Inside the NBA | The Dwightmare: Howard goes to Lakers as power shifts in Western Conference
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 01:09
Make no mistake about it: even though the last NBA season was a short one and ended with the Lebron James−led Miami Heat championship, it was still one of the most entertaining seasons in recent memory, and the league’s popularity increased to an incredible degree. But that was so last season.
With many more fans now following the NBA, the offseason storylines did not disappoint. And no other storyline grabbed fans’ attention like the Dwightmare, which affected so many teams that it is impossible not to start any offseason conversation without mentioning Dwight Howard.
Though Howard could have landed in Brooklyn where he originally wanted to play or in Houston, which was not shy about their intentions on landing arguably the best center in the league, he ended up with the Lakers in a blockbuster four−team trade. The trade went as follows: The Lakers received Howard, the Philadelphia 76ers received Jason Richardson and Andrew Bynum, widely considered the second−best center in the league, the Nuggets received Andre Iguodala and the Magic received a package of solid role players, most notably Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington, as well as a host of draft picks.
Following the early signing of veteran point guard Steve Nash this offseason, it seemed unlikely the Lakers would make a push for Howard, especially since Howard had stated that he may not sign a long−term deal with the Lakers once his contract ends next season. And given that the Magic had not traded Howard to a team that had more attractive assets than the Lakers, the trade seemed even more unlikely. But the Lakers organization was able to stay patient, wait and pounce at the very moment.
The most obvious impact Howard will have is on the defensive side of the court. Though he won the Defensive Player of the Year Award three years in a row by virtue of “well, there was no one else,” Howard serves as a definite upgrade over Bynum defensively. Whereas Bynum was able to use his long frame to alter shots at the rim, Howard’s overall activity and better leaping ability makes him a much more effective blocker than Bynum. His strong frame and wide shoulders also make him tough to move off the block in the low post, even though Howard is not a true 7−footer like Bynum.
On offense, at least on paper, it seems that Howard is actually a downgrade from Bynum. Howard was able to score more points than Bynum, but that was because he got more touches in Orlando. Throughout Bynum’s career, he has shown the soft hands and the touch that make him so deadly around the rim. His length also served to get him easy buckets over smaller defenders. Bynum also shot free throws at a high percentage to keep defenses honest and prevent hacking.
Howard’s offensive impact cannot be measured without mentioning the other Laker offseason acquisition, Nash. Howard normally uses his athleticism in the low block to get to the hoop for easy buckets, but he is most effective in pick−and−roll situations. And there is no better pick−and−roll point guard than Nash. What makes Nash so dangerous in pick−and−roll situations is his patience to let plays develop, his court vision and his ability to shoot at a high percentage. Look for Nash to put Howard (as well as Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, for that matter) in excellent position to be dangerous. As gifted as Bynum is offensively, he is not a pick−and−roll center. Howard’s athleticism and explosive ability now make him an ideal fit for the Lakers’ new Princeton Offense.
Even though Howard serves as an upgrade for the Lakers after shipping Bynum, the 76ers may also be considered winners after the trade. Bynum might actually pay off in a big way in the future, as he will finally be able to realize his full potential with a fresh start and a team with a stockpile of young talent that he can carry. Richardson, the 76ers’ other acquisition, still has a few years left in the tank and can still shoot 3−pointers at a high percentage. The decision by the 76ers to ship Iguodala, though it may not be a popular move for the fan base, was actually a very smart decision, as they had reached their peak as a low seed in the Eastern Conference. They now can start again with Bynum, who instantly becomes the best center in the East, which is now evolving to feature more small−ball lineups.
And even though the Nuggets lost fan favorites in Afflalo and Harrington, who were both very serviceable players in coach George Karl’s system, receiving Iguodala is quite possibly the best move for any team that made moves this offseason in terms of fitting a system. In fact, Iguodala is the prototypical player for the Denver system: he’s a rangy, athletic defender capable of defending multiple decisions, shoots 3−pointers at a decent percentage, and he was born to run the floor, which they love in the high altitude. With Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and Javale McGee — yes, I went there — the Nuggets now become one of the most exciting teams in the Western Conference and can easily take the No. 4 seed.