So how much does Dwight Howard matter to the Lakers” defense?
This much, via Drew Garrison of Silver Screen and Roll:
The defensive tone he sets for Los Angeles can”t be crunched down to a single statistic, but just looking at the stats when he”s both on and off the floor are telling. Since the All-Star break the Lakers give up an average of 100.4 points per 100 possessions when Howard is their anchor, but an atrocious 115.8 when he”s off the court.
Yes, a 15.4 differential on the defensive end. For comparison”s sake, is having an amazing year defensively with a defensive rating of 94.3 for the Indiana Pacers being locked in while he”s playing, and a 97.6 rating when he”s off.
That”s a testament to how Indiana plays defense, though, and also a giant arrow pointing at the defense as a whole for Los Angeles.
(Note: Make sure to check out the video in that SSR post linked above. Great stuff.)
Earlier in the week, I asked Howard if he feels any additional pressure to carry the team defensively without Metta World Peace in the lineup. ”The responsibility is on all of us, just not one person that has to play defense. It has to be the whole team. We have to help each other. Defense is about communication, and that”s where we have to get better,” he said.
“I just have to have the ability to roam around, being able to change shots and make it tough for guys to finish at the basket. I think the biggest thing for our team is not just worrying about one guy, worrying about our man, but understanding that the ball is the most important thing. We have to make sure we do both. Focus on the ball, but also make sure we don”t lose sight of our man.”
Howard has spent the season trying to avoid making things (big things, small things, any things) about himself as opposed to the Lakers, whether talking about his next contract or (though not always successfully) his role in the offense. It”s not surprising to hear him do the same with the defense. Don”t believe him. Howard knows the heavy burden he”ll carry making the Lakers a viable team in that regard, both to get into the playoffs and win games once there. There are other factors that might help going forward; Kobe”s oft-suspect off ball defense ought to look a lot more like it did against Dallas and would bring a huge positive impact, and Pau Gasol”s improving mobility (and length) following his return from injury, to name two. But overall, Howard is counted on to clean up a ton of mistakes, and compensate for the physical shortcomings of players around him.
He needs a certain level of help to make it happen, partially explaining the emphasis on team. But that half of the floor belongs to Howard, and he knows it. And lately he”s done about as much as anyone can to protect it.