Why Dwight Howard Will Lead The League In Dunks This Season

Dwight Howard has a lot to look forward to next season. He’s set to be a key piece on a legitimate championship contender in a city that has a history of collecting Larry O’Brien Trophies. At age 26, he is just beginning to enter the prime of his career and will be surrounded by incredible (albeit, aging) talent. While the pressure to win a title in the City of Angels will be immense and immediate, Dwight will be able to share the heavy expectations with future first-ballot Hall of Famers Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, as well as four-time All-Star Pau Gasol, who may end up in the Hall as well (compare his Laker’s numbers to Hall of Famer James Worthy). Life is good for Mr. Howard.

In addition, there are three special things about joining the Lakers that should have Dwight salivating for this season to begin: dunks, dunks and more dunks. It’s no secret that Dwight loves to annihilate the rim at every opportunity. Last season, he ranked second in the league with 5.2 makes at the rim per game (trailing only Blake Griffin‘s 5.3). But of those buckets, only 55.3 percent came off an assist (compared to Griffin’s 65.7 percent). Griffin, of course, was on the receiving end of Chris Paul‘s Lob City while Dwight was left running with Jameer Nelson. But will swapping Nelson for Nash really make that much of a difference for Dwight? Dwight will enter rim-smashing mode regardless, right? Of course he will, but Nash will make it even easier for Dwight to test the structural integrity of hoop standards in arenas across the league.

Nash led the NBA last season with 4.7 assists at the rim per game (in fact, he has led the league in this category each of the past six seasons). Nelson was tied for 14th with 2.3 assists at the rim per contest (even with a beast like Dwight lurking in the paint). Now, look to the desert of last season, where 84.3 percent of Marcin Gortat‘s made shots at the rim last season came off an assist, which was the highest mark in the NBA (among players averaging 25+ minutes a game). Coincidence? No way. Gortat is an above-average finisher, but that high percentage is a result of Nash’s ability to get his big guy the ball in the perfect position to finish strongly. In four of the last six seasons, a Nash teammate has ranked in the top three in assisted makes at the rim per game. No other point guard in the league has been as consistently excellent at getting his teammates easy buckets. The scary part is that Nash ruled the league in this category after Amar’e Stoudemire came back from his knee surgeries — so picture what Nash can do with a finisher like Dwight (and Kobe and Gasol to help keep the defense extra honest). Amar’e’s numbers at the rim have taken a serious hit since he left Phoenix and Nash for the Big Apple (granted, he has settled for outside shots more often). Since 2008, the percentages of his assisted buckets at the rim and from 3 to 9 feet have decreased roughly 14 and 20 percent, respectively.

None of this should come as a surprise; we all know Nash’s strengths and how he continuously makes his big men more productive. To make matters even sweeter for Dwight, he’s pairing Nash’s gaudy assist numbers with arguably the best passing big man in the league in Gasol. The Spaniard was good for 1.7 assists at the rim last season; a phenomenal number for a power forward (only Josh Smith had more for a big with 1.8 per game). Even though the Lakers didn’t have a point guard averaging more than 3.3 assists a game until Ramon Sessions arrived in March, they still ranked sixth in total dimes per game last season. Mixing Nash’s ability to find the big guy at the basket and Pau’s high/low acumen with Dwight “Just Throw the Ball Near the Rim and I’ll Dunk It” Howard? Look out.

And you can bet your ass that Nash is smiling too. Not only is he the only player to average more than 10 dimes a game over the age of 35, he’s about to do it for the fourth season in a row.

All stats from HoopData.com and Basketball-Reference.com

Will Dwight be healthy enough to be this dominant?

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