Adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard doesn't just make the Lakers better this year; it makes Kobe Bryant better and far more efficient, in large part because it makes double-teaming him a nonstarter. Unfortunately, not double-teaming isn't going to be a very good option either.
The reason for this Catch-22 is that with the addition of these two superstars, the Lakers will be able to stretch the floor and become highly efficient from every area of the court.
The court can be broken down into a few different areas. There is the restricted area, which is within three feet of the rim. There's the area from three feet to nine feet, the area from 10 feet to 15 feet, the area from 16 to 22 feet and, finally, from three feet and beyond.
The strategy of a great offense is to have the ability to effectively utilize every area of the court. The more of the court that opponents are forced to defend, the thinner their defenses get spread out. And that, of course, makes it harder for them to double-team.
Adding Dwight Howard and Steve Nash does just that for the Lakers.
Last year, only 27.9 percent of the Lakers' shots came at the rim, which was 24th in the NBA. Likewise, they were 24th in field-goal percentage from that range. They were also only 18th in three-point attempts and 26th in three-point percentage. Through their offseason additions, the Lakers have turned areas of weakness into areas of strength. Dwight Howard was fourth in points in the restricted area.
The Lakers are also adding Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, who combined to make nearly 50 percent as many three-point shots as the entire Lakers roster did last season, and both players shot above the league average.
The range from three-to-nine feet was already a strength for the Lakers, in large part because of Pau Gasol, who had the 10th most makes in the NBA from the range.
The range from 10-to-15 feet is covered by Kobe Bryant, who had the third most makes from that range. While it may seem that his .421 shooting percentage from that range is low, keep in mind that the league average was .428.
From the 16-to-22 foot range, Bryant was third in the league and had a .415 field goal percentage, which was well over the league average.
Their new additions mean that the Lakers will be potent from every area of the court, which in turn means that double-teaming will be dangerous since it will force opponents to leave another area of the court either unguarded or under-guarded.
Also, let's not forget Nash's own scoring ability, which takes a backseat to his passing ability. Basketball-Reference.com's Play Index reveals that he has the third best shooting percentage in NBA history with at least 1,000 three-point shots made. It's not hyperbole to say Nash is one of the greatest shooters in league history.
But his best skill is passing, not shooting.
According to Ryan Feldman and Rachel Eldridge, from ESPN Stats & Info, Nash passed the ball to spot-up shooters 389 times on pick-and-roll plays last season, the most such passes in the league. According to Hoopdata, he had the most assists for field goals at the rim as well, averaging 4.7 per game.
Nash can set up shooters at the perimeter, or down low. Last year, as the roll man on the pick-and-roll, according to data from Synergy, Howard averaged a ridiculous 1.36 points per play, boasting a field-goal percentage of 74 percent.
The Lakers not only now have the league's best low-post passer, but also have the league's best low-post scorer. If that doesn't give teams enough to worry about, Nash was also the passer to the perimeter on pick-and-rolls.
So the Lakers don’t just have the ability to score from anywhere—they also have a way to get their scorers the ball from anywhere. Essentially, the Lakers will always be able to set up a mismatch. There simply is no starting five in the NBA that can match up with the Lakers man to man.
But wait! There's more!
Which prediction is most likely to come true?
It is not merely the sum of the parts here that is so frightening—it's the synergy of it all. Set this in cement: Kobe Bryant will have the most efficient season of his entire career. Per the previously mentioned Feldman and Eldridge article, "When Kobe was left open, he shot 51.3 percent, which ranked 11th of the 113 players with at least 75 unguarded catch-and-shoot jumpers last season."
Kobe Bryant's secret is that he's an absolute beast off the ball, an often overlooked aspect of his game. Coming off screens he shot 46.2 percent. On handoffs he shot 50 percent. On cut plays he shot 54.2 percent.
With Steve Nash taking over the primary ball-handling duties, expect Bryant to do a lot more without the ball, which will make him far more efficient. Imagine Pau Gasol setting a pick for Nash with Howard in the post and Bryant on the weak-side. How in the bleepity-bleep do you defend that?
Teams won’t be able to exploit the Lakers by simply loading up on Bryant and hoping he takes bad shots. They would do so at their own peril.