The Lakers completed their masterstroke, prolonging their taut championship window, after they acquired Dwight Howard in a four-team blockbuster deal yesterday. It’s a move that should frighten the Oklahoma City Thunder and, to a much larger extent, the San Antonio Spurs, who have yet to add any frontcourt girth of significance outside of re-signing Boris Diaw.
While it’s true that acquiring Howard doesn’t instantly improve their No. 1 ranked post offense, it does make the Lakers a more well-rounded basketball team.
Defensively, the Lakers should improve especially against the pick-and-roll, a facet of Howard’s game that shouldn’t be overlooked — he is one of the few big men that can jump out to the perimeter on screens and still recover to his natural abode. Andrew Bynum, despite lacking the athleticism of Howard, also rated as an elite pick-and-roll defender. Again, it’s an improvement but not a dramatic one.
The addition of Steve Nash, and while the institution of the Princeton offense may highlight their weaknesses in the long run, will help the Lakers utilize Howard’s adept pick-and-roll game. Howard scored on 72.5% of his possessions as the roll man, good for an average of 1.36 points per possession. And this was with Jameer Nelson feeding him the ball. Nash, in all likelihood, stands to provide Howard with the optimal complement for his ethereal skills.
So, with this in mind, how can the Spurs possibly survive against the Lakers? Should they simply admit defeat and huddle in a corner for the duration of the entire game?
No, they should allow their perimeter slashers in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to, well, score. Parker gives the Spurs an inestimable advantage over the laterally challenged Nash. Phoenix did perform better defensively last season with Nash on the floor, but that statistical caveat doesn’t cover for the blinding speed of Parker. San Antonio’s pick-and-roll heavy attack, coupled with ball movement, may alleviate the threat of Howard and Pau Gasol.
Also: the threat of Ginobili, who sacrificed volume for efficiency last season, presses the Lakers into an interesting conundrum. Do they cover Ginobili with Kobe Bryant and risk decreasing his effectiveness on the offensive end? This has always been a pressing question against San Antonio, but it may become an even bigger problem considering Nash’s proclivity to save his energy for the offensive side of the court.
Should they forgo the Bryant-Ginobili matchup, that would likely mean Metta World Peace checking Ginobili — a matchup that will suit Ginobili’s strengths quite well even though World Peace is a notoriously physical defender.
The theoretical matchup between the newlook Lakers squad and the Spurs, who retained their entire team sans the addition of Nando De Colo, has slightly tilted in the Lakers favor. But lest we forget the seemingly limitless potential of the Spurs’ offense, the brilliance of one Gregg Popovich and the double-edged sword in Ginobili and Parker. If the latter stay healthy for the majority of the season, they will have a couple of weapons that can attack the Lakers right where it hurts the most — at the point of attack.