Los Angeles Lakers 2012: Could This Be Kobe Bryant's Best Lakers Team Yet?
Over the years, the Lakers organization has done a fantastic job of surrounding its star players with talent and keeping its franchise relevant.
With very few dry spells, the most recent being Shaquille O'Neal's departure and the subsequent years that followed before the Pau Gasol trade, the Lakers have never been far from the title picture for long.
The latest remodel the Lakers have accomplished brings together one of the most star-studded lineups in the NBA today.
With the acquisition of arguably the best passer in the league in Steve Nash and the trade for the most competent defensive player in the NBA in Dwight Howard, the Lakers have surrounded the skilled Pau Gasol and the mainstay, Kobe Bryant, with the biggest names possible in their quest to reclaim the NBA Championship.
With a starting lineup that boasts a former All-Star at every position, the Lakers have assembled a team that begs the question: Could this be Kobe Bryant's best Lakers team yet?
While the answer to most modern day fans may be a resounding positive, it is hard to determine and prove whether this team is better than any of the teams led by the tandem of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant during their title-winning seasons. The differences in the superstars and the competition of that era with the present day make it hard to really make a true comparison.
However, it is safe to say that this modern day Lakers squad is the most offensively versatile team Kobe Bryant has ever been a part of.
In the past, the tandem of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal was very predictable, but near impossible to stop. O'Neal would dominate in the post while Kobe took over from the perimeter. On occasion, Kobe would take to the post as well, where he was and still is, one of the most proficient post scorers in the NBA for a guard. When either of them were doubled, the role players had to step up and hit their shots.
The Lakers team today has compiled various weapons that can be employed in a myriad of unique ways.
With Steve Nash running the point, they finally have a point guard who can push the break and make good decisions to dictate successful transitions. Ramon Sessions may have had the speed to start the fast break, but he did not have the passing ability nor the court vision to lead the break effectively.
The Lakers always had a huge size advantage with their big men, but last year, they slowed down and became one of the slower teams in the NBA as they tried to work in Mike Brown's new offense. With Nash running the floor, they'll regain some of their speed. Furthermore, Dwight Howard, a more mobile big man than Bynum was, can run the break better and is the better fit for a more uptempo approach.
In terms of the half-court offense, Andrew Bynum was the primary post scorer last year, and not much has to change with Dwight Howard filling his role. Dwight's abilities in the post have been so maligned and criticized in the media the past few seasons that he has actually become underrated as an offensive player.
Is this the best supporting cast that Kobe Bryant has ever had?
Against most centers in the NBA, Dwight Howard has a strength and size advantage. He still commands double teams and is unstoppable against most centers if guarded with single coverage. With the addition of Nash, and with Pau Gasol being a very good jump shooter, Dwight Howard can kick out to literally anybody in the starting lineup when doubled to create an open shot.
However, even though Dwight may not be as skilled as Bynum in the low post, he does bring something to the table that Bynum didn't. Dwight Howard is a far superior pick-and-roll player than Bynum. Though the great Shaquille O'Neal maligns the pick-and-roll for big men, there is no denying its effectiveness. Playing alongside Steve Nash, one of the best pick-and-roll players in the NBA, will allow Dwight Howard to really take advantage of that facet of his game.
Furthermore, Nash could also choose to run the pick-and-roll through Pau Gasol, which allows Pau to pick and pop should the defense deny the lane.
Essentially, Steve Nash has the option of running the pick-and-roll with both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. And while it's probably prudent to expect that Dwight Howard will spend a lot of time in the low post, Pau Gasol can also utilize his low-post proficiency according to matchups and hot hands as well.
Last and certainly not least, Mike Brown's greatest offensive weapon is still the Black Mamba himself, Kobe Bryant.
Proving last year that he can still score with the best in the league, Kobe Bryant represents versatility itself. The man can score on the perimeter, drive the lane, post up on the high and low blocks, as well as pass effectively.
Ultimately, despite Steve Nash orchestrating the offense, the Lakers will still go as far as Kobe Bryant can take them. With all the added weapons, teams cannot force their attention solely upon Bryant, and this will allow him to pick his spots and use the weapons around him to win games.
In retrospect, a case could be made that the versatility of this modern day Lakers squad, on paper, could match up against any of the stronger Lakers teams of the past, but it is hard to really judge how this Lakers team matches up with the dominant teams of the past until the season is underway.
However, one thing is for certain: Mike Brown has a lot of new toys to play with when training camp begins.
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