As we draw near the start of the postseason, the Los Angeles Lakers must revolve around Dwight Howard in order to enjoy any type of success. With Kobe Bryant playing the role of primary scorer, quite frankly, the Lakers have struggled.
Between turnovers and low-percentage shots, featuring the former league MVP hasn’t always been the best course of action. Bryant’s been incredibly productive this season, but his monopoly on the offense has occasionally limited its effectiveness.
For instance, in the 38 games where the 17-year veteran has shot the ball 21 times or more, the Lakers have been victorious 15 times (.395 winning percentage). Mind you, in the 37 contests where he’s manufactured 20 or fewer field-goal attempts, the Lakers have 24 wins (.649 winning percentage).
The common misconception is that Bryant’s shot attempts themselves are an issue.
That’s not entirely the case. Often, the four-time All-Star Game MVP has a high volume of shots because of the lack of sophistication in the offense. He ends up with the ball at the back end of the shot clock or simply takes his stab at directing his teammates to create matchups.
The isolations are often a product of Bryant dictating the direction of his team with the ball in his hands. He typically assesses his defender as well as the scheme in place.
The two-time Finals MVP then either beats his man and creates a shot or anticipates the extra defender and finds the favorable matchup. It’s awfully impressive to watch him play maestro in this setting.
Have a look at the video below. Bryant gets the rebound, gets in the half court and waits until the coast is clear for his assault on the rim.
NBA history tells us that an offense revolving strictly around the exploits of a perimeter player is a recipe for postseason failure.
This is where Howard comes in.
Tailoring the entire offense around him isn’t necessarily the best option. Entering the April 7 contest against the Los Angeles Clippers, the three-time Defensive Player of the Year was converting 43.4 percent of his shots in post-ups, per Synergy Sports.
Thus, a steady dose of him on the block might be counterproductive. However, mixing up the offense and getting his teammates to play off him in the half-court will take the Laker offense places.
The key is getting the big man involved. Pick-and-rolls, post-ups, transition opportunities and misdirection plays are the best options available.
When the Lakers run misdirection plays (an offensive set designed to fool the defense into thinking the ball is going to one side of the floor when it’s not) with Howard, he often ends up pinning his man under the rim for an easy catch and score.
In addition, every time Howard rolls down the lane on offense, teams usually rotate off corner shooters and cover him until his primary defender gets back into the fold. This presents his teammates with open shots.
It’s worth noting that an offense primarily centered around the superstar center relieves Bryant of some ball-handling duties and presents him with single-coverage. And let's not kid ourselves: Very few teams can effectively bottle up the five-time world champion without an abundance of help defense.
Indeed, when the Lakers place the spotlight on Howard, great things usually follow the team.
Consider this: When Howard has 10 field-goal attempts or more, the Lakers are 27-12 (.692 winning percentage). When the big man has nine shot attempts or fewer, D’Antoni’s group is a lottery team, evidenced by their 10-22 record (.313 winning percentage).
Relying too much on Howard can also be problematic given that he is turnover-prone. Despite reducing his share of possessions this year in comparison to previous seasons, his miscues have remained on par.
He is averaging 2.9 turnovers per game during the 2012-13 campaign. Hence, force-feeding him could potentially result in botched possessions. Thus, the Lakers not only need to feature Howard going forward, but they must do so with balance.
Going into the postseason, tweaking the offense and going away from Bryant a little is the successful path. Otherwise, the opening round will be the story of a one-man show that performed valiantly in defeat.
Bryant has taken that route before in previous seasons. That road also resulted in early playoff exits.