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December 2, 2011
The Clipboard
How Shooting Helps Howard

by Sebastian Pruiti

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The Orlando Magic's offense is defined by two things: Dwight Howard and three-point shooting. Per Synergy Sports, the Magic spots up 22.3 percent of the time, ranking seventh in the league In points per possession, and posts up 16.3 percent of the time, ranking ninth. Combined, the two playcalls make up more than a third of Orlando's offense. The usual assumption is that the Magic's offense is inside-out, with Dwight Howard creating opportunities for three-point shooters. While that is definitely the case, it is also true that Orlando's outside shooting opens things up for Howard. Even though it doesn't get as much publicity as the inside-out game, the Magic's "outside-in" game is important because it creates space for Howard.

We pick up this Howard post touch as he turns and faces his defender. As this happens, the defense should suck in a little bit. Tyler Hansbrough, who is defending Ryan Anderson at the top of the key, should be closer to the foul line. Mike Dunleavy, Jr. and Darren Collison ought to be in the paint even with the basket line for when Howard makes his move. However, because all three are covering very good shooters, they don't sink in as much as they should.

The result is Howard getting to the middle and making his turn at the rim before the double team could come. This allows Howard to finish at the rim easily.

Here is another situation. Boris Diaw is covering Anderson and is actually at the right spot at the foul line, ready to dig in if Howard goes to the middle. However, Kwame Brown, Howard's defender, assumes that help won't be there because there is a shooter at the top of the key. Brown overplays Howard to the middle, giving up baseline. Howard is able to face up, drive baseline, and finish easily at the rim with no help coming.

Let's look at one more post touch, this one coming off a pick-and-roll situation. Again, Howard has it on the block against the Bobcats and again, Diaw is the man who should be helping over the middle. He's in the right spot this time, but instead of digging in, Diaw is actually looking for Anderson at the top of the key. Think about it: Diaw has one of the best post players in the league making a move in the middle, and he is looking outside, trying to find a shooter. The threat of shooting from Orlando's outside players makes the defense think about them even when they don't have the basketball, and that is what creates space for Howard. As Howard finishes his move, no help comes from the weak side because Gerald Henderson is worried about not one, but two shooters spotting up on the perimeter. The result is an easy finish for Howard. Here are a look at a few clips in real time:

Watching these clips live really lets you see the hesitation from the help and makes it apparent that the defense is thinking about the shooters on the outside when they should be helping and digging in on Howard. That late help creates angles and allows Howard to work one-on-one a lot more than a post player of his caliber should. If the Magic does trade Howard before he can become a free agent next summer, he would love to bring those shooters with him to his new team.

Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Sebastian by clicking here or click here to see Sebastian's other articles.

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First Look (12/02)
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Sim Season (12/04)

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