Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol are the main determinants of how effective Steve Nash is going to be in Los Angeles. How well the two Los Angeles Lakers' big men play on the offensive and defensive end of the floor will determine Nash's success.
The Lakers are in the process of implementing a new offense after a rather lackluster performance in 2011-12. Along with a new offensive system usually comes a learning curve. Head coach Mike Brown’s new system is a mixture of the Princeton offense and schemes the Lakers ran last season. Brown even hired former NBA head coach Eddie Jordan to aid the installation process of the Princeton offense.
Howard has never played in the Princeton offense before. Neither has Nash, nor most of the Lakers' players for that matter. If you think the Lakers are going to come out of the gate like the Boston Celtics in 2007-08, you're mistaken. It's going to take them some time to learn to play with one another, similar to the Miami Heat after they added LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
Nash should be fine learning the new offense. He's mastered the pick-and-roll, and he's smart enough to incorporate the read-and-react aspect of the Princeton offense. Gasol should be good too because the read-and-react was also a large element of the triangle offense the Lakers ran under Phil Jackson.
Howard may struggle at first. Not only has Howard never played in the Princeton offense, but it's been years since he wasn't a team's No. 1 option. How will Howard react to being the No. 2, or possibly the No. 3 option on the Lakers offense? The pick-and-roll game isn't new to Howard, though. He did it in Orlando, and he executed with Kobe Bryant and Nash in his first preseason game with the Lakers against the Sacramento Kings.
If the two big men figure out what they are supposed to do in the offense, Nash will make their life glorious. The three of them will work together to make each other look good. With the way Nash and Gasol play, their styles should mesh instantly. As mentioned, Howard may take some time to get comfortable, but eventually he'll get there. A body that big and strong will make for some first-class pick-and-rolls with Nash.
Offense is a short-term problem with the Lakers. With that much talent, the Lakers will eventually figure it out.
Defense, on the other hand, could be a long-term problem for the Lakers, especially if there’s an injury. This is where Nash will need his two big men to define his success the most.
It's no secret Nash is not a great defender. He's older and has a difficult time staying in front of the younger, more explosive point guards. His backcourt mate, Bryant, isn't the defender he was five years ago either. If you had to point out a weakness in the Lakers' starting lineup, it would have to be their backcourt defense.
Luckily for Nash, he has two giant post players who will clog the lanes and help out with defenders who beat him off the dribble. If Gasol or Howard misses an extended period of time, Nash's defense could be exploited.
Gasol has never necessarily been known for his defense, but he's not terrible at it by any means. When you hear of Gasol's weaknesses, defense is never one of them. For the most part, Gasol is going to have the size advantage over whoever he guards since he will be slated against power forwards when Howard is in the game.
Defense is where Howard's presence with the Lakers will be made. He's the perfect center to pair with the backcourt of Bryant and Nash. When the Lakers first acquired Nash in a sign-and-trade, skeptics pointed out how Nash's defense could be an issue. Nash's defense would have been a huge issue if the Lakers still had Andrew Bynum.
The addition of Howard will minimize Nash's defensive issues. For example, let's say the Lakers are playing the Oklahoma City Thunder and Nash is attempting to guard Russell Westbrook. Against most opponents, Westbrook, one of the fastest players in the NBA, could shake off his defender and strike through the lane with ease. If Westbrook shakes of Nash, now all of a sudden he's got a paint full of Howard, the biggest defensive presence in the NBA.
Howard will be Nash's life saver on defense. He's going to clog the paint, stuff the guards who beat Nash off the dribble and be a presence on the boards in order to give Nash the ball back on offense.
Basketball is a team sport and the ways Nash, Gasol and Howard will affect each other proves that. Gasol, and eventually Howard, will help Nash be an effective point guard even at an older age. Howard, and sometimes Gasol, will cover up for Nash's deficiencies on defense.
Nash has already enjoyed a successful NBA career in Phoenix and Dallas. If Nash is to continue that success in Los Angeles, he will need Howard and Gasol more than he's needed any player ever in his career.