Pick and Roll Breakdown: Nash and Howard

When Steve Nash and Dwight Howard became teammates, it seemed obvious that the NBA’s best pick and roll combination would be run in Los Angeles.

That’s not how things have worked out, at least so far.

“I would have thought we’d be a lot more potent in pick-and-roll situations,” admitted Nash this week at practice. “(Howard) played in a pick-and-roll offense. I played in a pick-and-roll offense, so I thought it would have been a lot more effective than it has been thus far. But maybe we can sort it out.”

Some of the blame has fallen on Howard, whether due to injuries or lack of familiarity, or a perceived greater interest in getting straight post ups.

“If (Howard’s) not as interested in pick-and-roll, then it’s probably not gonna be as successful,” Nash continued. “But I’m not really sure. I haven’t spoken to him about where his level of interest is in pick-and-roll.”

But there have been positive signs.

On Tuesday night against Phoenix, for example, the two executed a few pick and rolls perfectly, resulting in Howard buckets at the rim.

To better understand why the combination hasn’t been as seamless as many thought and how it might get better, assistant coach Dan D’Antoni offered a full breakdown. Here’s an edited transcript of his explanation:

Q: On how Howard and Nash think differently on pick and rolls:
Dan D’Antoni: Dwight was taught to pick, roll to the basket, seal and get the ball. He wasn’t pick, get the ball and then move. Steve is used to coming off the initial pick and delivering the ball without waiting on the seal. It’s a combination that takes time. Steve was hurt a good part of the year and there hasn’t been a lot of practice time. It’s a process for that feeling out to begin. I think it can happen. Now, if they allow outside pressures that you always hear to hurt the process of learning together and growing together, it could be trouble. If they can exclude that, understand that it is a process, then they have a chance.

Q: On what are opponents doing to disrupt things?
D’Antoni: As Nash gets off that initial pick, defenses start to catch up. There’s a quick gap – a little bit off of him, a little off the roll guy early – and then as you get deeper, the floor starts closing down. For a smaller guy, that’s more difficult. Steve is still really good, but when you get rid of the ball earlier, you force rotations faster, which means the other passes are easier, too. When you wait, opponents stay out knowing you won’t get that little easy one, so they cut down on these passes out. Now he has two more dribbles down and they start reducing the floor and it’s stopped.

Q: On Howard preferring to get the ball closer to the hoop, but having a lot of room to grow:
D’Antoni: In the middle of the floor, you have to be agile, you have to start doing face-to-the-basket skills as opposed to back-to-the-basket skills. Amare (Stoudemire) was much better facing the basket, but Dwight (Howard) is a lot better with his back to the basket. I wouldn’t limit Dwight to that. A lot of people want to say: ‘Leave him the way he is.’ No, I think he can grow and I think he’s better than that. It takes times; it’s a process. He’s working on it every day. The coaches are working with him and I think he’ll get it. It’s just a process. It doesn’t happen tomorrow.