The Los Angeles Lakers continue to play basketball with an incomplete roster, as they've done for most of the season, because Steve Nash continues to recover from a fractured fibula. However, it's going to take more than Nash's return for this team to get rid of all their ails.
Take a look at the Lakers' Tuesday night loss to the Indiana Pacers for a quick example. The team shot all of 31 percent from the floor and 21 percent from the three-point line. Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Darius Morris were all atrocious and Dwight Howard still looked like he was a bit off.
Aside from all that, we know that Gasol is suffering from knee tendinitis and has been since the preseason, Howard is still rounding into shape and the team as a whole is still getting used to a new coach, who is trying to get them to run a high-octane offense.
It's a lot to take in all at once, and even with Nash starting to turn a corner and looking like he could be back sometime in the next two weeks or so, this Lakers team has more problems than just a lack of a point guard.
Basically we're looking at a three-tiered problem with the Lakers right now, and Nash has the ability to help improve two of the three problems, but he's not going to be able to fix it all.
Of course the team's overall health is the biggest problem. Kobe has the flu, Nash has a fractured fibula, Gasol's got an achy-breaky knee and Howard's back is still trying to play tricks on him.
There's a lot impeding the Lakers on the health side of things.
Kobe's flu was a big character in their game against the Pacers, and if he was completely healthy it's possible that he would have put up 50 or 55 points.
Bryant shot an impressive 12-28 and 5-11 from the three-point line with the flu despite front-rimming countless jumpers, missing a free throw late off the front of the rim and looking sluggish in general.
Gasol has said that his knee is limiting his ability to jump, move quickly and explode. That could be a reason for his overall drop-off in production, but there's a bit more to that.
Obviously Nash and Steve Blake not being there means the team is completely without a point guard (Darius Morris and Chris Duhon aren't fooling anybody), so the return of just one of those guys will help.
The most confusing injury has to be Howard's back. How can we tell exactly how much he is limited and how much he's just diminished after being cut open?
Would he have been able to rotate quicker and block George Hill's game winner last season? If so, is the lack of explosiveness due to the fact that he's still in recovery, or is this the post-surgery Howard that we'll know from here on out?
There are just too many intertwining questions with him to be able to answer one of them for sure.
I'm still trying to figure out one main player role in Mike D'Antoni's offense, and that is what exactly Gasol is meant to do.
In the past, Gasol has been best used as a skilled low-post guy, throwing defenders into the torture chamber and shaking them up like a beer can before burying a scoop-shot or a fadeaway. Now, however, he's the jump-shooting big man who ventures into the paint when there's room.
Gasol is seeing just 50 percent of his shots in the paint, compared to 56.7 percent a season ago. That might not sound like much, but over the course of a season that's more than 70 shots given 1,100 attempts.
I understand that Nash knows full well how to run a basic offense with D'Antoni, but does Nash's return magically make Howard take up less space and open up the lane for Gasol?
Howard's main role is still going to be as the guy camped out right beside the bucket, and if Gasol's on the other side, it just makes it harder on Howard to score.
The best way to deal with these guys has to be to stagger their rotation so Gasol and Howard are split up to a point, running Howard with Antawn Jamison to stretch the floor and Gasol with Jordan Hill to bring the defensive energy.
When Gasol's knees start to heal he should be playing better by default, but he has to start making more jump shots for him to work alongside Howard.
This is the one that Nash should be able to help the most with, but there's still a long way to go for this team to be whole.
Already we've seen the Gasol-Howard connection in the post work wonders, but they will have even better looks at that with Nash running the point.
Beyond that, it will be easier for the game to be spread out with another dominant personality on the court. It will be an improvement to constantly deferring to Kobe late in games.
It's going to be some work for these guys to come together still, but once they do they will end up being the team we thought they could be in the preseason.
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