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The Inbounds: Nash, Howard, and an impossible sword

Aug 14, 2012, 9:00 AM EDT

Steve Nash Dwight Howard Getty Images

Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

Last year, on a team where Marcin Gortat was the second-best player on the team and the rest of the roster was at best inconsistent and at worst a hot mess, Steve Nash‘s passes out of the pick and roll lead to scoring 59.5% of the time, which was best among players with 100 possessions, according to Synergy Sports. So he was literally the best pick and roll passer in the leauge.

Last year, on a team where Jameer Nelson had injury issues, the entire team has chemistry problems related to the ongoing drama, and the offense was primarily geared around perimeter shooters (oh, and he was injured), Dwight Howard scored as the pick and roll man 73.7% of the time, which was best in the league.

So they have literally paired the best pick and roll passing guard with the best pick and roll finisher in the league.

Ready for some more crack analysis?

As a result, the Lakers are going to be pretty good.

The Nash-Howard dynamic on the floor is the most dangerous element the Lakers will have in play. Kobe Bryant is still an elite scorer. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash will have a fantastic mastery of the pick and pop set. But Nash-Howard, long before the Lakers entered the picture, was the perfect combination. A point guard who can deliver the ball to any point on the floor combined with the most athletic big man with excellent feel for the pick and roll spacing. If you cover the roll, Nash shoots, and he shoots 55 percent from that situation. Bring help and either Gasol has a mid-range jumper or Bryant is open on the cut or catch. It’s the BFG of offense.

And it’s indicative of the real reason this team will be so dangerous. It fits together better than any superteam in recent memory.

The stellar combinations of talent that have accumulated over the past five seasons have all been dynamic, impressive combinations of ability. But the Celtics, with a high-usage self-creating small forward, a spot-up shooter wing, and a hyper-versatile combo forward? The Celtics’ were dominant precisely because they were willing to commit themselves to something greater than their original talents. They sacrificed for a greater concept. It was a good offense, but not an elite one. The Heat? They’ve learned to play together, but the reason they’ve struggled over the past two years is because versatile combo-point-forward mixed with ISO slashing shooting guard, and traditional stretch four? It’s not a perfect mix. The Knicks…. yeah, the Knicks. The Lakers bring something entirely different.

Nash fits well with Gasol’s ability to spread the floor, and can create open looks for Bryant, something that he doesn’t do on his own. But Nash with Howard maximizes both of their abilities. They only way to properly defend it is to bring help defenders, and at that point you’ve got Kobe Bryant or Pau Gasol (or Metta World Peace or Jodie Meeks or Steve Blake) with enough space to allow them to make a sandwich before they shoot.

But all that’s on paper.

There’s a million ways the Lakers can fall apart. Chemistry, injuries (Howard’s back, in particular), good ol’ fashioned age, the simple fact that despite all the evidence to the contrary, things on paper don’t just go together. Mike Brown’s coaching is widely held as suspect, and Bryant’s willingness to let go of the reins is not exactly something you can count on. The lesson from the Heat should be that it isn’t that simple. That it does take time to click, and that talent isn’t everything.

But the formula the Lakers have put together isn’t one built on just raw talent. It’s a special combination of skills. Bringing in a player that can pass like Nash is one thing, but pick and roll is his bread and butter. And Dwight Howard’s one big piece of toast.

The trick here is to not overestimate what the Laker are capable of, to not overstate their ceiling by talking about nonsense like 72 wins or a title right off the bat, but to also recognize and respect the brilliance of what the Lakers have put together. They could have gotten sub-stars at redundant positions, or shuffled the same pieces. Acquiring just Nash and you have a dominant team that still is trying to find the right ways to go together. Just get Howard, and you have size but nothing to figure out how the pieces fit together.

But instead, this combination is going to bring something more dangerous than anything else the Lakers have. Let’s be clear. If Kobe Byant were to vanish from existence tomorrow like in “Back to the Future,” just vanish into nothing, the Lakers would still be dominant because of the strength of how much better Nash makes every player around him and how strong Howard is as a finisher and defensively.

There’s room to admit that the Lakers have a lot of challenges and risks, including Howard’s back, their age, and to acknowledge just how good this team will be, and why.

If the Lakers are healthy, and there’s no personality conflict, the league is in trouble. Because if they’re not unguardable, they’ll be as close as it gets.

  1. ebrownwareagle - Aug 14, 2012 at 9:13 AM

    Funny how people want Kobe, a 5xNBA CHAMP to take a back seat to Steve Nash a career playoff player. Or the thought that he is to make Kobe better. Now that just laughable. Kobe and the Lakers were great B4 and after Nash is gone. Now he will be more of a superstar role player. It’s still a pecking order and it starts with Kobe Bean Bryant.

    • jameskatt - Aug 14, 2012 at 10:02 AM

      The pecking order may start with Kobe. But Kobe realizes he can’t win it by himself. No one person can win the NBA championship by himself – e.g. Lebron.

      Nash will be THE LEADER on offense. He is the quarterback. He makes Kobe better because Kobe will be getting the ball from Nash when he doesn’t have 3 people draped on him and 4 second left on the clock. Kobe will have a better shooting percentage and better shots as a result. Kobe will also have more energy in games since he won’t be beaten up as often by double and triple teams. Kobe won’t be exhausted for the playoffs. Kobe will be a better player because with Steve Nash, Kobe will be more a team player.

      Steve Nash is NOT a role player. Steve Nash is a superstar player himself. He has won more MVPs than Kobe has.

      Every team has to have players that play together as a team in order to win. Every NBA Champion team realizes this. Just look at Lebron James learning this lesson.

    • bougin89 - Aug 14, 2012 at 10:13 AM

      I think you missed the point of this article. It’s not that Nash is suddenly the Lakers best player, it’s how well this team complements each other, at least on paper. Nash/Howard pick n roll combo is statistically the best pairing in the league. The only way to defend that is with help defense theoretically leaving Kobe open for cuts to the rim or open jump shots. That is how Nash will make Kobe better(at least on paper).

      • skids003 - Aug 14, 2012 at 10:58 AM

        If Kobe is smart (?) and doesn’t let his ego get the best of him (yeah, right), he could score as much on fewer shots. But we know that that won’t happen, don’t we?

      • bougin89 - Aug 14, 2012 at 11:59 AM

        I don’t know that Kobe will shoot this team out of it, I do know having a legitimate PG should definitely help. I do agree that Kobe has to score more efficiently or defer to his teammates with all of these guys on the team, no question.

      • borderline1988 - Aug 14, 2012 at 12:47 PM

        This is all about utilizing Kobe Bryant.

        Nash with Gasol and Howard represents killer combinations of pick and rolls, and high/low set plays. It’s going to be ridiculous..there are very few teams that have any chance at stopping them. Remember how good Nash and Stoudemire were? Nash was a 2-time MVP, and Stoudemire was the best young forward in the game.

        But Kobe has the ability to stop that offense by demanding one-on-one touches. He needs to be able to add himself as another dimension in the pick and roll, rather than just demand that the ball works through him. We all know what happens when the entire offense works through him…it sucks. Maybe it’s good for hitting shots in the last minute of a game, but otherwise, it’s really ineffective.

        If Mike Brown can make it work with Bryant, this is a definite championship team. Otherwise, they will be contenders, but the Spurs and Thunder are just as good.

  2. cantonbound13 - Aug 14, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    When is the pre season parade introducing the big 4?
    Not 1, not 2, not 3….

    • wlubake - Aug 14, 2012 at 10:37 AM

      Seeing that Nash and Kobe may both be retired in two years, I doubt they’d go past 2.

  3. blueintown - Aug 14, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    Best article on this site in a loooong time. Well done.

  4. joelrmartin - Aug 14, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    This article brings tears to my eyes!!! This writer un-like many knows his stuff!!! Thank-you!!!

  5. asublimeday - Aug 14, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    I’m no lakers fan, but lakers >>>>Heat

    • bils293 - Aug 14, 2012 at 11:02 AM

      im going to laugh when kobe ruins it all..his ego wont be able to stand not being the focal point of the offense any more and he will not be able to put up with dwight howard and his ridiculous ego..this will be exciting to watch

      • lakerdownunder - Aug 14, 2012 at 9:20 PM

        I think people need to look at how Kobe took on the Olympics. He knew the value of the payers around him and how they collectively benefited his goal of winning a medal. He often deferred to them, and also scored when he needed to.

        I anticipate this season will be the same. He is surrounded by people whose skill he respects.

    • Miami305 - Aug 14, 2012 at 6:13 PM

      You are dreaming. Lebron is the world’s best player and the Heat will repeat in 2013.

  6. lunasceiling - Aug 14, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    As a Suns fan from their very first game, I never thought I’d be rooting for the Lakers…but I will be this season. I’d love to see Nash with a ring.

    I don’t think Kobe will have big issues with having the offense run through Nash more often than not. This is the 30-something Bryant with multiple rings, not the early-20-something version. He has the basketball IQ to know that the best 1/5 pick and roll in the league is something you exploit.

    • diehardcard - Aug 14, 2012 at 5:45 PM

      You were never a Suns fan if you can stomach the Lakers. I bet you believe the PR lie that Nash wanted LA “because of his kids.” He wanted a ring and he wanted to get paid. LA was the only place he could do both.

      I can see having your attitude if you’re a fan of players first and teams second, but if your loyalty goes first to the team, there’s NO WAY (as a Suns fan) you want to see Nash get a ring with the Lakers. The Suns are the 4th best team all time in winning percentage, have no rings, and have only even won their division 6 times. The Lakers have won the same division 32 times and have 16 rings. Saying you’re a Suns fan but that you’ll root for the Lakers is like a Red Sox fan saying he can root for the Yankees. Not happening.

      • lunasceiling - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:59 AM

        I attended the first Suns home game ever played, my family had season tickets for years and years (and I still would if I still lived in Arizona), and they’re still my #1 NBA team. My Suns fans cred is just fine, thanks. But while I certainly won’t root for the Lakers over the Suns, I have no problem hoping they win next year’s title, for Nash’s sake. It’s not as if the Suns are going to be contenders for a few years.

  7. lakerluver - Aug 14, 2012 at 11:45 AM

    Kobe clearly understands the big picture, which is to get number 6 for himself and number 17 for the franchise. He wants to pass Magic and tie MJ next season. It’s gonna be a beautiful season in L.A.!!

  8. theboysofdallas - Aug 14, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    Championship!!!!

    • Miami305 - Aug 14, 2012 at 6:14 PM

      For the Miami Heat!!

  9. miamatt - Aug 14, 2012 at 11:51 AM

    To quote and slightly tweek the immortal Tim Kitzrow: Nash brought the peanut butter, and here comes the jam!!!

    Not a Laker fan, but I can’t wait to watch this team play.

  10. polarbearsquares - Aug 14, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    Good analysis. Searching for something to criticize …….. ok I really can’t. Good post.

  11. ocgunslinger - Aug 14, 2012 at 12:29 PM

    @ skids003 & bils293

    These inane comments about Kobe not being willing to share the shots and spotlight are so old hat and no longer applicable. Sort of like the idiots that keep saying the only way the Patriots can win is they cheat. Lame! Did you notice how Kobe dominated the Olympic team. Wouldn’t share the ball at all…..oh wait….he did. Guess the ball hog theory doesn’t apply any longer you morons.

    • borderline1988 - Aug 14, 2012 at 12:56 PM

      Actually, I wasn’t very impressed with Kobe’s ability to share the ball in the Olympics (which Olympics were you watching??).
      Sure, he was happy with fewer touches (so wasn’t exactly a ball hog, as you say), because he deferred to the other stars at times.

      But when he did get the ball, it was almost always a contested jumper with no ball movement. How many times did he get the ball in the corner, with a guy in his face, and launch a jumper without ever looking at another player on his team? Or how many times did he take one dribble around a screen, and immediately shoot, even if he was covered? (Kobe was hitting many of those shots anyways, so it didn’t matter).

    • zblott - Aug 14, 2012 at 1:06 PM

      Please explain this Kobe-dominating-the-Olympics thing you speak of. He was the team’s 4th best scorer (12 ppg), shot 43% (2nd worst on the team), hit a lot of 3’s but his efficiency doing so was only 4th best on the team of the 5 who shot the most triples, had only 10 assists in 8 games (vs 11 turnovers), and grabbed 1.8 rebs/gm.

      I’m not sure of this domination you speak of. What am I missing?

    • eventhorizon04 - Aug 14, 2012 at 2:19 PM

      ….You do realize, there’s a big difference between Kobe deferring to Chris Paul and LeBron James and Kevin Durant (Probable Hall of Famers in their primes) while wearing a Team USA jersey versus Kobe deferring to Steve Nash (Hall of Famer on the tail end of his career) and others while wearing a Lakers uniform.

      I’m predicting there will be an adjustment period but the Lakers will eventually make it to the Finals, but let’s not pretend Team USA Kobe will translate to Lakers Kobe.

  12. thinkblue75 - Aug 14, 2012 at 1:07 PM

    That’s the only way they could be stopped. If they figure it out early the league is in trouble. Kobe will tie MJ

  13. cox3662 - Aug 14, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    Everybody keep saying Kobe will screw it up because he wants to hog the ball, BS. The Lakers played their best ball of year when Session first got to LA and Kobe was handing the ball off to him coming up court. Now for some reason Sessions lost confidence in his pick and roll ability, about 12 games in to it but it was beautiful to watch. I can only image what Nash will do. Kobe wont be the problem.

  14. malcom1985 - Aug 14, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    Kobe has always been about winning. He wants to win above all else. It’s idiotic to think he no longer wants to win and will intentionally sabotage any effort to do so. I can’t believe anyone is stupid enough to think such a thing. Meanwhile, the rest of the NBA continues to play catch-up to Kobe. You don’t win 5 rings by sheer luck, or by accident. Yet, the writer of this article seems to think that Kobe is completely worthless to the Lakers. Odd, considering how people actually playing in the league know differently.

  15. lakerluver - Aug 14, 2012 at 5:17 PM

    @malcolm1985
    Couldn’t have said it any better, my friend. The Kobe bashing is so old and tired. At this point in his career all Kobe cares about is that 6th ring. That would give him 1 more than Magic and tie him with MJ. He has accomplished everything else.

  16. fanz928 - Aug 14, 2012 at 5:36 PM

    This has to be the easiest team to coach so mike brown can’t mess up run pick and roll with howard and kick it out to shooters and roll and pop with gasol and Kobe just waiting for a wide open 3

  17. j0esixpack - Aug 14, 2012 at 8:05 PM

    Another good read.

    Let’s see more analysis from Matt Moore PBT editors!

  18. omniusprime - Aug 15, 2012 at 9:05 AM

    We’ll have to see if the real team lives up to the hype of this article but chances are good. Of course the weak link of the Lakers is Clueless Clown Brown, the coach with no offense. Hopefully the Laker players will ignore the coach and just run their own offense. The only other weak link is Steve Flake, we really need a better backup point guard since Nash doesn’t play defense. Go Lakers!

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