Last season was a very turbulent one for the Lakers. First they had to deal with a trade that would have brought them Chris Paul that was rejected by the NBA a little more than an hour after completion. Next there was the Lamar Odom trade with the Mavericks that didn’t bring them back anything in a form of an on-court asset. Last but definitely not least there was the strike shortened season that put the whole league behind the eight-ball until all-star break.
How Howard Impacts The Lakers
Dwight Howard is a better fundamental defender than Andrew Bynum. His effort level when protecting the paint will make them a more aggressive team defensively in the lineup. Howard’s activity level on offensive put backs and getting to 50/50 balls will marginally increase the Lakers from last year as well.
As far as rebounding the basketball is concerned Howard puts up about 3 more a night than Bynum (14.5/11.8 respectively). Both big men were in the same category as far as rebounding and shot blocking was concerned. Besides his recent back trouble Howard has been more healthy overall than Bynum has throughout his career which when you are looking long term is a great thing.
Where the Lakers will miss Bynum the most is scoring on the low block. Bynum has superior post scoring ability on either block with his ability to use a variety of moves. He has a very good scorers IQ when defenders cut him off can go to an assortment of counters to score. Howard has never had the scorers mentality and has a very hard time using any type of counters to score. He’s developed a running hook across the lane which is effective at times, but hasn’t been able to ever be consistent. Bynum’s shooting ability is the biggest difference especially from the line where he’s almost at 70% where Howard is a career 56% free throw shooter which will be a big factor down the stretch in games.
Dwight Howard’s star power was too much not to go after and I totally understand the Lakers point of view in acquiring the All-Star big man. In my opinion the appeal of him will be great for the team, but this move didn’t really put them in great position to win a championship. Last year the Lakers had the league’s best frontcourt for the second straight year. For the first time while playing with one another Gasol and Bynum had a healthy full season. Howard’s numbers are very close to Bynum’s and what Howard gives the Lakers defensively they will miss on the offensive side.
In my opinion the move was like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic as it won’t make that much of an impact from what they had. What will propel the Lakers into a championship contender were the smaller moves they made and the gigantic move that they didn’t make.
Lack of Shooting Addressed
There is no exact formula for building a championship team. Some team’s have had great post scorers (Lakers/Spurs/Celtics) where some others didn’t (2004 Pistons/Bulls). Some teams had franchise point guards (Pistons/Spurs/Celtics), some had elite wing players (Lakers/Bulls/Spurs/Lakers/Heat). Now there are teams that I left out, but just wanted to give some examples.
There is one piece that most championship teams posses is multiple shot makers. Long range shooters are key to any championship teams. What they do is allow a team to space out their opponents on defense and enable them to be more potent on offense. In today’s game you need shooting. This way if you have drivers on offense it will force defenders to help off of shooters and can kick to open shooters. If a team has great post scoring that can be surrounded by shot makers when the ball gets passed to them it will punish defenders when they double down on them.
If you look at the past NBA champions you will notice a collection of multiple long range shooters.
2012 Miami Heat Shane Battier,Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers, & James Jones
2011 Dallas Mavericks Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd, & DeShawn Stevenson
2010 L.A. Lakers Kobe Bryant, Meta World Peace, Shannon Brown, Sasha Vujacic, Derek Fisher & Jordan Farmar
2009 L.A. Lakers Kobe Bryant,Derek Fisher, Trevor Ariza, Sasha Vujacic
2008 Boston Celtics Paul Pierce,Ray Allen, Eddie House,& Brian Scallabrine
2007 S.A. Spurs Manu Ginobili, Michael Finley, Brent Barry, & Bruce Bowen
Last year’s Lakers team had very limited long range shot makers. Kobe was one of the team’s only true long distant threats. Metta World Peace and Steve Blake could make shots but were inconsistent for most of the year. Gone were Shannon Brown,Sasha Vujacic. and Jordan Farmar. Even Lamar Odom could make long distance shots consistently and he was traded in the off season.
Offensively I felt as though it was hard for the Lakers to be efficient. Without the ability to have shooters spacing out on the weak side teams could camp in the lane when they isolated to Kobe on the wing. When the ball was in the post again, without the ability to space out shooters teams could double the post making it tougher for them to score.
Acquiring Steve Nash which I think is the league’s all-time best shooter was a great start. I will mention the other attributes that Nash brings to the table int he next segment, but his ability to space the floor and make shots will be a huge plus. His career numbers of 49.1% FG/42.8% 3PT(1620 makes)/90.1% FT can compete with any shooter in league history. Also you need to keep in mind most of his shots were made coming off screen and roll not coming off pin downs or spotting up.
Antawn Jamison gives the team a space 4 that can also play small forward. His ability to be a 4th/5th scorer in the lineup when he is on the floor is a good asset. His biggest asset will be his ability to spot up and spread the floor for the Lakers giving them another shooter in the lineup. He’s made over 1000 three point shots in his career shooting 34.8% from beyond the arc. At the age of 35 his ability to impact the game on an every day basis will be tough , but that’s not what the Lakers need him for. They need him for his ability to make shots and score on occasion and that’s what he can do.
The last acquisition which was made just recently was one of the best late pickups in this off season. The Lakers signed Jodie Meeks to a two year deal this past week. I’m a huge fan of Meeks as he gives the Lakers a big time shooting threat off of the bench. Meeks has averaged over 100 three point makes in the past two seasons. He shoots over 38% from beyond the arc and will enable them to add another shooter to the lineup.
The Lakers have the weapons to run pick and roll, isolation on the wing/post, and post up and by having multiple shooting threats will make them that much tougher to stop. Teams can’t win championships with a steady diet of isolation basketball and two man game. Obviously having Howard on the roster gives them a juggernaut in lineup, but they already had an all star center that they traded away. The shooting in my opinion will be the biggest addition that the Lakers made the the roster in the off season.
Acquisition of Steve Nash
The second need that was addressed was the addition of a point guard that can consistently get in the lane and score as well as make plays for others. The Lakers traded away a great leader in Derek Fisher at the trading deadline. Fisher made so many big shots for the Lakers that it must have been a tough decision for Mitch Kupchak to pull the trigger on. Fisher was one of those veterans that gave leadership for them and was a big part of all 5 NBA Championships.
As much as Fisher was a great leader he did have some weaknesses. Defensively was one of the biggest forcing Kobe Bryant to guard elite point guards such as Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, and many others. Offensively he was good in transition and can spot up and make shots, but lacked that second gear to get in the lane and score or set up teammates for easy shots.
Ramon Sessions gave them another stopper on defense as well as a guard that can change speeds and get in the lane. His ability to suck defenders in and find players was a plus as well. There wasn’t much of a downside for having him on their roster and in the lineup, but having the opportunity to pick up Nash was a no brainer.
Nash will bring many assets to the table for the Lakers. We mentioned his ability to space the floor with is shooting which is a huge piece. The biggest weapon he brings to the lineup is his ability to get his teammates open shots. He will force weak side defenders to make tough decisions to either allow him to penetrate or help off others and open up easy shots for his team. The Lakers can hide Howard’s inability to score by penetrating and dishing to him as well as rolling him to the rim on pic and roll. Nash will make the offense more efficient and put more pressure on the defense to stop them.
By having another scorer to depend on down the stretch, Nash gives the Lakers another scoring threat but more importantly another penetrator to keep defenders honest. With their roster full of shot makers as well as two dominating 7 footers, Nash will bring a lot to the table in Los Angeles.
Nash’s ability to add an elite pick and roll scorer will do wonders for Gasol and Howard. His ability to roll both bigs to the rim will get them easier shots without needing to isolate to them on the block all of the time. Also while running more pick and roll plays with will force defenders to suck in and be able to get perimeter players open shots. This will create more movement on whatever offense they run. While having an elite point guard they can run less isolations and enable them to space out opponents and get easier less contested shots.
Lakers Profit off The Player That Wasn’t Traded
In the days leading up to the Dwight Howard trade there were all types of scenarios in the media about the trade. Now anyone should know that has been following the NBA for long enough that most trades that are mentioned in rumors never happen exactly how they are written.
One trade scenario had the Lakers both Bynum and Gasol for Howard in a mentioned blockbuster. Now sometimes clubs have to make deals that they don’t want to make to acquire superstars and that is totally understandable. But by trading two all-star big men to get one in return would take away one thing that the Lakers are better than the rest of the league in and that is their frontcourt.
Pau Gasol is the NBA’s top post scorers and is a major factor in the Lakers championship run. His ability to not only score on the block, but pass the ball, rebound, and protect the rim as well gives the Lakers an edge on all opponents in the paint. Pau and Howard will play off each other very well as Pau will be the skilled scoring big and Howard will be the space eating rebounding center that all teams need. In my opinion they dodged a bullet in trading Pau to the Rockets last year. By having multiple all-star level bigs in a lineup gives you something that no other team has.
With Kobe, Gasol, Howard, and Nash the Lakers will have 4 threats to score at any given time. By having an all-star point guard(Nash), wing player(Bryant), and post scorer (Gasol) the Lakers have threats all over the floor. With Howard alone the they can still be a threat and even win a championship, but having a scorer on the block like Pau combined with Howard’s physical defensive/rebounding game gives the Lakers a great chance at a championship run. Sometimes the best deals are the ones that never get done, and I think in this case the Lakers will prosper of this one that never happened.
In closing there is nothing guaranteed in the NBA. Eighty-two games is a long time and anything can happen. What matters is being healthy and hitting your stride coming into playoff time. The moves that the Lakers made this off season doesn’t guarantee them a ring or rings, but what it does guarantee is they put themselves in a better position as they were in the past couple of years. Combining Kobe and Pau with Nash,Howard, and a cast of shooters will make them a very tough out for years to come.