Nash is an improvement over both Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake. However, while this move does make the Lakers a title contender, it does not make the Lakers the team to beat in the Western Conference.
If Kobe Bryant is also in the backcourt, it won't be like adding the Steve Nash we all know to the Lakers. Well, at least not until an important decision is made.
The Lakers need to decide who their primary ball-handler is going to be. If it is Bryant, then Nash becomes more of a spot-up shooter playing off of what Bryant creates. This is not how the Lakers should operate.
Kobe Bryant is no longer the penetrator he once was.
His offense consists largely of post ups, pump fakes, and hitting high difficulty shots. Kobe does not demand a double team as he once did (nor should he). This hurts Kobe's ability to get open shots for his teammates.
Instead, Nash should be the primary ball-handler as he is the best penetrator and passer. He can also burn defenders with his shooting. Nash's penetration and ability in the pick-n-roll will create open looks for all the Lakers including Kobe. Whether Mike Brown puts the ball in Nash's hand and lets him run the offense is up in the air right now.
The biggest problem with considering the Lakers as the favorite out West is that this trade does not improve the Lakers' biggest flaw, pick-n-roll defense.
In fact, this hurts the Lakers in that area. Nash is arguably the worst defensive point guard in the NBA and opposing point guards have been able to take advantage of that with great success (see Tony Parker in 2007 and 2008 or Mike Bibby in 2002 and 2004). This puts more stress onto the Laker bigs.
Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are not particularly mobile big men. This hurts their ability to defend the pick-n-roll and leaves their length as the only way to defend the driver on the pick-n-roll. This inability caused Jeremy Lin to lead a Knicks team to 92 points without Carmelo Anthony or Amare Stoudemire ( even while missing 13-of-34 free throws).
Looking at the Western Conference, the Spurs probably execute, as a team, the pick-n-roll better than anyone else in the NBA.
The Thunder and the Grizzlies both have point guards that excel at penetrating. Taking into account the declining athletic ability of Kobe Bryant and the cement shoes Ron Artest (or as he is now known, Metta World Peace) wears, the Lakers look like the most vulnerable team to dribble-penetrate in the entire NBA. This will lead to easy scores for opponents and increase the amount of foul trouble that Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will experience. Now if the Lakers deal Bynum for one of the best pick-n-roll defenders in the NBA, then what I just said mostly goes out the window.
Health is another concern for the Lakers' fans.
The medical staff in Phoenix is the best in the NBA. Look only at Grant Hill's career to see its impact. Now Nash, 38, will no longer have the Suns' medical staff to treat him.
This begs the question, "How much credit do we give the Suns' medical staff for Nash's longevity?" Like last season, the Lakers lack depth. If Nash goes down, Steve Blake steps in as starting point guard and their only guard off the bench would be Darius Morris. Therefore, this trade does not solve the Lakers' depth issues as they still lack competent bodies to keep Kobe's minutes down.
In the end, this trade does improve the Lakers, but it does not make them the favorites in the West.
They are still not on Oklahoma City's level (especially with a healthy Eric Maynor replacing a geriatric Derek Fisher). I would not pick this Lakers team to beat a healthy Memphis Grizzlies. The Lakers may not be better than the Spurs (depending on how Duncan ages and the role that the players play) or the more cohesive Clippers (depending the play of Lamar Odom and if they can get a shooting guard).
This trade only guarantees that they should improve offensively and that is it. However, if the Lakers flip Bynum for Howard, then I'll have to reconsider LAL vs. OKC.
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