It is a rare occasion in the NBA when a team has the luxury of having two former MVP players still performing near the top of their games. The 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers have just that with guards Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
Nash and Bryant will be combining to give the Lakers potentially the best starting lineup in the league, but many are wondering if the guards can co-exist in the same backcourt. Given their experience, the pairing can be a success for L.A.
Both Nash (MVP in 2004-05, 2005-06) and Bryant (2007-08) have appeared to dominate the basketball for their respective teams for years. But by taking a look at advanced statistics, we find that aspect of their games to be a bit deceiving.
According to NBA-Reference.com, Bryant led the NBA with a 35.7 percent usage rate for 2011-12 (a stat that measures the percentage of a team's plays that are used by a player while he is on the floor).
Nash ranked 191st in the league in this category (one of the lowest usage rates for a starting point guard in the NBA). Interestingly, Nash ranked low in this category in both of his MVP seasons: 145th in 2004-05, 78th in 2005-06.
While Nash racks up a ton of assists and averages double digits in points, he does it mostly in the flow of the offense. Nash has the ability to create scoring opportunities without necessarily having plays called for him.
In contrast, Bryant has been relied upon to create both for himself and his teammates. Combining Bryant with a true point guard such as Nash—a luxury he has yet to enjoy—makes the Lakers more difficult to game plan against.
Nash can run the offense through Dwight Howard or Pau Gasol, or he can let Kobe create for himself, something he is particularly adept at.
Nash is also regarded as one of the most intelligent players in the league, according to a recent NBA.com poll of every general manager in the NBA. Nash's high basketball IQ will allow him to decipher when to defer to Bryant and when to go to other players on the court.
Many would argue that Kobe will demand the basketball from Nash. However, Bryant has said in the past that Nash is one the players he respects most in the league. Nash has said much of the same of Kobe over the years. The two were also from the same draft class (1996).
The burden of ball-handling and creating plays can also be a shared task between the two.
Both Nash's and Kobe's resumes speak for themselves.
Nash has led much less-talented rosters into the playoffs for years in Phoenix. Kobe has done the same previously, when the Lakers were transitioning from the Kobe-Shaq era to the Kobe-Gasol era.
Nash and Bryant have led in different ways, though, with Kobe more of a volume scorer and Nash as a distributor. Their different methods of leadership may actually blend better than most assume.
The two must be ecstatic to see what they can do with the All-Star cast assembled around in Los Angeles. Nash has never had a scorer such as Bryant in the backcourt with him, just as Bryant has never had a point guard as efficient and effective as Nash.
If the responsibility is balanced correctly, the pairing can be deadly for the Lakers in the next couple of seasons.