L.A. Lakers: Nash Makes Lakers Contenders, Would Howard Make Them Favorites?
The Los Angeles Lakers immediately became one of the NBA's top five offensive teams when they officially signed Steve Nash to the roster, but unless Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum become terrors in the paint, their team defense is likely to take a reciprocal hit.
Under Phil Jackson the Lakers were consistently one of the league's top defensive and offensive teams, but when Mike Brown assumed control, the Lakers fell off the cliff offensively and held the line defensively, at first.
Brown's defensive philosophy and Kobe Bryant carried the Lakers while the team was adjusting to the growing pains of a new offense, but when the defense began to falter the offense never manged to catch up.
By the end of the 2012 postseason it was apparent that the Lakers couldn't stop any of the NBA's true title contenders on the offensive end when they needed to, and even when they could the often inept Lakers offense couldn't manufacture enough points to win anyway.
What Nash brings to the table offensively for the Lakers is mind-boggling when you consider the talent around him.
Bryant, Gasol and Bynum are probably 20 point per game players without Nash, so imagine how good they could be with one of the most visionary lead guards of our time.
Bryant should have a decent chance at shooting 50 percent from the field for the first time in his career, and Bynum and Gasol should feast on the pick-and-roll buffet Nash is sure to provide.
The Lakers will certainly score points in bunches with Nash at the helm, but it won't matter in the playoffs unless they get defensive stops at Nash's position.
And for those of you who don't know, Nash's idea of good defense is racing the ball up the court after an opponent has scored.
It may seem like Nash has no concept of NBA defensive theory, but I just think that side of the court doesn't interest him very much. Nash is an offensive player in every sense of the word, but that approach doesn't win championships.
Derek Fisher and Ramon Sessions routinely got beat off the dribble by the West's elite guards, but Nash gets beat off the dribble by all guards, elite or otherwise.
So in order for the Lakers to benefit from Nash's offensive boost, they must commit to helping Nash when he gets beat on penetration, which will be plenty.
I'm just not sure Bynum and Gasol are up for the task, but a healthy Dwight Howard sure is.
Both Bynum and Gasol are above-average defensive players, but Gasol doesn't have the attitude or focus to bang with the league's interior bruisers, and Bynum doesn't have the discipline.
However, Howard has made his defensive living by erasing his teammates' mistakes, and what he lacks in skills compared to Bynum or Gasol he makes up in instincts.
Bynum might change a few opponent's shots in the lane but he's just as likely to be caught out of defensive position.
And the shots that Bynum would change, Howard can block.
Not to mention Howard has the potential to be just as good as either Bynum or Gasol on the pick-and-roll, just in a more athletic kind of way.
Most Lakers fans are intrigued by the possibilities that a Nash-led offense could offer, but they should be equally concerned by a Nash-led defense, especially with Bynum or Gasol at the second tier.
The Lakers will win more games next season, and they will probably reside among the top three or four teams in the Western Conference. But unless their current frontcourt receives a defensive epiphany, Nash's offense will not be enough to offset his horrible defense when the games really matter, but Howard's defense can.
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