Normally I’m reverent about everything that Phil Jackson has to say about basketball. (His Eastern philosophy is a whole other story.) But on the Dan Patrick show, the Zen Master said that if he were building a team from scratch, he would pick Dwight Howard over LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Paul. Can’t say I agree with him this time.
Phil’s argument, which you can listen to here, is that it’s really rare that a team is vaulted into “championship territory” by a two-guard or a small forward. He takes Dwight Howard because he’s a big guy, and traditionally that would be a good decision.
But the League has evolved in a way that drastically devalues a true center. With a huge jump in three-point shooting (three-pointers attempted per game) over the last fifteen years, and the consequential increase in long rebounds, a center’s opportunity to dominate the painted area decreases. There are simply fewer viable chances at rebounds because misses are more likely to careen far away from the basket. And at the same time, teams would rather have someone pull a three if they’re just as likely to make a two.
Howard’s size and strength should alter that equation. Because of his physical dominance, he should be so much more likely to make a two-point shot that it offsets the risk (and reward) of taking a three. But he’s not a sure thing. In fact, he ranks 43rd in the League (according to 82games.com) in field goal percentage on “inside” shots. On the other hand, LeBron is No. 2 in the NBA.
Phil’s assessment is faulty in one other area, too. He simply assumes that you can find some two-guards and three-guards around who can be added to complement Dwight at the pivot. He implies that it’d be really tough to get a post player who can check a guy like Howard if you were building a team around LBJ. In my opinion, I think it’s a whole lot harder to find a guy who can keep LeBron under wraps than to find someone to deal with Dwight.
Do you think that Big Z is an elite post player? He’s got a reliable jump shot, but he, Anderson Varejao and a smattering of other big bodies have complemented LeBron en route to a 39-2 run at home and the NBA’s best record. Cleveland’s bigs are a motley crew. But they still get the job done.
Lastly, I think it’s most important the the best player on your team knows how to make those around him better. Dwight might draw a ton of fouls, but in the flow of a game, he doesn’t do nearly as much for his teammates – despite being doubled on occasion – as LeBron does.
I’d build around James.