Intriguing Takeaways From Philadelphia

Last night the Houston Rockets were James Harden-less, but lost a very winnable game against the (Michael Carter-Williams-less) Philadelphia 76ers. Here are two takeaways from that game. Both are related to Dwight Howard.

Both Howard’s offense in the post and his pick-and-roll defense helped shape this singular contest, and not necessarily in a good way. (Please keep in mind: this was one game Houston played without its best offensive player, and for that reason, one of the issues discussed in this piece won’t be as applicable to the future.)

I’ll also break down a crucial late-game ATO (after time-out) play defended by the Rockets.

Howard in the Post

With no Harden in the lineup, Houston’s entire offensive game plan revolved around Howard in the post. For better or for worse. If you watched the game, you know the Sixers would have taken care of business in regulation had they not aggressively doubled Howard nine times out of every 10 he touched the ball. (Heading into the night, Howard had nine assists. Philadelphia gift-wrapped six for him in 42 minutes.)

Howard’s vision was great, and this isn’t taking anything away from his magnetic ability to single-handedly force multiple “Defensive 3-Second Violations” every week. But there are other ways to attack the opposition, and the moment Philadelphia realized they should probably play him one-on-one, the game felt like it was over.

Whatever the reason, Kevin McHale thought Howard gave Houston the best chance to win last night. It would’ve been nice to see a bit more Jeremy Lin off the dribble, specifically in the pick-and-roll with the most feared big man in basketball doing what he does best. But I understand the benefits of having Philadelphia’s entire defense strain over one player’s doing.

He recorded six assists, but Howard could be seen whipping the ball to a teammate many more times than that, similar to the play you can see below.

Don’t worry, a bland stretch of offense like last night’s won’t ever happen with Harden in the lineup. It’s biologically unthinkable.

Howard vs. the Pick-and-Roll

This was pretty bad. Preeeeeeetty, preeeetty, pretty bad. By all other means Howard looks 100% healthy. On the glass he’s leaping twice before opponents get off the court, spiking floaters 13-feet off the ground, hurtling back and forth, front to back, side to side. He’s great. Except defending the pick-and-roll.

To be fair, once again, this was just one game. And the center he was responsible for is known for dominating November, especially when given a few feet  of breathing room. But Howard was so passive. More passive than a dominant Defensive Player of the Year candidate should and needs to be, and that’s always been his standard. There’s a fear Howard won’t ever reach “2010 Dwight” levels again. I, for one, am not in that camp. I’m full on rooting to see that guy again because once upon a time, the things he did on the court regularly blew my mind.

Hopefully we see peak Dwight Howard again. Plays like these just aren’t very fun.

If you can stifle a pick-and-roll with two defenders, job well done. In both of these plays, Howard could’ve been the second stifler. Instead, Evan Turner gets around the corner both times on his way to the rim.

(In the second clip, you could say Parsons was supposed to get up higher and force Turner to use his screener, away from the middle. That’s fair, but I don’t know exactly what Houston’s trying to accomplish. Howard didn’t ICE a pick-and-roll on the sideline all night long. Hawes petrified him.)

Sixers ATO

Trailing by one with 46 seconds to go, the Sixers decided to run a nice play for Dwyane Wa–excuse me, James Anderson.

As the ball crosses mid-court on the left wing, Anderson starts from the baseline and runs towards the free-throw line. Not including him, Patrick Beverley, and Tony Wroten (who has the ball), Terrence Jones and Hawes are the two other players on that side of the floor.

As the ball is entered to Hawes on the wing, Anderson gets to the free-throw line, then makes a perfect v-cut towards the basket. Meanwhile, on the opposite wing stands Evan Turner, a career 32% shooter from behind the arc who’s stuck at 16% on 25 attempts this season (and was 0-4 last night). Chandler Parsons knows this, and isn’t bashful about drifting far off Turner and into the paint as a help defender.

Anderson beats his man on the cut, Hawes hits him with a perfect pass, and the Sixers go up a point on their way to winning the game! Just kidding. Parsons had one hell of a night, but what he does here is probably just enough to earn his game check. Look how far he’s drifted off Turner! He reads the play perfectly, meets Anderson at the rim, and blocks it to a teammate. Such an awesome play on so many levels. Too bad it happened in a loss.

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Total comments: 15
  • thenit says 5 months ago

    I will say that our perimeter defense sucks no matter what lineup we put up. We usually blame Harden, but even without him we lack in that department. So its a coaching or system issue.

    Also regarding Dwight, I think people are over valuing him. He is definitely the best center even at 90% of his best years. But its been over a year since his surgery and he is healed and 100% fine, its just that he already has peaked. He won't be that much better and that's fine in a way that he will be the best center. However if he hasn't develop a post game by now or range, he will not develop it. Only reason he beat opponents on the post in the past was when he overpowered his opponents not with his skills. Today he is not the same beast and can't do it to most centers that easily therefore his effiency has dropped. Even in his prime he couldn't bully Yao or Shaq when they played him 1 on 1. On others he would pound them, but now when he doesn't have the same strength and jump, he is just not that good in the post. He had the whole summer to work with McHale and Hakeem and I haven't seen anything newhe is doingcompared to 2010 D12. So my hopes are low that he will develop a game.He will still be an all star and top 10 but he won't crack the top 3 again for the remainder of his career.

  • majik19 says 5 months ago

    Isn't it clear that the biggest issue on this team is perimeter defense?

    90 of the 76ers points last night came from perimeter players. We made James Anderson, Evan Turner, and Tony Wroten look like all stars. When I watched the 76ers last night, I couldn't believe how easy it was for them to get shots off. They easily would go around picks and get to the rim.

    Even with Beverly on the floor, our perimeter defense was atrocious. The problem is that all of our perimeter defenders get beat off the dribble so easily that it puts a ton of pressure on the help defense or the back line. You can cover up one poor defender - you can't cover up 3. So how do you fix that? Harden has to play. Lin has to play. Parsons has to play. Beverly is the best defender of the bunch (though I'm starting to doubt his on-ball skills, albeit he is an effective "pest.") The only way I see to fix this is to trade for a true 3 and D guy... and he would have to replace Parsons. Or Parsons needs to improve DRAMATICALLY as a defensive player.

    Other observations from last night:

    1) Thaddeus Young easily overpowered Terence Jones. That's a problem if he's going to be a starter.

    2) I was so frustrated with Dwight at the end of that game - he left Hawes wide open 3 times for 3 pointers and was slow back down the floor once that set up a 3 point for a different 76er.

    3) How did the offense bog down so badly at the end of the game? From the the time we took a 90-80 lead, everything became difficult on the offensive end.

    4) Watching Howard clank 5 footer after 5 footer is a nightmare. I cringe every time he touches the ball in the post. Maybe when he reviews the game tape, he will too, and he'll realize he just needs to run the pick and roll and give up on being a dominating post presence.

  • rockets best fan says 5 months ago

    Is it possible that factors outside of Dwight's control are inhibiting what some might take as a sign he is not near his 2010 performance levels. Wouldn't trying to build an offense from scratch while players, including Dwight, are still trying to work out spacing and ball movement issues be something limiting what Dwight appears to be doing in the span of a game. If there had been a focus by the front office and coaching on defense and what it could do through the first 6 games should we necessarily be choosing that sample as a measure of Dwight versus his time in Orlando when the offensive chemistry was established and Dwight knew his spots and his teammates knew his spots and on the other side of the court he knew his teammates weaknesses and they trusted him to cover. I think there are more factors than what is measured on the court that need to be taken into account when players are analyzed.

    you hit the nail right on the head..........totally agree. everyone is expecting Howard to change us to a defensive juggernaut.......and he can, but defense must start with each player. D-12 had 6 blocks in this game......jones had 3 more........where is the perimeter defense? why are wing players finding it so easy to beat their man off the dribble? Howard's play is suffering, but it is not alone. I don't know whether it's the injuries, the Flu, the schemes, or the lack of effort but we are not getting the job done. we scored enough points last night to win that game. our defense was garbage for large portions of the game. even when we are hitting offensively the defense allows teams to stay within striking distance. we are not disrupting the other teams offense. we not only stink inside.....we stink outside. seems like we would be able to take at least one of these areas away from the opposing team. WHAT HAPPEN TO PROTECTING THE PAINT. give up the outside shot if you have to, but never let'em reach the paint. at this point I looking more at coaching than the players themselves. either the schemes we run doesn't work or the players can not execute it. some believe that if we were hitting a few more outside shots the problem will go away..........it won't. our problem is we are not playing defense on a level overall enough to consistently disrupt opposing offenses. face it we gave up 36 points to JAMES FREAKING ANDERSON. hedidn't score 36 points totalhis entire Rockets career. if we are to right this ship it has to start defensively. we need to either change our defensive scheme or figure out how to get our players to execute it. sorry about the rant on Anderson....I do think he can be a good player, but that game last night pissed me off

  • 2016Champions says 5 months ago

    Does Dwight really need to go out to the 3pt line? I think a 1-3-1 zone defense would work really well for us.

    zone_d.jpg

    Dwight would always be by the basket. Casspi, Lin, Parsons would be the three guys rotating out to shooters. Harden would play the role of "rover" which he always does anyway, so basically he's just trying to disrupt passing lanes and doesn't really have to rotate out to anyone.

    I'm guessing our zone defense hasn't been practiced much yet. We need to get our basic rotations right before we start practicing different defensive schemes. Still, we don't have to worry too much about Dwight's defensive "struggles" last night because it's a team defense issue that I'm sure we will fix in time, Kelvin Sampson is a fine defensive co-ordinator.

  • Jeby says 5 months ago

    Aside from the PNR defense issue, it was frustrating to see Howard's interior defense get neutered by having to guard a center who can nail threes. None of Houston's perimeter defenders (except maybe Beverley) are good enough for the team to survive defensively when Howard leaves the paint. Hence James Anderson's D-Wade imitation.

  • MichaelPina says 5 months ago

    Michael, I am struggling to understand your perspective on Dwight's health. If you think he looks 100% healthy in almost every way, then why do you think he has been performing so far below "2010 Dwight"? And what gives you optimism that we will see the return of 2010 Dwight?

    I think Dwight looks healthy, and, if I wasn't clear, my goal was trying to dispel the idea that there's a relationship between his physical well-being and his performance on the court. I don't know why he isn't blowing up pick-and-rolls like he once did. But it's not even December, so we'll see where he goes from here.

  • feelingsupersonic says 5 months ago

    Is it possible that factors outside of Dwight's control are inhibiting what some might take as a sign he is not near his 2010 performance levels. Wouldn't trying to build an offense from scratch while players, including Dwight, are still trying to work out spacing and ball movement issues be something limiting what Dwight appears to be doing in the span of a game. If there had been a focus by the front office and coaching on defense and what it could do through the first 6 games should we necessarily be choosing that sample as a measure of Dwight versus his time in Orlando when the offensive chemistry was established and Dwight knew his spots and his teammates knew his spots and on the other side of the court he knew his teammates weaknesses and they trusted him to cover. I think there are more factors than what is measured on the court that need to be taken into account when players are analyzed.

    feelingsupersonic or anyone else, would you be comfortable betting that Dwight will return to Orlando levels by the end of the year? I get that he's assimilating with a new team and system, but do you really think that's causing this much of a decline in performance?

    I don't mean that as a challenge, I'm just genuinely curious if anyone is _really_ optimistic about Dwight returning to Orlando form after what they've seen so far, and if so, why. I'd love to be optimistic about this but I just haven't seen anything to make me feel that way.

    I don't really know to be honest. I am just trying to expand the list of what I consider factors that should be considered when forming my opinion on Dwight. I am generally an optimistic person so take that however you would like if you think that's important. Also, I don't really believe that we need to hold Dwight to his 2010 standards and if he get's back to 85% he is still one of the best in the league, he is a few years older so if he plateaus physically and the league catches up hopefully he can establish himself here and find some consistancy at an All Star level to counter father time. Many star players in the last few decades have accomplished winning after their physical primes. Top and bottom I need more time to evaluate these Rockets but then again I am just a fan.

  • j_wehr says 5 months ago

    feelingsupersonic or anyone else, would you be comfortable betting that Dwight will return to Orlando levels by the end of the year? I get that he's assimilating with a new team and system, but do you really think that's causing this much of a decline in performance?

    I don't mean that as a challenge, I'm just genuinely curious if anyone is _really_ optimistic about Dwight returning to Orlando form after what they've seen so far, and if so, why. I'd love to be optimistic about this but I just haven't seen anything to make me feel that way.

  • Rahat Huq says 5 months ago

    I disagree on the point about him jumping twice when the opposition has jumped once (as he did in Orlando). He's gobbling up rebounds, but I'm not seeing that.

  • 2016Champions says 5 months ago

    Am I wrong in thinking that those displays in poor pick and roll defense were actually the fault of the primary on-ball defender? If the screen was used then it's up to Dwight to switch or hedge/show and return, but in both scenarios the screen wasn't used (the screen was on the right but the ball handler went left) so it's really up to the primary defender to stay in front of his man.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 5 months ago I agree FSS.
  • feelingsupersonic says 5 months ago

    Is it possible that factors outside of Dwight's control are inhibiting what some might take as a sign he is not near his 2010 performance levels. Wouldn't trying to build an offense from scratch while players, including Dwight, are still trying to work out spacing and ball movement issues be something limiting what Dwight appears to be doing in the span of a game. If there had been a focus by the front office and coaching on defense and what it could do through the first 6 games should we necessarily be choosing that sample as a measure of Dwight versus his time in Orlando when the offensive chemistry was established and Dwight knew his spots and his teammates knew his spots and on the other side of the court he knew his teammates weaknesses and they trusted him to cover. I think there are more factors than what is measured on the court that need to be taken into account when players are analyzed.

  • rm90025 says 5 months ago

    Rockets lost that game because Dwight Howard was very ordinary and got outplayed by Spencer Hawes in the 4th qtr and OT. In a shootout game like that when Philly's unsung heroes were hitting shots from the parking lot, the team needed its superstar to step up and own the defensive glass and make good plays on offense. He made some; he whiffed on some. He wasn't great. I do believe that if Asik had been on the floor instead of Dwight, the result would've been different. Asik runs the pick and roll better. He is a better defender and has more size to match up with opposing centers like Hawes. Using the Twin Towers or sitting Dwight might've been the better move.

  • j_wehr says 5 months ago

    Michael, I am struggling to understand your perspective on Dwight's health. If you think he looks 100% healthy in almost every way, then why do you think he has been performing so far below "2010 Dwight"? And what gives you optimism that we will see the return of 2010 Dwight?

  • Richards says 5 months ago

    Why Rockets didn't foul them while 3pt deficit on last play? What the stats say?