03 June 2009

My Finals thoughts

I've spent the last few days reading blog posts and ESPN articles and message board thoughts about the 2009 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Magic, and I generally agree with the analysis that the Lakers should win in six or seven games.

Orlando is where they are because of streaky insane shooting from deep. From Bill Simmons:

Orlando enjoyed one of the most remarkable shooting stretches in NBA history: From Game 7 of the Boston series through Game 4 of the Cleveland series, the Magic drained 55 of 119 3-pointers (47 percent).

Good gravy, that's hot. But unfortunately for them, conventional wisdom is that teams who live by the three and die by the three die by the three in the playoffs. The Suns made a couple good runs, but in the end, superior post play and good defense wins over a 3-point shooting team.

And right now, Pau Gasol is the best post player in the Finals. He's not as big or strong or athletically gifted as Dwight, but he has good footwork and great passing ability as well as a nice touch from midrange.

While most people acknowledge Pau's skills, I haven't seen anyone mention the fact that Howard has zero game in the post.

And to me, Howard's lack of footwork is the difference maker in this series. He's been in the league for four seasons now. That he has no ability to destroy people on the low block is a travesty and offends my basketball sensibilities.

Sure, dominating your opponents through catch and dunk works fine for high school and regular season stuff. It may even allow you to get through the East if you have good enough teammates.

But it's not good enough to win a Finals. I think people overlook this glaring deficit in Howard's game because he puts up lines like 40 points and 14 rebounds and 30 points and 13 rebounds with some regularity.

This is impressive, make no mistake. But this is merely Howard using his physical gifts to get easy shots thanks to good passing from his teammates. Give him the ball within a two-foot radius of the hoop, and he will dunk over you or get a layup.

But force him to catch the ball outside of that radius and he's helpless. He can't back his defender down. He has no spin move. He can't hit a jumper. He doesn't know how to use a drop step. I've seen him make a couple hook shots, but they are far from second nature to him.

The Magic hired Patrick Ewing, a big man with a low post game, to coach Howard in July of 2007. It has been almost two years since that decision was made, and apparently, Orlando would have been just as well served to throw that money down a well, because I see no appreciable difference between Dwight of 2007 and Dwight in 2009.

I think this bothers me more than most because I am just under six feet tall and have a good post game. Height and athletic ability mean nothing when it comes to understanding how to work on the low block. For Howard to be so supremely gifted and then waste it because he's too lazy or stupid to learn this one facet of the game is a tragedy in today's NBA.

Can you imagine Howard's body with Hakeem Olajuwan's game? I don't think I exaggerate when I say an individual with that pairing would average 40 points and 15 boards a game over and entire season. Easily.

That individual with those skills and ability working with shooters like Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu beats this Laker team. But today, Howard is not that individual. As it is, Dwight is too easily marginalized and LA will win. Bynum hasn't been great this series, but he is a big, strong body that can stay in front of Howard, much like a smaller Kendrick Perkins did in the Orlando/Boston series this year.

I hope this experience will give Howard the motivation he needs to spend every day this offseason working his tail off to develop the footwork he needs to be a superstar. If not, I don't know what will.

Lakers in 6, and every L.A. fan sends a thank-you card to the Grizzlies and Patrick Ewing.

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