Ike’s NBA Withdrawal

dwight howard lakers

Last week, on the night of the ESPYs, a sports-loving friend of mine alerted the interwebs via Facebook that there wasn’t a single NBA, MLB, NFL, NHL, NASCAR, tennis, golf, Olympics, or NCAA event on that night. Oof. When the dust settled and the Heat walked away from L.A.’s Nokia Theatre with a bunch of ESPY awards (plenty of Heat-related bitterness coming your way later today, FYI), golf and baseball mercifully came back, but I didn’t care. As someone you couldn’t pay to watch golf and someone who openly admits to only enjoying baseball in person and/or when the Giants are innings away from winning (yet another) World Series title, all I’ve got going for me these days is YouTube highlights of next year’s college basketball freshmen (by the way, I’ve been drinking the Andrew Wiggins Kool-Aid for more than a year now, and it still tastes great), NBA free agency signings, and the MSG Network’s hilariously pathetic replays of 80s and 90s Knicks games.

You see, I care only about basketball, with the exception of international soccer (essentially done for the summer), football (still weeks away), and tennis (but I’m a Federer fan and he’s basically done). All of this is to say: I’m bored. Do you realize how sad it is that I watch all of that aforementioned Knicks crap on MSG? They replay 1994 regular-season Knicks games against Shaq and Penny as a way to “celebrate” New York’s eventual trip to the Finals that year. (By the way, the Knicks lost in the Finals.) And the hysterical part of that broadcast was that MSG inadvertently made the 1994 Knicks look bad because of how ugly they played in relation to the crazy-athletic Magic. Yeah, the Knicks won the game in the final minutes, but not once did I think to myself, “Wow, I can’t believe the Knicks didn’t beat the Rockets in the Finals that year!” It was more like: “Wow, I can’t believe the Knicks even made the Finals that year!” or “Wow, I can’t believe the Knicks even got past the Jordan-less Bulls that year!” or “Wow, I can’t believe how freaking incredible Shaq, Penny, and Scott Skiles (!!) were!”

So yeah, as a way to ignore how depressing my life as a basketball fan currently is, I figured I’d share my thoughts on both the NBA offseason and my continuing struggle to cope with what happened to the Spurs in the Finals.

*****

OK, so what’s been going on around the Association? Well, players have been changing teams left and right.

Dwight Howard bolted for Houston, a move that I thought made a bunch of sense basketball-wise. The funny thing is, I don’t think Dwight realizes how and why it makes sense. He is somehow under the impression that A) the Rockets will be his team, and B) the Rockets will play a post-based offense for him.

Let us first address point A): throughout the early summer, as Dwight was mulling his options, he was reportedly enamored of the idea of being The Man on his next team. As Chris Broussard put it, Dwight hadn’t liked playing with Kobe (shocking) and was down with the Mavs. Why? Because he liked the notion of “being the top superstar of a franchise,” and with “Dirk Nowitzki aging, Dallas would be viewed as Howard’s team.”

First of all, Dwight, the Dallas Mavericks are Dirk Nowitzki’s team. That man threw on a Hakeem Olajuwon suit and led them to the NBA title with no other star on the team and won Finals MVP. Who screams “leader” to people? The clutch German dude who has loyally stuck with the same franchise his whole career and who somehow went through Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Westbrook, Durant, Wade, James, and Bosh on the way to one of the most random/impressive title wins ever? Or the guy who melted down during a trade deadline? Spare me. Second, even if Dirk did legitimately break down, and the Mavs did become your team, is that really what you’d care about? That the squad you’re on is viewed by the public as your team? Good for you!

Anyway, Howard eventually chose the Rockets, who are undoubtedly James Harden’s team. I know Howard was hurt last year, but by all accounts, he peaked three years ago. The same cannot be said of Harden, who is 23 and already, at this very moment, better than Dwight Howard. So Dwight already got point A) wrong.

As for point B), Dwight also got that wrong; the Rockets do not have a post-based attack. Instead, they play a pick-and-roll-based, perimeter-oriented offense, one that is predicated on spacing the floor and shooting three-pointers. This will not — and should not — change now that Dwight is there. (Coincidentally, Dwight’s former coach, Mike D’Antoni, tried to run an offense just like that in L.A., but the Lakers didn’t have the personnel for it.) As Zach Lowe so aptly put it on Tuesday, Howard is “perhaps the NBA player least aware of how to maximize his abilities.” In other words, he’s dumb.

Fortunately for him, even though he went to Houston for erroneous reasons, things should work out for him (assuming he’s healthier). Why? Because an up-tempo, perimeter-oriented style — provided that the right surrounding players are in place — is actually what is best for Howard. You see, Howard isn’t that great of a post player. I know the stats tell us that he’s effective on the block, but the Eye Test tells us that he’s better off doing other things — the things he’s best at. And you know what D12 is best at? Playing D, rebounding, and then spending all of his time on offense setting screens for hot-shooting perimeter players who open the lane up for him and let him roll hard to the rim. You know, like when he was in Orlando and the team made the NBA Finals. The Rockets fit that description perfectly. So despite Howard’s early concerns about Houston’s perimeter-based play — as Broussard put it in June, to get D12 “the Rockets will have to convince him that they will play a style more conducive to his skills” — Dwight has actually unknowingly walked into a situation that was already conducive to his skills. And by the way, is playing an up-tempo style really that much of a drag? Isn’t the point to both have fun and win? He will do both on the Rockets.

So, in conclusion, the Rockets successfully tricked Howard into thinking that they will be his team and that they will employ an offense centered around him. Neither of those things will be true, and it will work out for all the parties involved.

(One last note: I mentioned earlier that D12 isn’t a great post player. The numbers tell us that he’s actually pretty good on the block; good for him. But I stand firm in my belief that playing in a spaced, perimeter-oriented offense is what’s best for him. I think it’d be a disaster if the Rockets focused their entire offense on him. Part of the reason I enjoyed watching that aforementioned 1994 Magic-Knicks game the other day was the way Orlando played: their entire offensive attack was founded on throwing the ball to Young Shaq on basically every single possession. No pick-and-rolls, just four out and one in. If Shaq was fronted, they swung the ball. If Shaq caught it and was doubled, he found the open guy. If Shaq caught it and wasn’t doubled, he went to work on Ewing. Obviously I’m simplifying things, but could you imagine if the Rockets did that with Howard next year? Even with Harden in the role of Penny Hardaway and with the other (capable) Rockets filling in for Dennis Scott, Scott Skiles, and Nick Anderson, given Howard’s (clumsy) skills on the block and today’s smallball obsession, it’d be a freaking catastrophe.)

*****

That Howard rant was admittedly most of what I wanted to cover in terms of offseason stuff. What else has happened? The Dubs lost Landry, Jack, and Ezeli (the first two to free agency and the latter to injury), but picked up Iguodala. Not all that bad. Iggy will handle the ball, defend opposing scorers, and be generally exciting on offense alongside the Splash Brothers, Barnes, and D-Lee. But I am incredibly queasy about our thin frontcourt — namely, its ability to stay healthy. (Oh, and RIP to the Andris Biedrins Era, which lasted a whopping nine years. Did you know that Biedrins is only 27? WTF?? He’d been on the Warriors since before the WE BELIEVE days. Incredible.)

Meanwhile, the Clips picked up Dudley and Redick as new toys for CP3. Their (regular-season) offense will be splendid. But questions remain about their frontcourt. The Cavs took a chance on Andrew Bynum and an arguably even bigger chance on Anthony Bennett. The Nets went all-in on this season, trading for KG, Pierce, and Jason Terry, while also picking up AK47 in a move that was all kinds of shady. The Nets are going to be good, but they’re also going to be old and slow. And then you’ve got the Celtics, who — along with the Jazz, Magic, 76ers, Suns, Kings, and Bobcats — will be atrocious. But screw it — Andrew Wiggins, baby! And if not him, there’s the Harrison twins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, the rest of the Kentucky Wildcats, and Marcus Smart! Tanking is so hot right now. (And by the way, I should mention that I feel bad for Rajon Rondo. In the span of 24 months he went from passing the rock to three future Hall-of-Fame players and making Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to blowing out his knee and passing the rock to straight D-Leaguers.)

And then you’ve got teams like the Knicks, Lakers, and Mavs, who just aren’t doing all that well in my book. Andrea Bargnani? Nick Young? Monta Ellis? Damn.

*****

Anyway, it’s now time to revisit the 2013 Finals. Click here.

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