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Pau Gasol vs. Josh Smith: Which Player Is a Better Fit with Steve Nash?

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Pau Gasol vs. Josh Smith: Which Player Is a Better Fit with Steve Nash?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant recently told a group of reporters in Barcelona that teammate Pau Gasol would be a Laker as long as he was, but there may be a few players out there who could prompt Kobe to change his mind if a trade for Gasol presented itself.

Especially since point guard Steve Nash will be directing the Lakers' attack next season.

Nash is used to playing the game at a break-neck pace, and while he will be forced to compromise his style with the bigger, older Lakers, it would still benefit the team if they attempted to adjust to Nash a little as well.

It wouldn't hurt the Lakers to force the issue in transition once in awhile, but right now that may be a little difficult since the team's starting unit is suffering from a severe lack of athleticism.

Bryant, center Andrew Bynum and Gasol are all great players, but the only one of the bunch with above-average athleticism is Kobe, who just so happens to be the oldest member of the trio as well.

The Lakers still mostly will be a half-court offensive team with Nash, but in order to compete with teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio, the ability to score points off the fast break is essential. Otherwise, they face being run out of the playoffs in the second round by superior speed and athleticism for a third consecutive year.

Ironically, while the Lakers were getting beat by the Thunder during the 2012 NBA playoffs, an opportunity to improve in the athleticism department presented itself in the form of a proposed swap of Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith for Gasol.

The deal that was the Hawks' brain-child was ultimately turned down by Atlanta because of the Lakers' high asking price for Gasol. Apparently the Lakers felt they should have received more than the opportunity to reduce their payroll, add youth and athleticism as well as getting as close to equal value for Gasol as they could ever hope to get.

The Lakers and their fans have every right to expect Nash to re-invigorate Gasol's game and make him even more efficient offensively. But Nash can't make Gasol more athletic.

Don't get me wrong. Gasol gets up and down the floor well for a big man, but Smith runs the floor like a guard, and he can consistently finish above the rim. Not to mention Smith is arguably equal or better than Gasol defensively, and he has the ability to guard opponents on the perimeter or in the paint.

Some people will argue that Gasol and Nash can be just as effective as Smith and Nash potentially could be on the pick and roll, and while this is true, there are a few differences.

One reason Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire were so dangerous in their Phoenix version of the pick-and-roll offense was because of Stoudemire's tendency to reward Nash's court vision with strong dunks at the rim.

When was the last time you heard "Gasol" and "going strong to the rim" in the same sentence?

Smith, on the other hand, prides himself on going to the rim with authority, and he could make Nash look every bit as good as Stoudemire did.

Neither Gasol nor Smith is a good perimeter shooter as their combined 25 percent average from three-point land would suggest, and while Gasol gets more credit for his ability to create plays from the post, Smith actually averages more assists per game.

None of this means that Smith would be a better natural fit with Nash, but he might be a better fit with the Lakers since he helps them accomplish the goal of getting younger and more athletic, while also adding a star player to help them transition to the future.

If the Lakers manage to land Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, Smith would be a moot issue since Howard would presumably bring the same superior athleticism that Smith could.

But if the Lakers fail to secure Howard, their refusal to deal for Smith might be a monumental mistake in an offseason marked by otherwise good moves.

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