5 Problems with the L.A. Lakers Starting Lineup
Looking for something wrong with the Los Angeles Lakers' new starting lineup is hard work, but somebody's got to do it.
After all, the greatest of ideas doesn't always pan out perfectly when put into practice. We haven't seen this lineup in action before and the extent to which it flourishes will require some old dogs to learn new tricks.
With new and old faces getting accustomed to the Princeton offense alike, there's no telling how this team will look in the early goings. It could look amazing from the outset or it could look like a work-in-progress.
Growing pains aside, there are also some very real concerns that may be hidden under all of this lineup's outer beauty. Here are five potential hangups on which to keep an eye.
Will Kobe Bryant Excel off the Ball?
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Now, no one is saying Kobe Bryant is a ball-hog.
Technically, yes, he absolutely is a ball-hog but he probably should be, at least to some extent. In a world where 24 seconds doesn't always produce a good look at the basket, how many guys would you rather have taking a contested shot?
Plus, Kobe is at his best when he has the ball in his hands thanks to a dizzying array of isolation and post moves.
Turning him into more of a catch-and-shoot threat (as the Steve Nash acquisition and new Princeton offense are likely to do) just feels like a bit of a waste. And, it may even be the case that he's more effective with the ball in his hands.
Even with the ball in his hands, though, Kobe might be less efficient than you think. In isolation and post-up scenarios in which he was guarded by just one player, Bryant ranked just 21st and 53rd in average points per play, respectively.
Whatever makes Kobe more efficient is probably a good thing. Maybe a new role will help but it might do just the opposite.
Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen
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Remember what Pau Gasol had to say in May regarding his declining role (via the Los Angeles Times' Mark Medina):
"It has been difficult at times to be a third option," Gasol said this week. "I've never experienced that in my career probably since I was very young. I still gave it my best and we'll see how it looks next year. But it has been challenging at times."
He made those comments after the Lakers were eliminated in five games by the Oklahoma City Thunder and he made them amidst criticism from Kobe Bryant regarding a disappointing Game 4.
But, if Gasol thought he was becoming increasingly marginal then, you have to worry about what happens now.
Sure, there are reasons to be somewhat hopeful. Dwight Howard may be more willing than Andrew Bynum to defer and take a back-seat scoring role, allowing Gasol to get more touches. On the other hand, he may be eager to prove himself and live up to whatever hyperbolic expectations his celebrity implies.
The good news is Steve Nash will give Gasol countless pick-and-roll opportunities and help him make the most of his superb mid-range game. And, Kobe Bryant just might wind up taking fewer shots in a Princeton offense that prefers ball movement to isolation.
That could bode well for Gasol, too.
At the end of the day, however, there are only so many shots to go around. The issue isn't so much that any of these guys will be counting—you know Steve Nash couldn't care less about how many shots he takes.
The issue is that the rest of these personalities may start to clash if things aren't clicking on the floor. We've seen signs of it in the past and it's unclear whether Howard will be an improvement over Bynum in the ego department.
Steve Nash's Defense
Steve Nash is a horrible defender.
People will make excuses for him with nonsense about his understanding of positional defense, but he's been a liability since he broke out with the Dallas Mavericks.
Age isn't doing him any favors.
He's not strong enough to impose himself on the perimeter and he makes a living out of making his man someone else's problem—either by letting him get to the basket unimpeded or because his coach puts him on the opposing team's worst scorer.
Either way, Steve Nash means more work for everyone else on the defensive end.
It's a good thing Dwight Howard will be playing free safety and covering up for Nash's inadequacy but it will also put a lot of pressure on the defensively dominant center. It will also require guys like Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace to spend more time covering elite ball-handlers, sapping them of energy and taking them off the wing where they excel defensively.
Given the pedigree of points guards on Western Conference powerhouses (e.g. Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Ty Lawson and Mike Conley), the Lakers will find themselves with at least one key disadvantage in virtually every playoff game of any importance.
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Steve Nash is at his best when he's paired with shooters who can spread the floor.
Think about the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns that included the likes of Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, and Leandro Barbosa. Amar'e Stoudemire spent more time at center, playing off of pick-and-rolls and doing his damage from the high post. For the same reason, he even clicked more recently with the much-underrated Marcin Gortat.
When Pau Gasol is able to get minutes at the 5-spot, the Los Angeles Lakers will more resemble the kind of team in which Nash thrives. When Dwight Howard is playing, they'll feel a bit more like the Suns' awkward Shaq years.
Howard moves well, so you don't have to worry about him camping out in the paint. But, he won't stray too far from the paint, because he can't score from anywhere else.
That won't lead to disaster.
It just means the Lakers might be better off with Nash on the floor with Gasol and Antawn Jamison rather than Gasol and Howard.
Metta World Peace
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A lot hinges upon whether it's Metta World Peace or Ron Artest that shows up to play defense on any given night.
We saw signs of both last season, which is less than ideal when you're talking about a guy who isn't making his money on the offensive end. But for a late-season surge, World Peace was even worse than usual on the offensive end last season.
Of course, things got off to a bizarre start when head coach Mike Brown began the season with Devin Ebanks as the starting small forward. Perhaps Brown was attempting to utilize World Peace's energy off the bench, maybe he was just trying to push some buttons to rev the guy up.
Either way, the decision seemed to derail his season instead. World Peace shot the ball at under 28 percent in January and spent most of the year under 40 percent until a hot April.
His usually spectacular defense wasn't quite as inconsistent, but nor was it up to his standards.
Los Angeles is thin at small forward, so anything short of a strong season from Metta could be somewhat problematic. Given that the rest of the starting lineup is ridiculously good, you might not notice at times.
But, it goes without saying the Lakers would be much better off if World Peace can at least have a Shane Battier-type season.