Dwight Howard supports something along the lines of a "15 seconds or more" offense.
Any offense dominated by Kobe Bryant becomes a blank slate when he’s not present. A few very general principles might remain, but the Los Angeles Lakers’ half-court offense was essentially starting from scratch. Over the weekend, Dwight Howard prescribed a slower, more inside-oriented offense as the best bet to mitigate Bryant's absence. Did the Lakers accept Howard's proposal? A few quick notes from the Lakers' 91-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night at Staples Center:
What kinds of shots does an offense look for and how does it try to find them? The answers to those questions provide a general sketch of a team's core identity. The Lakers on Sunday night were a team looking to work the ball into their big men on the block, and achieving that in fairly conventional ways. Early on, the vast majority of possessions were simple posts up with an entry pass from the wing in a mostly static half court. The Lakers posted up 32 times, the Spurs eight. When the Lakers wanted buckets to ice the game late, they punched the ball into Howard on the left block one-on-one against Tim Duncan. Howard generated 15 true shot attempts out of post-up sets, scored 26 points on 9-for-15 shooting from the field and 8-for-17 from the free throw line.
The starting unit produced fairly efficient offense during its stint to open the game. It wasn't gangbusters and the ball got sticky, but the Lakers found a number of looks at close range and their presence on the floor without dynamic wing scorers had the Spurs leaning low all night. Pau Gasol couldn't find the net, but he still demanded attention down low from the defense, and leveraged that attention to find shooters (for instance, a big 3-pointer by Steve Blake to give the Lakers a two-point lead with less than five minutes to go in the first half).
With Bryant out, Blake stepped in as the Lakers' primary perimeter creator, and it's no surprise he saw a huge uptick in usage. Blake finished with 23 points, including 4-for-8 from beyond the arc. A lot of the Lakers' stuff originated with Howard and Gasol at the elbows to serve as traffic cones for Blake. The basic strategy for Blake was to penetrate into the teeth of the defense and hope something materializes -- either a close-range and/or makable shot, or a passing lane to an open shooter or rolling big man. His eight 3-point attempts materialized in a hodgepodge of ways: off a high angle pick-and-roll from Gasol, flaring to the wing for a catch in rhythm and a couple of the pull-up variety.
The Lakers tried to create shot attempts early (e.g. Dwight Howard rim runs off Spurs misses) but they could never quite establish a pace. You have to think that’s something Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni will drill home prior to Wednesday night’s game. If the Lakers are going to look for shots on the box, then they should do it quickly. One of D’Antoni’s most steadfast beliefs is that the offense has the advantage for the first few seconds of a possession, but after the defense gets set -- especially one as well-tuned as the Spurs' -- it has the edge. When the clock ticked down and the Lakers needed to create something out of thin air, they went into Howard and Gasol at the end of the possessions. Where an offense goes when it's desperate tells us a lot about where an offense believes it's strongest.
The Lakers' half-court offense started to decongest a little when they started running some corner sets on one side of the floor, while Howard set up on the opposite block. Once the Lakers swung the ball to the second side and the entry pass to Howard was made, he was in much better position to attack the rim. We can forget that Howard is an absolutely unguardable beast when he catches in close proximity to the basket. The Spurs doubled Howard on a couple of occasions in the first quarter -- defensive reads in at least one case -- but by the third quarter, the Spurs threw hard double teams at Howard on the catch as a matter of policy.
It's not an enormous problem, but Metta World Peace has some sort of issue with delivering entry passes. Funny thing is, he doesn't make a lot of poor passes. Yet if there's any sort of front on the post player, World Peace gets anxious. He'll bail out and put the ball on the floor. Twice in the first quarter, World Peace looked off post players -- Gasol and Howard once each. The two possessions yield was a couple of free throw attempts.
With Gasol and Howard on the floor together, the Lakers were outscored 50-47. When the two big men share the floor without both Bryant and Steve Nash, the Lakers are a minus-8 for the season in a smallish sample size of 83 minutes.