Rocket Man

dwight-howard-nets

Not sure if you guys heard but Dwight Howard is on the Rockets now.

The dominant and dynamic big man has decided to leave Lakerland for greener (and tax free) pastures. Dwight’s decision is interesting on a number of different levels. First and foremost, it signifies the death of the Laker mystique. Dwight is basically the first superstar in NBA history to voluntarily leave the storied franchise. There are several reasons as to why this has happened: the death of Dr. Jerry Buss, the man many people credited with establishing the powerful culture that surrounds the organization. Another reason is the fact that in 2013, with twitter, 5,000 different networks devoted to sports and countless blogs (thanks for reading guys) there is no need to stay in LA to garner the exposure that a player of Dwight’s caliber demands. Consider that the second best player in the league is in Oklahoma City and still stars in weirdly sexual commercials about banging out with moms.

But for me the interesting thing about Dwight’s move is the situation he will find himself in with his new team. I’m not sure anyone really will be able to understand exactly what Dwight’s thought process was in choosing Houston over his many other suitors, but I must believe that a frustrating year of playing in Mike D’Antoni’s spread pick and roll offense played a factor in D12’s desire to get out of town.

Dwight now finds himself in Houston, where they play…(wait for it)…A SPREAD PICK AND ROLL OFFENSE! Obviously the situation is different than the one in LA, where Pau Gasol was forced to play out of position as a stretch 4, Steve Nash was old, and Kobe still wanted to do Kobe stuff. Dwight’s most successful days were back in Orlando, when Otis Smith (either one of the best or the worst GMs in the league and I’m honestly not sure) filled the roster with marksmen whose defensive liabilities were covered up by the menacing man in the middle. This strategy worked really well, propelling the Magic to a finals birth in 2009 and propelling Hedo Turkoglu to one of the worst contracts in recent memory (just remembered that after Toronto signed Hedo to that horrible deal Otis Smith somehow got him back two years later so perhaps Otis is closer to the worst GM).

I imagine that Houston this season will look a lot like those Orlando teams that were so deadly on a hot night. The Lakers experiment last year was a complete disaster right from the get go, with Mike Brown getting fired eight games into the season and D’Antonie attempting to install a high paced kinda complicated offense on the fly with a veteran team that preferred to play at a slow pace.

But Dwight is going to have to make some adjustments to his own game if the Rockets are going to become the title contenders that everyone believes they can be. Dwight believes that the offense should set aside a fair chunk of possessions to allow him to post up opponents on the block. While working with Kevin McHale and Hakeem should help to improve his footwork around the basket, Dwight’s ability to score from the post is not the skill that the Rockets should be most concerned with. The way the roster is constructed, Houston will be able to put Howard on the floor with four shooters. This will make doubling Dwight a risky proposition, as 3>2. But, even without a well refined post game, Dwight will demand doubles down low as he is simply bigger, stronger and faster than just about every other center in the league.

How Dwight responds to those doubles is the interesting thing. D12 has never in his nine year NBA career averaged more than 1.9 assists per game. That is an shockingly low number for a player who I assume has been drawing doubles since he grew his first pubic hair. If Dwight can become a capable passer, playing defense against Houston is going to be a scary proposition.

The other challenge that Dwight faces is his willingness to set physical screens and roll hard to the basket. This will be the first time in Dwight’s career that he is playing with an elite pick and roll ball handler in James Harden (sorry guys, but Kobe doesn’t qualify) (neither does Jameer Nelson). Whether it was frustration that stemmed from an uncomfortable relationship with Kobe and Mike D or he was limited physically from his back surgery, Dwight seemed reluctant to set screens and crash to the rim. Playing in Houston will require such action. Nobody in the league was more efficient running the pick and roll than The Beard, and while Harden is a capable and willing three point shooter, he’s at his best driving to the basket where he can either finish at the rim or make an intelligent pass.

Teams are going to try and trap and double Harden as he comes off of the pick. Howard is going to have to learn to get himself into a good position to receive a pass from Harden. He’s then going to have to read the defensive rotations and make the decision to either take a dribble and drive to the hoop or kick it to a likely open man in the corner. If Dwight gets good at making that read, pretty much everyone is completely fucked.

Hopefully with a relatively stable offseason, a proper training camp, and no coaching turnover in the first ten games of the season, Dwight will develop the skills necessary to thrive in the nerd friendly offense that the Rockets run. But if Dwight comes to town believing that the offense should dictate to his skills, demanding more post up opportunities, it’ll only be a matter of time until the Dwightmare returns.

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