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