Running for cover is not an option. Neither is fouling the crap out of him, even if this happens to be a common NBA strategy.
Here is how the Milwaukee Bucks tackled the problem Tuesday night: By my count, 11 times they double-teamed Howard when he began his move, 10 times they played him straight up, three times they fronted (foolishly, it turned out) and once they brought the double right away. Did it work? For the game, Howard finished with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting (8-of-13 on free throws) with six turnovers in a Magic victory. Which is to say yes and no.
As a matchup, Howard is both an easy and extraordinarily difficult one. Easy in that his repertoire is so limited. He can shoot a running hook to the middle or an awkward half-hook with either hand, he rarely gets by his man (unless it's to spin baseline for a dunk) and has little confidence in his jumper, for reasons that are apparent if you've ever seen him shoot one. In other words: All you must do is keep him away from the basket.
Extraordinarily difficult because, of course, this last directive is nearly impossible. On the season, Howard has 102 dunks, tops in the league, and he is the NBA's most effective finisher on pick-and-rolls -- 31-for-37 from the field this season, according to Synergy Sports -- for the simple reason that his roll almost always results in a dunk, often on a lob.
In the Milwaukee game, Bucks big men
These are minor points, though. To the casual fan watching, probably all that was apparent was that Bogut and Thomas were desperately trying to do two things: a) not get dunked on and b) send Howard to the line.
Indeed, most people assume post defense to be a basic, rather boring duty. Big guys burrow in, spin and other big guys try to stop them. Leapers like Howard wait and block shots. Bulldozers like Thomas hold their ground. But if you have a chance sometime, take a moment and watch, especially
Don't believe me? Just talk to a true practitioner of the craft like
Which is to say we can learn much from Rose's answer to the question at the top of this column -- call the following A Little Man's Guide to Guarding the Very Bigs.
Rose says his three toughest covers were Duncan, Shaq and, a bit surprisingly,
At that point, Rose also knew he was guarding "an aggressor. I know he's coming hard, so I push back. Then he pushes even harder and I can use the pull-the-chair move and he goes flying. Another thing I'll do is I try to hit him right in the chest or hit him in the back, because I know he's going to hit back. Then he'll jaw at the ref a little bit and, when that doesn't work, he's going to try to carve out his space.
"If he's a star, he'll get the ball back, but if he's a role player, he may have blown his shot. And if he does get it, he's already thinking about what I did last time so I know he's not going to come barreling down, and if he's not a skilled shot-maker, then I got him. If he's a skilled shot-maker, then I can push him some more. Either way, he's worried about me and getting hit, so he's changing his game." Rose pauses. "And then I've already won."
So, yes, part of post D is elemental: push, smack, hold your ground. But plenty of it is not. You need to know your opponent, understand leverage and, more often than not, guess right. And if you guess wrong with a guy like Howard? "If he catches within 15 feet and gets to the launching pad before you do, it's almost like you needed to pre-rotate," Rose says. "Because at that point, the only choice you have left" -- and here Rose chuckles -- "is to go old school and just foul him as hard as you can."