Recently, on Jason Collins Day, we celebrated Jason Collins great post defence, and how he was additional security in the paint against Dwight Howard and the Lakers. However, we seem to be making one mistake here: we’re projecting Jason Collins defence on the basis of his past encounters with Howard in Orlando, instead of on how the Lakers will be utilizing Howard this year.
With the Magic, Dwight was the focal point of the offense, and his modus operandi was in the low block, where according to Synergy, he posted up 57% of the time. The Magic’s offense revolved around Howard forcing double teams and kicking out to the open man (they lead the league in 3pt rate, with 34% of their total shots from behind the arc). While this was a sound offensive philosophy, it simply fell apart when Howard was unable to draw double coverage, as the shooters were forced to take contested jumpers. This strategy was effectively used by teams capable of defending Howard with a single defender, and in such a defensive system, Jason Collins would prove to be a solid asset.
However, the Lakers will rely less of Howard posting up on the low block, and more on two particular strategies: the pick-and-roll with Nash, and the Princeton Offence.
In Steve Nash, the Lakers have one of the best pick-and- roll ball handlers, one who has had great success with all varieties of big men, like Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudamire and even Marcin Gortat. Nash’s pick-and-roll ability remains unparalleled, even at the age of 38. In addition to arguably the best ball handler in the pick-and-roll, the Lakers also have Dwight Howard, the most efficient roll man according to the numbers (Howard shot 73.6 on rolls to the rim while posting 1.384 points per possession). This is what should give defensive coaches nightmares around the NBA. But on the rosier side, the Celtics have perhaps the best pick-and-roll defenders in the league in Kevin Garnett(and arguably, the best in history), and Steve Nash has never enjoyed success against the Celtics, averaging only 11 and 9 against them in recent years.
The Lakers added Eddie Griffin to their coaching staff this summer, and with him he brings the famed Princeton Offense. The Princeton offense relies on circulation of the ball, off-ball movements, cuts, multiple picks, and high percentage shot selection. While at first glance, the Lakers seem misfit for this strategy, between the lumbering Howard, trigger-happy Bryant and a guy like Steve Nash, who’s most effective with the ball in his hands. But the Princeton offence provides one thing that will help Howard the most, and that is spacing. The constant moving off the ball and the players forces players to focus on their defensive assignment, providing much greater space for the post players to work with. This may be one area where Jason Collins is effective. However, defending an effective Princeton offense needs two things: constant movement and ball pressure, and great team defense. Not only will Collins have to deal with Howard in the low block, but he’ll also need to defend him when he sets multiple screens, when he cuts off the ball for easy lay ins and dunks, and when he jumps on misses for offensive rebounds and putbacks(Since the Princeton Offense forces players to be in constant movement, rebounding can be neither a positional nor a team activity: each player becomes personally responsible for blocking out his man and collecting the rebound if necessary).
Thus, while Jason Collins in a nice addition, he should not be hyped as a'Dwight-stopper'