A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Why the post Dwight Howard trade Los Angeles Lakers are a flawed basketball team

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I believe the Los Angeles Lakers trading Andrew Bynum for Dwight Howard was the correct move. Where I love the trade for the Lakers is what it does to their future. In the first few seasons after Kobe and Gasol’s massive contracts expire the nextseries of star unrestricted free agents will have their time come: Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Lamarcus Aldridge, Al Horford, and Carmelo Anthony again. The Lakers are likely going to be sitting on max free agent capspace, enough to lure a Rondo or Love to come play with Dwight Howard, or bully their teams into trading them to the Lakers beforehand. Howard despite his back surgery is a more reliable long term player health wise than Bynum and is a player who’s proven a contender can be built around. It was the right choice.

However, I’m much more lukewarm about how it improves the Lakers next season. Let’s put it this way: Despite not being an ideal fit, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were to me, the very best starting frontcourt in the entire league. The talent and size was incomparable. The reason the Lakers have lost recently is other massive flaws on their team. Their depth has been terrible, Kobe is slowly slipping, but here’s the big one – to me they were just too slow. The league is getting faster and more athletic in the post handcheck rule, as exemplified by the Heat and Thunder playing in last year’s final. Defense in modern day is about quick, precise rotations to get to shooters, or to help a player under the basket to prevent a drive. Otherwise ball movement or individual speed will pick teams apart. Both of the Lakers last two playoff series losses showed this, but in different ways. The Mavericks in 2011 put on a ball movement clinic offensively against the Lakers, who seemed unwilling to get out to their shooters or rotate properly against their pick and roll play. Against the Thunder, a closer series, they were also just a one step slow in their team rotations against such a dynamic group of individual athletes.

As the Lakers merely switched Bynum for Howard, to me the description of their team is similar to last year. They still have the best frontcourt in the league, it may just be even better than last year’s. And they’re still seriously lacking in depth and perimeter speed defensively. Everyone wants to talk about who Nash is guarding one on one, but what about help defense? Both Nash and Kobe will be required to close out on those shooters to make the Lakers defense work. If they’re a step slow teams will get the shots they want. Metta World Peace also isn’t getting any younger. Pau Gasol can’t rotate extremely fast for a PF. Now Dwight Howard has shown he can carry teams to strong defensive seasons with slow footed sieves defensively in front of him… But the key word there is regular season. The Magic’s defense routinely looked less scary in the playoffs against teams like the Lakers, Celtics, Hawks, in a matchup scenario when they played teams who figured out how to score against a team with 1 defensive player.

This is why I think not only the Oklahoma City Thunder, but the San Antonio Spurs as well, are a very concerning defensive matchup for the Lakers. In fact I would go as far to say the Spurs are a worse matchup for them. Last year when the Spurs got on their terrific run, they did it with incredible ball movement and capitalizing off the opponent helping off players, leading to wide open 3s and layups constantly. There was only one way to guard the 2012 Spurs, and that was to have a team who’s help defense was so fast that they could get out to those shooters or players near the rim. This is why Oklahoma City was the perfect defensive matchup for them. Their phenomenal athleticism, length and youth allowed them to do the impossible by keeping up with the whizzing ball that is the Spurs ball movement. However imagine a team playing Nash, Kobe, World Peace and Gasol attempting to do the same thing? It’s just not their game. How is that team going to close out on the Spurs 3pt shooters or get back to prevent a layup? How will they do against the fastbreak of either the Spurs or the Thunder? The Lakers look like a team that will want the game to move slowly when the Spurs and Thunder last year played it at an breakneck pace. There is a serious danger that the Lakers defense as behind the play as it did against the 2011 Mavericks, if they meet the Spurs in a playoff series.

Finally I’ve felt for a while that the grass wouldn’t be greener on the other side for Dwight Howard’s scoring numbers on whatever team he landed on. His situation was perfect to put up huge ppg and efficiency numbers, with a ton of 3pt shooters and a stretch 4 leaving him all the room he could get underneath the basket, and an offense built around his strengths. In the Lakers offense playing with other stars who need touches and another big man who stretches the floor less than Ryan Anderson and Rashard Lewis did in Pau Gasol, it wouldn’t surprise me if Dwight Howard emerges as a 17 point or 18 point a night player. Which is still excellent if he remains defensive player of the year caliber, but this may seem the difference between Howard and Andrew Bynum feel closer than otherwise reported.

Overall I think the Lakers trade for Dwight Howard was the right move and a success for them due to the long term implications of setting up their future. But it doesn’t drastically change how strong a team they are next year. Their strengths and weaknesses positionally are not far off from before the change. This is not the same as the Miami Heat adding Lebron James after Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh signed because of how strong a center in Andrew Bynum Howard is replacing. They may very well emerge in the Western Conference but at the moment I would rank them a clear 3rd behind the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.

Written by jr.

August 26, 2012 at 4:01 pm

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