Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE
The Los Angeles Lakers are the runaway favorites to win the Pacific Division. The Lakers’ four stars, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, by far outstrip the talent of the core players of the other four teams in the division.
With Bryant, Gasol, the No. 2 center in the league in Andrew Bynum and an above-average point guard in Ramon Sessions, the Lakers finished just a game better than the Clippers for the division title. That combination only brought the Lakers to the second round of the playoffs.
Gasol gave an uninspired effort and Bynum shot a dismal 47.7 percent from the field in their playoff run. Sessions floundered in his first playoff appearance, averaging just 9.7 points and 3.6 assists per game while shooting a miserable 37.7 percent from the field.
Nash brings the playoff experience that Sessions lacked and the elite point guard skills that no floor general with whom Kobe has played ever demonstrated. Nash has averaged more than 9.5 assists per game the last eight seasons.
Nash is an eight-time All-Star and a two-time MVP, something Derek Fisher couldn’t speak to in his own regard.
Dwight Howard arrives as the only possible upgrade upon the up-and-coming Bynum. As Lakers beat man Mike Trudell tweeted, Howard is on a good pace towards recovery. If Howard continues to move along, he could be back at the start of the season.
Howard brings an unparalleled amount of assets to the Lake Show. His defense is second to none, as evidenced by his three Defensive Player of the Year awards. A 57.7 percent career shooter, his inside stroke is the best of any serious post scorer.
Kobe will be back to provide characteristic scoring. With Howard in the lineup, Kobe might take two or three fewer shots per game, but will find a way to put 25 to 30 points per game. He'll do this while playing off the ball more than he has before, since Nash will be controlling the ball.
The Lakers will sport a deeper bench than last year.
Last season, Devin Ebanks, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake were relied upon for bench scoring, but didn't produce much. Ebanks averaged four points per game on 41.6 percent shooting. Barnes put up a decent 7.8 points per game on 45.2 percent from the field.
Blake posted a measly 5.2 points per game on 37.7 percent from the field.
Now, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks will lead a more effective effort from the bench. Meeks averaged 8.4 points per game and 12.2 per 36 minutes last season. Jamison averaged 17.2 points per game for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season.
With Howard patrolling the post, the Lakers should defend at least a little bit better than last season. If they can improve somewhat on a No. 13 defensive rating (104.4 points allowed per 100 possessions), they'll be able to stave off just about any opponent.