The news that Dwight Howard is heading to the Lakers in a four-team trade means our long national nightmare is over. It also means that with the particulars of the deal — Howard to L.A., Bynum to Philadelphia, and Iguodala to Denver — three teams got pieces that will have a significant impact next season. The next question is how the X’s and O’s will work for each.
Los Angeles Lakers
It took some time, but the Lakers finally got their man, and he couldn’t be walking into a better situation. L.A. is now pairing one of the best roll men in the NBA (according to Synergy Sports, Howard shot 73.6 on rolls to the rim while posting 1.384 points per possession, tops in the NBA) with one of the best pick-and-roll ball handlers in the NBA in Steve Nash. The success of that pairing is a given.
The more interesting part is going to be the interplay between Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. What this essentially does is slides Pau Gasol to the 4, full-time, while making Howard the center. This means that Dwight and Pau are going to have to find enough space in that 15-to-17-foot range to allow each other to operate. If Gasol’s history of working with a post-up big man is any indication, this should work.
Despite his pick-and-roll prowess, Dwight Howard is a post-up center, doing so 57.4 percent of the time and posting pretty decent numbers out of it (PPP of 0.880 puts him in the 70th percentile, according to Synergy). The rate at which he posts up will probably go down a bit due to a combination of factors — Kobe, more pick-and-rolls — but he’s going to be the team’s post-up option, and that forces Pau to adjust. Fortunately for the Lakers, that’s something he is very good at. Last season, when cutting off of a teammate’s post-up possession, Gasol shot 63.6 percent. When spotting up off of a teammate’s post-up possession, he shot 58.8 percent.
Gasol is a smart player who understands how to use space, find his teammates, and cut to open areas on the floor. Most of the time, it was Andrew Bynum who was the first big man down the floor. He would post up as Pau either found space or set a ball screen. The Lakers can replicate this with Howard, and Gasol’s knack for understanding where he needs to be will allow both bigs to get good looks. Gasol gets open shots from Howard, and, as Gasol shows, he can cut to the basket. It might take a while for Dwight and Gasol to develop what Bynum and Gasol had in terms of understanding, but when it happens, it’s trouble for the rest of the league.
It may be the Sixers, and not the Lakers, who actually “won” this trade. Philadelphia has been trying to dump Iguodala for more than a year, and when they finally do, they get Andrew Bynum in return. The question is how the Sixers will use him.
His two best skills are his ability to work in the post (55.6 percent of possessions/PPP of 0.897/74th percentile) and his ability to read dribble penetration and cut off of it (16.3 percent of possessions/PPP of 1.553/96th percentile). Those are two things the Sixers didn’t do much. They rarely posted guys up (9.3 percent of the time), and they rarely hit cutters (only 9.7 percent of the time). This is probably a result of having ball-dominant, score-first players like Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams on the perimeter. With Bynum’s ability to create space and passing lanes for himself, Holiday and Nick Young, who replaced Williams, are going to have to adjust and start looking for the big man on dribble penetration.
Here we see that use of space and Bynum’s ability to create openings for himself and his teammates. He does a great job of spacing out and providing the ball handler with a lane that forces his man into a tough decision. Either Bynum’s man sticks with him and gives up an open layup, or he helps and Bynum is open for the dump-off pass. Bynum always has his hands up, and he’s always ready to receive the ball and go up quickly, a habit that allowed him to shoot 80.1 percent on plays labeled as “cuts” by Synergy Sports. In Philadelphia, it will be up to the ball handlers to find him.
Out of the three teams who made this trade, the Nuggets got the guy who best fits what they already do. In a sense, trading for Iguodala made the Nuggets a better version of the team they already are. Denver loves to run. They had the second-highest pace in the league — averaging 96.6 possessions per game — and Synergy shows that 18.1 percent of their possessions are in transition (most in the NBA). The Nuggets are also efficient when they run. Despite their pace, they had the third-highest offensive efficiency, and their PPP in transition, 1.203, was third in the NBA. In adding Andre Iguodala, they have another player who can fit into this style. In situations where he wasn’t the ball handler in transition — and he won’t be handling the ball on the break in Denver — Iguodala shot 79.2 percent.
It’s easy to see why Iguodala does so well in transition. He goes from playing defense to sprinting out on the offensive end faster than most players I have seen. Once he sees that his team has secured the basketball, he’s already out looking for a pass ahead. Those passes came every once in a while in Philly, but they will come much more often in Denver.