Class is in session for Dwight Howard in Houston. The topic? Offense. Despite being a seven-time NBA All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Howard’s inside game is built on power and little else. That could change under the tutelage of the most balletic pair of old-school big men the game has ever seen: Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale. Writes Jenkins, “While Olajuwon methodically expanded his repertoire through 17 seasons in Houston, showcasing his speed with a balletic array of spins and counters, Howard’s routine remained fairly constant, forcing up those baby hooks.”
Olajuwon, who won two NBA titles with the Rockets, believes versatility is the one thing preventing Howard from being great. “You can’t have one move,” Olajuwon says. “It’s like having one outfit. I’m not going to wear the same thing to the party that I do to the gym.”
Howard worked with Olajuwon while he was with Orlando. Soon after Howard signed with the Rockets last July, McHale invited The Dream to once again become part of the team to help coach Howard and several of the team’s other big men, including 7-foot center Omer Asik. “How can we get Dwight better?” McHale asks. “That’s what we talk about. If we did nothing, and he played the way he has his entire career, he’d still be the best big guy in the NBA. But if Hakeem and I can give him a couple more tools, and he can master those, what a complement that would be.” | SI senior writer Lee Jenkins
Despite modest improvement over the last few weeks, the Lakers still sit 3 ½ games out of a postseason spot with 28 to go. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Jack McCallum examines the key characters and storylines behind the Lakers disastrous start and wonders if Mike D’Antoni can turn them around in time to sneak into the playoffs.
One of those key characters was the architect of five championships for the Lakers—Phil Jackson. Count Jackson among the doubters of this year’s Lakers team:
“The players don’t mach well with the system,” Jackson says of D’Anonti’s Lakers. “I like Mike as a coach, just not with this personnel.” (PAGE 37)
McCallum notes that some portion of the Lakers brain trust saw D’Antoni as the coach who could help restore the run-and-gun Showtime style of Magic’s Lakers—the beloved style of the late team owner Jerry Buss, who just passed away Monday. Yet, the Lakers feature older players who like to play with their backs to the basket. 39-year-old point guard Steve Nash believes the key to turning around the season is simple: more pick-and-rolls. McCallum sees this as a shot at Dwight Howard. He says:
“That message was clearly directed at one person. Howard’s inability—or unwillingness—to embrace a pick-and-roll offense has been a major subplot of the Lakers’ season.” (PAGE 38)
Then there’s the popular belief that Howard is flat out immature. McCallum says: “At times his flakiness gives the impression that he’s playing some version of a Sesame Street character—Mr. Smiley Long Legs one day, Mr. Mopey Pants another.” (PAGE 38)
In his defense, McCallum notes that Howard has clearly not recovered fully from his offseason back surgery, not to mention the torn labrum he suffered in early January. The Lakers could manage Howard’s issues if the other key post player—Pao Gasol, who is out until mid-March with his own injury—wasn’t also off to a rocky start in the new system.
And what about Kobe Bryant? He’s tried everything from leading the league in scoring the first few months to cutting down his shot attempts to even calling out Howard. One thing is for sure—Kobe and D’Antoni must find a way to get through to Howard, keep Gasol happy and get production from younger players off the bench. Kobe remains confident.
“It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs,” Bryant says. “We will. And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone—Oklahoma City, San Antonia, Denver…whoever.” (PAGE 40)
Lee Jenkins Investigates Why the Pick-and-Roll is the Surest Way into the NBA
The pick-and-roll has been a pillar of NBA offenses since Oscar Robertson and Lenny Wilkens were delivering pocket passes, but never has the set permeated playbooks as it does today. Powerhouses like James Harden, Derrick Rose and Chris Bosh may make it look simple, but Sports Illustrated’s “Data by Synergy Sports Technology” proves that a skilled pick artist has become a standby that teams are relying on more than ever before. Weber State coach, Randy Rahe is convinced that the pick is now invaluable to college basketball, “Pick-and-roll is such a big part of the NBA … so it only made sense to add more of it to our offense” (page 66).