While Dwight Howard has flaws as an offensive player, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson stressed how vital it is for the team to use Howard as a primary, low-post option.
“It doesn’t have to be done 20 times a game but it has to be done,” said Jackson at “Live Talks Los Angeles” event at the Alex Theatre in Glendale on Wednesday.
“There are some things about Dwight’s game, when you put the ball in the post, he does turn it over, gets offensive fouls,” he continued. “There are some things that are limited but in the process of making him a part of the game, it activates him as a rebounder, shot-blocker and a defender.”
Howard didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Coach Mike D’Antoni’s offensive philosophy in their first season together. D’Antoni’s natural style of coaching relies more on screen/roll and outside shooting.
“Mike does a great job with a lot of offensive things he does on the floor, so it’s not simply about that,” said Jackson. “It’s about how you make the most out of this player, how do you get him to be best player he can be.”
As the season evolved, Howard got into better shape as he recovered from last year’s back surgery.
Jackson questioned Howard’s early return in later October, instead of December as initially expected.
“I have no idea if he forced his way by saying, ‘I have to play,’” wondered Jackson. “I sat the entire year after my back operation, so I know what it’s like to recover from it. It’s a long process. By the end of the season, [Howard] started to look like who he is -- the type of player who gets off his feet quickly.”
Jackson sat out the 1969-70 season with the New York Knicks after spinal-fusion surgery.
The Hall of Fame coach believes that Howard’s true gift is as a defender. By working the team’s offense through him, he becomes a greater presence overall.
“That’s where his genius is as a player,” said Jackson. “This is where he’s brilliant and can be great at being the best defensive ballplayer in the game -- in slowing everybody down when it comes in the lane, changing up shots and getting his team out on the run because of a blocked shot.”
Of course Howard has the option to leave the Lakers this summer as a free agent. Teams like the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks (among others) are expected to try and convince the All-Star center to leave Los Angeles.
As far as D’Antoni, the Lakers have been clear that they intend to bring him back next season.
Jackson also noted that he doesn’t want to kid himself, he’s done coaching.