The Lakers have plenty of offensive talent, but which player will be most… (Reed Saxon / Associated…)
The possibilities leave the Lakers giddy. The options will make defenses feel helpless. It will give Lakers Coach Mike Brown a good problem to have in managing such high talent.
The Lakers' starting lineup really needs no introduction. They have an elite scorer (Kobe Bryant), an elite passer (Steve Nash), an elite frontcourt (Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol) and an elite defender (Metta World Peace). Three of them have already won NBA championships (Bryant, Gasol, World Peace). Two of them have won league MVP awards (Bryant, Nash). Two of them have won league defensive player of the year awards (Howard, World Peace). All of them have made the NBA All-Star team. Everyone except World Peace will likely make the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
It's easy to imagine how the Lakers' starting lineup will operate like an unstoppable machine. But who should become the main anchor in fueling that engine? I size up the various candidates below:
Bryant: Let's make one thing clear. Bryant remains the leader of the Lakers both for his experience (five NBA titles) and unmatched competitive work ethic. Still, it's fair to argue that Bryant should also become the main cog in the offense. He remains one of the league's best scorers after all. Even if he's approaching Father Time, Bryant still has a knack for making shots in the post, on the elbows, at the basket, behind the perimeter and through multiple defenders.
Nash's presence will make it easier for Bryant to move off the ball and delegate ball-handling duties. But that doesn't mean Bryant still shouldn't receive countless looks. Everyone else will have easy shots if Bryant's always the main threat on the floor. It also forces everyone else to force their aggressiveness up.
Nash: Even at 38 years old, Nash has stayed one of the league's top point guards through his court vision, pick-and-roll execution and superior ball handling. He should immediately fit in since he's a pass first, shoot second player on a team full of All-Stars. Yet, even if it's Nash's job to set teammates up, the Lakers still need to give him the freedom to determine how to do that.
If the Lakers run the offense through anyone else, it's more likely those players will look more to score than to pass. Of course, Nash also needs to find his shot considering he's a career 42% shooter from three-point range. But only Nash has the pinpoint accuracy to find teammmates in tight spaces. Meanwhile, teammates will feel more inclined to run the offense, knowing Nash will likely reward them for getting open.
Howard: The Lakers still have a distinguishable size advantage. So there's no reason why the Lakers should ignore it. Considering Synergy tabs Howard as the second-best "roll" man in the pick-and-roll, his chemistry with Nash will prove nearly unstoppable.
Even with Howard's presence, the Lakers remain a fundamentally old team. But with Howard's freakish athleticism, defensive stops and rebounding presence, the Lakers will suddenly prove capable in scoring transition baskets in bunches. Even if Howard goes through games where he's not the featured offensive option, that defensive presence will mostly fuel the Lakers open-court offense.
Gasol: The Lakers will have to sacrifice if they're to maximize their talent. Gasol fits that mindset the most. He accepted a facilitating role last season to accommodate Lamar Odom's absence and Andrew Bynum's growth. Gasol remains one of the league's most versatile players with his post presence, midrange jumpers and passing. With the Lakers planning to run the Princeton offense, Gasol's high basketball smarts will be a large factor in ensuring that system runs smoothly. Factor in the Lakers' height advantage with Gasol's team mindset, and it's likely big plays will happen when the ball is in his hands.
World Peace: Let's not kid ourselves. The Lakers' eccentric forward may want to change his name to Metta Wide Open Three for all the open looks defenders will give him. So it's clear World Peace isn't the Lakers' most crucial player in ensuring the team stays productive. But it's highly possible that how he plays could prove the most disruptive.
When World Peace hasn't been engaged in seasons past, he's often stood idly along the perimeter, clogged up space and thrown off-balance shots. In order for the Lakers' offensive machine not to stall, it's crucial that World Peace fill in the open gaps, fight for hustle points and revel in his normally defensive-dominant role. Should that happen, the Lakers will have the extra spark they need to ensure the engine runs smoothly.
Verdict: Even with the talent the Lakers starting lineup boasts, there's no question that Nash plays the most crucial part in the team's productivity. This doesn't mean he's the Lakers' best player. It means that he should have the most responsibility in determining how the Lakers run their offense. Should the Lakers give him that free rein, everyone else will play more as a team. He will set players up that are the most open instead of the ones that are screaming loudest for the ball. Nash will actually ensure the Lakers run plays, whether it's pick-and-roll or sets in the Princeton.
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