The Inbounds: Nash, Howard, and an impossible sword
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.