Angeles Lakers win somewhere between 60 and 69 games, voters might not be able to ignore D12 anymore considering that he would be doing it on a juggernaut and in a huge market.

I have this saying that I like to use: “win, lose or draw; everything is always bigger with the Lakers”.

And Dwight Howard might just be the one to prove it…

Statistical support provided by NBA.com

The Los Angeles Lakers pulled off the seemingly unthinkable last week when they hit one of the biggest homeruns in franchise history by acquiring Dwight Howard in a four-team trade. Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have proven that their commitment to adding more championship banners to the franchise has never been more strong given the way they have shaped up the roster in this offseason.

The purple and gold acquired the best center in the league, a certified game changer at both ends of the floor, but it’s still worth visiting what exactly that means for the Lakers when we break things down. In order to do so, Forum Blue & Gold reached out to Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball to obtain some insights on the big man:

“With Dwight, you’re getting the best defensive player in the NBA (only LeBron is his peer defensively). I think Mike Brown will have a field day coming up with schemes tailored to maximize Dwight’s strengths on defense. On offense, 1/5 pick-and-rolls with Nash and Dwight will be devastating. And with the mere presence of Nash, Kobe, and Pau on the court, Dwight should have a field day in the low post with his scoring and passing. 

“Dwight represents a far better fit with the new-look Lakers, as opposed to Bynum, because of his ability to get the most out of Nash (and vice-versa) in pick-and-roll sets, as well as his ability to make a far-reaching impact on defense — like hide Nash’s defensive deficiencies, for example. And because of that, I fully expect L.A. to be a devastating team based on talent and fit alone. How good they can be ultimately falls on Brown’s coaching ability.”

Most will look at what Howard brings to the table defensively and honestly, it would be hard not to do. Indeed, according to basketball value, last season the Orlando Magic boasted a defensive rating of 101.52 with the big man on the floor, but that figure ballooned to 108.60 when he was off the court. A big reason for that was his ability to protect the paint.

D12’s gifts on the defensive end shine bright when he is asked to be a help defender as he finds ways to either block or simply change shots all the while avoiding fouls. Howard’s instincts and basketball IQ make it as such that he is constantly in a position to help out his teammates should they get burned on the perimeter.

And yet, he still has more to offer defensively.

The big man’s foot speed, long arms and defensive technique make him one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in the league given that he is able to successfully execute every type of coverage needed to thwart the screen roll action. Howard can hedge out strong on the ball handler and recover in time to protect the paint, trap the man with the ball or play off him without necessarily exposing himself to getting burned off the bounce.

Consequently, teams that are anchored defensively by Dwight Howard promise to protect the paint like a fortress. According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, when the former Olympian was on the court for the Magic last season, Orlando only surrendered 33.4 points in the paint per game when projected over 48 minutes. When the former Defensive Player of the Year was off the court mind you, those figures went up to 44.1 points in the paint per game (once again, projected over 48 minutes).

The Lakers as a whole last season gave up 41.5 points in the paint per game and thus stand to benefit from the big man’s presence on the defensive end.  

Howard is a defensive ace that should more than likely upgrade the Lakers’ defense, but he also brings something else to the table: offense.

As Eddy Rivera stated, Howard will be a perfect fit when playing with Steve Nash because of his ability to catch and finish in the pick-and-roll as well as Nash’s ability to deliver the ball in such a setting. According to MySynergySports, Dwight Howard converted 74 percent of his field goal attempts — he shot the ball 73 times in such situations last season — last season in the screen-and-roll action. That’s a staggering conversion rate, but given that he does a good job of catching the ball and then going up and finishing strong over defenders, it makes sense.

But just for comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at Andrew Bynum in the same situation. Given that the former Laker big man often towered over his defenders and did a good job of getting position right next to the basket as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, one would expect him to convert more than his fair share of attempts in this setting. MySynergySports tells us that the All-Star center converted 57.1 percent of his field goal attempts — 35 such attempts — last season as the roll man in the pick-and-roll action, which is an impressive figure all by itself. And really, that puts into perspective just how much of an excellent finisher Howard is.

This becomes quite tricky for opposing defenses when Howard keeps setting screens and rolls to the basket because he typically attracts of wave of defenders; which is how the Magic shooters consistently got open last season.

Although the Lakers only converted 32.6 percent of their 3-point field goals last season (tied for 25th in the NBA), Howard will help them consistently get open looks from long-range but it will also open up the court for midrange shooters such as Kobe Bryant, Antawn Jamison, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash to name a few. And well, let’s just say that if you had to rely on these players to hit an open jumper to save your life, you’d feel pretty confident about your odds.

Howard comes to the Lakers with an effective but not quite aesthetic post game as well as athleticism destined to bring more highlights to the franchise but he also comes with a glaring weakness. Those that followed the Lakers in the Shaq era are quite familiar with it: the team will get in the bonus early and probably lead the league in free throw attempts, but they will miss their fair share as well given D12’s inability to convert a high percentage of his freebies.

With that said, provided that he is the same player prior to surgery on his back, the Lakers are getting a once in a generation type of talent that just happens to perfectly fit with his new roster.

Can we get the season to start already?