Steve Nash primed for title run after Dwight Howard trade


It’s hard to believe anyone could be more excited about the Dwight Howard trade than Steve Nash.

Suns fans don’t want to hear it, but if the Lakers weren’t on the short list of title contenders before the deal than they surely are now.

Aside from age and injuries, the biggest argument being made against the Lakers’ title hopes these days seems to revolve around the fact that these pieces will need some time to gel as we saw with the Miami Heat and their often bumpy first season together.

Yet that Miami squad held a 2-1 lead in the Finals and came perhaps a couple of bounces away from being a two-time defending champion. Especially early in the season it may take some getting used to, but where I feel the Lakers will have an advantage over the Heat in integrating stars used to being “The Man” is in the fact that their pieces seem to fit together better than those in Miami with Bron and Wade often playing the Dueling Banjos routine in that first year.

There’s no question that the usages rates for Kobe, Dwight and Nash will all go down — and Pau already wasn’t getting enough touches as things were — but unlike Miami and its pair of all-world wings the Lakers have the consummate point guard in Nash, the lethal scorer in Kobe, the uber-elite defender/dunker in Howard as well as a smart star-caliber power forward in Gasol that all thrive in different ways.

I’ve always felt that Howard would be the perfect teammate for Nash, and he should be a much better complement than Bynum.

Although both players earned more than half their shots in post-up situations, Howard was by far the better roll man. He ranked second among all NBA players by scoring 1.36 points per play as a roll man last season, according to mySynergySports, and was a roll man on 8.9 percent of his plays. By contrast, Bynum scored 1.12 ppp to rank 27th, and he was only a roll man on 3.4 percent of his plays.

Howard also ranked 17th in scoring off a cut (1.41 ppp), but otherwise did not rank in the top 40 in any other play type and averaged “just” 0.96 ppp overall. He posted up 57.5 percent of the time and scored 0.88 ppp, so the Lakers would be wise to go heavy with the unstoppable Nash-Howard pick and roll. Pretty much any big man becomes a top-10 roll guy just by Nash’s presence, so it’s frightening to think what he may do with an athlete the caliber of Howard.

Pair a shooter (Jodie Meeks, perhaps?) with their Big Four, and I don’t know how anyone will guard them. The Nash/Amare pick and roll always required three defenders to prevent an easy bucket, and no defense can afford to double off Kobe or Pau.

Then it almost goes without saying how much Howard will help the Lakers defensively, with an aging Nash and Kobe unlikely to keep up with many young guards. In that way Howard is the perfect complement for Nash on both ends of the floor.

I know it’s hard for Suns fans to contemplate this lineup, but it’s going to be really interesting to see how it all works out. Aside from Howard being so perfect from a skills standpoint, Nash and Gasol are an ideal mental pair and then it will be fascinating to see how well Nash and Kobe can share the ball.

If I were Mike Brown, I would let Nash control the offense and see what he can do with all his toys. If that were to happen everybody would get theirs, yet instead of being contested post-ups and fadeaway jumpers they would be dunks and open J’s.

Nash can talk about his kids all he wants — and obviously they are incredibly important to him — but he must be thrilled about his decision to chase a ring in LA after they acquired Howard to vault themselves into the heart of the conversation of top title contenders.

How the Howard trade impacts the Suns’ future picks

The Suns will receive the least favorable of the first-round picks from the Lakers, Heat, Cavs and Kings (or in other words, whatever is worse between the Lakers and Heat) in the 2013 draft. After the Dwight deal, I would be shocked if that selection is above 29.

But you already knew that pick was going to be at the end of the first round. The real question to ponder is how this will impact the 2015 pick.

We will not know until Howard signs an extension or chooses to bolt. With Howard around, the Lakers figure to be a playoff team no matter what, but only a 41-year-old Steve Nash is currently under contract for the 2014-15 season. Kobe and Pau will both expire the prior offseason, and if things are going well they should both re-sign.

But if Howard decides to bounce next offseason for whatever reason, perhaps it will end up mattering that the selection is only top-five protected.

Tags: Steve Nash

  • Scott

    IMO, the Lakers have a better composition for their starting five than the Heat. And since they fit their roles so well, I don’t think they’ll need much jell time.

  • D.P.

    They need time to jell? Well let just say Nash is superglue. I don’t think there is anyone better at creating chemistry than Steve Nash. That’s something we’ve always excelled at since Steve has been here.

    If I was a laker fan I’d be going nutts right now they have as close to a dream team as it gets. Playing them is not gonna be fun this year.

  • Joe

    Thanks for trading Nash to the Lakers. We have a pretty good team and 7 million in cap space left that we could have used for Nash. He would have taken it because he didn’t want to leave in the first place.
    You can argue that we wouldn’t have been able to sign Dragic if we kept Nash, and maybe that’s the case. But we would’ve been able to keep Aaron Brooks as a second option if Dragic didn’t want to sign.
    Would you rather have Nash and Brooks or Dragic and Telfair?

  • Luka

    @Joe

    As soon as Amare departed, Nash being here stopped making sense. If the 09-10 team was kept intact then yes Nash would’ve retired a Sun.

    Unfortunately, the past two seasons have been horrendous. Sarver nearly crippled this franchise with bogus signings and trades. By doing so he made Nash’s last two seasons here irrelevant.

    Thankfully, Babby has managed to completely undo the damage of the 2010 offseason and at breakneck speed.

    It’s also become more noticeable, over the past two years, Nash isn’t quite as durable as he’s been in years gone by. The Suns did the right thing and committed to a full re-build. If they can get lucky in the draft and spend their money wisely they’ll emerge from this in excellent shape.

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    I’m with Joe on this one. No other PG could be possibly better than Nash, both mentally and skillwise.

  • http://espn.com Rob

    @ Joe

    Would rather have Nash and Marshall.

    Here are my humble REGULAR SEASON rankings of the Western Conference:

    1) OKC
    2) LAL
    3) LAC
    4) SA
    5) DEN
    6) MEM

    Then the next 5 fight for playoff spots 7 & 8:
    DAL, PHX, UTA, GS, MIN.

    I gotta believe the Lakers will represent the West in the Finals if D12, Nash, and Bryant remain healthy (and of course Pau, but I can’t recall him having injury issues).

    Are my top 6 a lock for the playoffs? Do GS or MIN have a shot at the playoffs? do the Suns?

  • sun also rises

    I agree with you Rob but I also think that Dallas will sneak into that top six slot. Everybody sleeps on them because they lost out on Howard and Williams, but the moves that they made are similar to the Suns and they still have Dirk (which makes them way better than our boys).

    Also I would love to see GS become legit this year but after reading that Curry is just now testing his ankle (damn) I’m not optimistic that they’ll do anything with Bogut and the new system Mark Jackson has been trying to get going for forever.

  • Ty-Sun

    I just want to see how all the changes gel (or not) into a team. Until then it’s all just speculation and I’ve read so many varying predictions about the Suns that ALL make sense depending on the context of those predictions. For example, if you assume Beasley will be a bust playing for the Suns then making even the 8th seed would be a great accomplishment. But if you believe Beasley might flourish in Phoenix and finally live up to his potential, then a 4th or 5th seed might not be out of the question. I’m not predicting either, just using him as an example.

    This new team could gel quickly or not at all. And, even with the loss of Hill, overall this team could be a much better defensive team than we had last year. Everyone likes to talk offense but an improved team defense should make an impact on the W/L tally as well.

    Actually, there are so many “ifs” with this team this year that I wouldn’t be shocked if they win OR lose 50 games this season… that’s why I won’t predict either one.

  • Tony

    @Joe,

    I couldn’t agree more with you. Even though I’m a fan of Dragic and even though he is so much younger than Nash, I would still have preferred to see Nash resigned as a Sun. The NBA is the only professional league I can think of in which having star players is a requisite to being a relevant team. While Dragic may someday turn out to be an all-star, at this point, he’s far from one.

    Furthermore, the biggest thing that irks me about the backlash Nash received going to the Lakers was the misconception that the Suns FO wanted him back. The stooges didn’t even offer him a contract and for a two-time MVP and the face of the franchise, to not at least present a reasonable offer to Nash was disrespectful in my opinion.

    @Ty-Sun,

    A 4th or 5th seed might be possible???? You are talking about the Suns right? Even if Beasley averages 25ppg and shoots a respectable percentage, there’s no way this team has the talent to be a number 4 or 5 seed in the west. And which reputable NBA analyist picked the Suns that high anyway? I cannot believe any objective analyist would predict them even finishing 8th in the conference.

  • Ty-Sun

    @Tony – Lighten up. I used Beasley as ONE example only and I wasn’t only talking about paid NBA analysts… and I NEVER said that I was. I was mainly talking about fan predictions but I admit that I wasn’t clear about that.

    But if you want me to I will go in depth, I will.

    IF Beasley finally lives up to expectations… IF Wes Johnson finally lives up to expectations… IF Dragic plays all season long at the level he played at while he started in Houston… IF Gortat at least maintains the level of play he had last season… IF Scola also maintains at least the same level of play he had last season… IF Marshall quickly shows he can play at the NBA level… IF Morris can continue to improve his performance… IF O’Neal can play significant minutes all season at near his past levels of performance without injury… IF Frye comes back with his old 3 point shooting touch… IF Gentry can mold this collection of players into a real team…

    Well, there are even more “ifs” I could mention but I’m sure you get the idea by now.

    I am NOT claiming that the Suns could be a 4th or 5th seed. I make no predictions at all except that if most of the “ifs” – unlikely as they may be – happen, then yes the Suns could wind up a 4th/5th seed team. But that’s the BEST possible scenario. If everything works out PERFECTLY for the Suns this season… they would still be a 4th/5th seed team at best. And that’s not even my prediction. That comes from what I’ve read from the most optimistic Suns fans.

    But I do believe that they could possibly win 50 games this year… and still not make the playoffs. If the Suns were in the Eastern conference I would be willing to give odds that they would make the playoffs this season (the 8th seed in the East will probably only have 35-40 wins this year). In the West… too many “ifs” with the stiff competition that they have.

    I just want to watch them play and see what kind of team they actually evolve into this year. I’m not ready to give up on them before the season actually starts.

  • Joe

    @Rob: I’m assuming if the Suns had planned to keep Nash they still would have drafted Marshall. Just as they drafted Nash when Jason Kidd was here.

    @Luka: I think the Suns are already in pretty good shape and don’t need to rely on the draft. Thanks to the FO and a bit of luck (I don’t think they planned to get Wes Johnson and a 1st round pick for Lopez or get Scola through waivers.)
    I’ve always thought the draft is much more of a gamble than signing young free agents who have been in the league for a few years, so you have a better idea of what you’re getting. Most of the teams who rely on the draft year after year don’t get the same results as OKC.
    Also, it’s like D.P. suggested above, maybe Nash’s greatest talent is helping a team jell, and Alvin Gentry could really use that with all the new pieces here. Beasley and Johnson would seem less of a gamble if Nash were here.
    I did notice that Nash isn’t as durable, nor did he play as well as in the past, but with Dragic and Marshall or Brooks and Marshall he wouldn’t have had to play as much.
    I’m not down on Dragic at all. I’m glad the Suns signed him and I think he’ll continue to do well. But I would rather have Nash here to help the current team come together than 2 essentially early second round picks and 2 late second rounders from the Lakers.
    Lastly, it’s the freakin’ Lakers, geez. :)

  • http://jtshoopsblog.blogspot.ca Jeffrey Thompson

    And he deserves to be uin this place as he was stuck in limbo for the past four or so years.

  • Paul

    It’s hard to hate the lakers as much with Nash on the team since I’m a huge Nash fan. I’m gonna be wishing we caught more lakers games to see him do his thing with so many potent weapons at his disposal.

    I agree that if Brown (and Kobe) let Nash run the show, they’ll just be ridiculously lethal. Even with the moron formerly konwn as artest as a wing shooter and defender and 5th option they’re in good shape.

    Kobe can still go mamba/hero mode for close games and shouldn’t have the problem of watching his team flounder when he’s not controlling everything.

    Suns and mavs both had some good lineups for Nash to dish to but I think this lakers teams blows them all away with perfect fits for him at 2/4/5 and it doesn’t so much matter what’s at 3 as long as they can nail the wide open 3′s.

    As for my beloved Suns…yikes. I said I’d stop watching the NBA when nash retired. Him going to LA is about the same. Dragic has shown glimpses of greatness at times but never seems to maintain any level of consistency. Without Nash to elevate the mediocre players and glue together the mess, I think our team is going to be brutal to behold. I’m sure I’ll homer and suffer thru watching some games.

  • Kenny

    @Joe

    Honestly, Dragic and Telfair/Marshall
    Nash needs a ring. Period.

  • steve

    The Lakers have a better composition than the Heat?

    I’m not totally sure I buy that one. ANY team with LeBron is composed fairly well. I can’t stand LeBron, but I also love the truth, and the truth is that LeBron is by far the best basketball player on earth at this moment. No one is even playing the same game as he is.

    Matching them up, here’s what I see:

    PG: Whoever the Heat’s PG is doesn’t actually control the ball on their offensive end. That job belongs to LeBron. All the Heat need at PG is someone who is decent enough defensively to prevent a ton of easy, inside shots. They will have that.
    SG: I’ll take Wade over Kobe, at this point in their careers.
    SF: If you’re counting LeBron as a SF, we don’t even need to discuss this position.
    PF: Gasol gets an easy nod here.
    C: I don’t think Howard is going to do much offensively when matched up with the Heat. Why? Because I think LeBron will guard him if it’s ever needed. Dwight’s only real impact he can have against Miami will come on the defensive side of the floor. The ONLY shot I think anyone has of beating the Heat is preventing Wade and LeBron from finishing at the rim, and Howard is the perfect man for that job.

    All things considered, I don’t think either team is clearly better, but I see more matchup advantages for the Heat than I do for the Lakers, if for no other reason than LeBron James’s absolute dominance of the NBA floor.

    • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

      @Steve What I mean is that their pieces fit better, at least to start. By now the Heat have figured out how to play together, which is helped by the fact that LeBron can play pretty much any position at both ends of the floor and they have a few other “position-less” players as well. That first year Bron and Wade took a lot of time figuring out how to really best play with each other.

      However, with the Lakers I see more clear delineations of responsibility, with the one exception (and it’s a big one) having to do with splitting up creation duties between Nash and Kobe. That will be the most fascinating subplot of the Lakers’ season, and I guess in some ways it’s not unlike the Wade/James power struggle. Still, LA overall has all the pieces you would want in putting together a basketball teams and I feel their strengths are much more complementary than those of Wade/James.

  • Ty-Sun

    I agree, Michael. The pieces that the Lakers have will just fit together more easily in their first season together than those of the Heat. Nash will be perfectly happy distributing the ball without being counted on to score. I think Kobe’s come to the realization that he just can’t do it all anymore and will love playing with Nash because Nash will get him more easy baskets. Gasol and Howard – and even Artest – will love playing with Nash for the same reason. Haven’t we always known that playing with Nash makes everyone else better? And playing with the kind of talent that he’ll have on the Lakers this year Nash will probably be able to keep his minutes on the court down to a reasonable level which should help keep him healthier throughout the season.

  • steve

    I agree that the Lakers’ build is much more traditional. As an armchair GM, they have a near-perfect fit at every position, at least as far as traditional molds are concerned.

    From that perspective, I agree with your points.

    I just think that LeBron’s freakishness cancels out everything else. I can’t stand the guy. I really can’t. I hate the Lakers more than any team in the NBA, but I honestly think I would root for them to beat the Heat if it came to it. That’s how much I can’t stand LeBron. But he’s good, and I really don’t think anyone is getting a ring in the next two seasons if they aren’t on LeBron’s team.

  • Scott

    BTW … Coro has a recent article where he has Blanks asserting that Beasley CAN play adequate defense at SF. (Now, can he play adequate offense there as well?)

    “Defensively, Blanks projects the potential of a good team based on that word again — commitment. Dragic is a bigger point guard with athleticism and tenacity. Beasley has been derided for being disengaged defensively, but Blanks said he is “very capable” of handling NBA small forwards if he becomes disciplined.”

    Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/sports/articles/2012/08/14/20120814phoenix-suns-presiding-theme-commitment.html#ixzz23ejHOLJ7

  • Scott

    Oh, and the new slogan for the team?

    “Next starts now.”

    I guess that’s better than, “This is what happens next,” or “@$%^ starts now.” ;)

  • Ty-Sun

    If “LeBron’s freakishness cancels out everything else” then why couldn’t he lead Cleveland to a championship? Or Miami over Dallas? LeBron is a great player – the best in the NBA right now – but he has already proven that he can’t win championships by himself. The Heat will be better at the beginning of this season than the Lakers – especially if DH isn’t ready to play at the start of the season – but the Lakers should be the better team by the end of the season or at least the Heat’s equal. You want to try James guarding Howard? Even if he does well at that, who is going to guard Artest/MWP? He’s become the 4th/5th offensive option for the Lakers but he can still score 25 a night if Nash feeds him the ball and he’s playing against even just an average defender. LA asked him to concentrate on becoming a defender since he joined them but he still has the potential to score LOTS of buckets if given the green light to score.

    Are the Lakers going to be better than the Heat this season? Maybe. Too close to call for me. You can make a case either way. The season itself will tell the tail and prove it all.

  • steve

    “why couldn’t he lead Cleveland to a championship?”

    This is just my opinion, but I believe it’s because of the level of his competition. Why didn’t Barkley win a championship? Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon, etc…

    The answer, in my opinion, is the same for why LeBron didn’t win one earlier. Early in his career LeBron was playing against prime or near-prime versions of Kobe, Duncan, Shaq, Garnett, Pierce, Allen, Wade…

    Who does he have now? Everyone on that list is either old, retired, or on his team. Durant isn’t there yet. Rose isn’t there yet (and now he may never be). Dwight was always too much of a headcase. Melo – well, we all know enough about Melo’s issues. Amare is washed up. Who does LeBron have to face any more? There is no one – I repeat, NO ONE – in the league who is close to being his equal, and the second-best player in the league is wearing the same jersey he is.

    Once Durant or some of these other young guns arrive, I think LeBron will be outed again for what he truly is (a supreme talent unlike anything we’ve ever seen without the killer instinct to become the greatest of all time), but until then, there is just no one good enough to stop him.

  • Ty-Sun

    LeBron obviously is the best player in the NBA now but it’s still a team game. That was my point. Dallas didn’t have anyone – including Dirk – who came close to LeBron in talent. Wade outclassed every player on that team too. But Dallas still won the championship series. LeBron may dominate any other player in the NBA but that alone won’t guarantee the Heat another championship.

  • Tony

    @Steve,

    while I agree with you that Lebron is by far the best player in the NBA, I still take the Lakers over the Heat any day of the week.

    Firstly, I disagree with you about Wade being better than Kobe. Wade has always been overrated and he is also on the down side of his career.

    As far as Howard is concerned, I doubt James will guard Howard more than a few times because of the effort James would have to expend both on the offensive and defensive end. He would likely get worn down as a result of guarding him. Furthermore, even if James guards Howard in spot situations, the Heat don’t have anyone to stop Gasol.

    Then of course there’s Nash, who will have so many talented options to utilize on offense. He can run pick&rolls with Howard, pick&pops with Gasol, or he can set up Kobe for open looks. Unlike when he was a Sun, particularly for the last two seasons, opposing teams won’t be able to trap him and force the ball out of his hands so easily, because of the Lakers depth and talent.

    Overall though, on paper, this Lakers team is far more versatile offensively than the Heat. They have a strong inside game with Howard and Gasol, they have a pick&roll specialst in Howard, and by picking Jodie Meeks, they have a good perimeter shooting team with him, Kobe, and Nash. For all of James’ strengths, he’s still not a great perimeter shooter. The Heats offense is still predicated on transition buckets and James doing everything.

    The Heat also still don’t have enough of an interior offensive game either. Bosh is not really well-suited to score in the post and with Howard presumbly guarding him, I doubt Bosh is able to do much against the Lakers. And don’t forget, Bosh was instrumental in the Heat’s success over the Thunder in the Finals. Without Bosh, the Heat are totally dependent on transition buckets and James basically doing everything.

    In contrast, the Lakers don’t need to rely so heavily on one player like the Heat do with James. If one of the Lakers Big Four struggles, they can rely on the other three to step up. The Heat can’t afford to see James struggle because without him playing well, the Heat become just a good team not a great one.

    WIth all that being said, I can’t wait to see them play against each other and see who really is the better team.

  • Scott

    Defensively, if Kobe is on Wade, Metta on LeBron, and Gasol on Bosh, scoring from those positions on the Heat will be closely contested. Where the Heat might find it easier to score would be from PG (due to Nash’s poor defense) and C (assuming they have a C who shoots from the perimeter).

    If the Heat offense comes from the usual suspects and not from PG or C, then the Lakers won’t expend much energy defending at those spots, and they’ll probably have more energy to devote to their PG+C pick and roll offense. That should give them a clear edge.

    As a counter-tactic, Wade could cover Nash on defense, and LeBron could cover Kobe. Defending the Laker ball-handlers this way could significantly crimp their offense, and (seeing as Odom is no longer there) I think it would turn Gasol into their playmaker. If Gasol and Howard can score over the defense of Bosh and whoever, I can see where it would give the Laker’s starters the edge over the Heat’s starters.

    Probably what it will come down to is Earl Clark. He’s the wild card. ;)

  • Tony

    @Scott,

    Haha! That was a good one about Clark. But you never know, The Lakers might use him to guard Lebron James. If anyone has the size, strength, and athleticism to guard him, Clark is the one who has all those attributes.
    Artest of five years ago could defend James but I doubt he currently has the quickness needed to effectively guard him.

    In regards to Nash’s defense, BrightSideoftheSun had a recent breakdown of his defense, and the statistical results substantiate what I have been saying the past few seasons, that Nash is not an attrocious defender and in fact, is underrated defensively. Moreover, considering that he likely won’t have to expend so much energy running the offense like he did as a Sun without much surrounding talent, he’ll probably have more energy to expend on the defensive end.

    As far as using Wade and James to guard Nash and Kobe, doing so will free up Howard and Gasol. Because Gasol is a very good passer and in the Olympics on several occassions showed an ability to put the ball on the floor, I don’t think spreading Wade and James, Miami’s two best defenders, away from the paint will be effective in negating the Lakers offense because of Gasol’s ability to pass and handle the ball.

  • Scott

    @Tony -

    I mostly agree, but Bosh is probably a good defensive match on Gasol.

  • steve

    I hear you, Scott, and obviously, at this point it’s impossible to accurately predict future outcomes.

    Just a couple of things. For someone who is usually pretty statistically oriented, I’m pretty surprised you’d say Kobe is better than Wade at this point. Here are some numbers from last season:

    Stat: Kobe/Wade
    PER: 21.9/26.3
    TS%: 52.7/55.9
    TRB%: 7.8/8.7
    AST%: 23.7/27.3
    STL%: 1.6/2.7
    BLK%: 0.6/3.1
    ORtg: 105/112
    DRtg: 106/99
    OWS: 4.2/4.8
    DWS: 2.0/2.9
    WS48: 0.132/0.227

    What is it that makes you believe that, at this point, Kobe is better than Wade? Wade literally does everything better at this point in their careers except shooting on the perimeter (and they’re not even that far apart in that department either, as both are pretty bad) and free throw shooting (where Kobe has the clear advantage).

    “the Heat are totally dependent on transition buckets and James basically doing everything.”

    And I think that’s enough, at this point. I’m not trying to say they’re a perfect team. They’re incredibly flawed. However, having the two best players on the planet on the team helps them overcome those flaws. Not to mention the fact that LeBron NEVER gets whistled for fouls (I think he’s fouled out once in the past five seasons, and that was an overtime game. There is no one in the history of the league who has been called for so few fouls while playing so many minutes).

    The Heat might not have an answer for every Lakers player, but nobody has an answer for Wade and LeBron.

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