Thursday Reading: The Lakers’ Backcourt

Darius Soriano —  March 21, 2013

The Lakers are 69 games into what’s been one of the wilder seasons in memory. Considering this is the Lakers we’re talking about, that’s saying something. I mean, remember Mike Brown? Him manning the reigns as Lakers’ head coach seems like years ago, not just earlier in this campaign. This season has aged in dog years and it seems crazy how much has happened to this roster in just the past 9 months.

If you go back to the start of this year, however, one of the key stories that still endures is how Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant would (and since have) play together. The question marks about mixing their playing styles, how their leadership qualities would mesh, and whether they would be able to co-exist in a way that maximizes both players’ talents.

Those answers seem almost fully formed, even as the players themselves evolve and continue to refine their on-court interactions. They have found ways to make it work, with Nash becoming more of an on ball threat and Kobe taking on more ball handling responsibilities, both making the types of shifts to their games that speak to their status as all-timers. They’ve found a sort of kinship in their longevity, their work ethic, their desire to win at any cost, and, yes, their ability adapt to what the team needs.

They’ve found a way to do it together and though this year has offered some very tough times, watching Kobe and Nash ply their craft and build towards something together has been one of the few rewards this campaign has offered to this point.

With all that said, I offer a couple of very good (though short) reads from around the web today. The first, is from Michael Pina at The Classical who talks about Nash’s shifting role this season and his ability to still be magical even as his age advances. He concludes with a statement about Nash being free to do more with Kobe off the floor (something that I agree with) and how maybe the team should do more of:

Is it possible to underrate a certain Hall of Famer? Nash isn’t what he used to be, but he’s still eighth in the league in three-point field goal percentage and 13th in true shooting percentage, and doing things as a playmaker that nobody not named John Stockton or Jason Kidd have done so late in their careers. Nash can still be a lead ball-handler on a very good team, and those shooting numbers can still coax a SMH from any skeptic. The Lakers are not better with Bryant on the sideline, of course. But Nash may well be, and will at the very least be free to do the things that he does better than just about everyone in the world. He isn’t who he was, naturally; none of us are. But it should be interesting—and could well be dazzling—to see what Steve Nash becomes as the season goes on.

Give the entire piece a read, it’s worth your time.

Second is a piece on Kobe, through the eyes of a teammate. Antawn Jamison had some choice words about his iconic teammate including insights into Kobe’s leadership style, the atmosphere he’s created for this team, and, of course, his work ethic:

“It’s great to be with him,” Jamison said. “I love a guy who expects so much from his teammates. He pushes his teammates. After games, we’re traveling, guys are on their laptops, their iPads, watching movies, listening to music, this guy is watching film. He’s breaking down situations. I’ll be watching a movie, he’ll tap me like, ‘Come here.’ He’ll dissect plays like, ‘This is what we got to do, me and you got to get this going.’ I mean, this guy eats, sleeps basketball and the only thing he wants to do is to win another championship and I’ve never seen anybody as focused, as dedicated as Kobe.”

I appreciated Jamison’s honesty about Kobe, a player we all make assumptions about but never truly know fully. Jamison was able to pull back the curtain somewhat, and show us that leadership is complex and that Kobe’s style is certainly unique.

Kobe and Nash — both 17 year veterans, both league MVP’s, both future hall of famers, both at a stage of their careers where even with all the accolades winning is all that matters. Teammates for the first time and sorting out their roles together, growing as teammates together, and, though late in the season, finally finding a way to get this team on track together.

Darius Soriano

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38 responses to Thursday Reading: The Lakers’ Backcourt

  1. One thing we did know when not a single game was played yet was that great players find a way to be great regardless of their situations.

  2. darius: another solid post and fully agree that the time is now for nash to fulfill his role as main ball handler and ball facilitator for these los angeles lakers.

    due to untimely injuries and equally long in the tooth, both kobe and nash, although for the most part have not played an entire nba season together, the fact that both are elite, former mvp’s and future hall of famers as you say, should speak loud and clear that we have seen that they have played in each other’s shoes this season and this definitely bodes well for team going forward because that experience together as veterans has provided a foundation for growth.

    the results of course this season remain to be seen, but it’s a start and a transition that has brought us to this point in time. and with a healthier and emerging steve blake, our team looks to be in capable (veteran guard play) hands. this works to our advantage in the playoffs. meeks needs to step up is an understatement. the effort is there, the results are yet to be seen. get outside of your head man. just play ball.

    as we inch closer and closer to the end of the regular season, keep the story lines coming. as intriguing as the season has been to this point, somehow it feels as though we aint’ seen nothing yet.

    Go Lakers

  3. Nash career playoff avg. vs Spurs 17.7 pts 3.5 reb 8.5 ast 46% fg 43% 3pt 86% ft

    Kobe career playoff avg. vs Spurs 30 pts 6.2 reb 4.7 ast 1.3 stl 47%fg 34% 3pt 73% ft

    vs Thunder 27.3 pts 4.6 reb 3.8 ast 41% fg 26% 3pt 79% ft

    They may never say but I’m sure Lakers backcourt would prefer to play Spurs in the 1st round. Kobe and Nash’s past history would probably give them more fire to beat them. Even though offense wouldn’t be a problem in that series the Lakers current backcourt has had success in the past vs Spurs.

  4. OKC or SA: Another way to look at it, is to play OKC first, while we have fresh legs. If you are worried about OKC running us off the floor, then does that worry get any better later in the playoffs when we have a couple of brutal series and OKC has potentially coasted with sweeps? Where this “could” payoff is if OKC got upset, but if that does not happen, we are better off to play them early – ideally after a few games of rest at the very end of the season, because we have clinched 8th. And of course we need to make the playoffs first, but if we do, then the objective is to make the Finals. The difference between a loss in the first round vs the 2nd/3rd, only really matters for those whose employment may hinge on that (and as previously stated – I do not think it even matters there).

  5. Robert – I don’t think MDA’s job is on the line at all. Short of Kobe *and* Dwight telling the FO that they want a new coach, this guy is safe at least until the start of next season – even if we do not make the playoffs or bow out of the 1st round.

    Neil – At the begging of the season, I would agree that not winning a championship would be a failure. However, given how we have been decimated by injuries, I would say that the failure bar has fallen to “making the playoffs” – though some of us are setting the bar at making the WCF.

  6. MannyP: I agree – that is what I mean by “I don’t even think it even matters there”. KenOak and I discussed this as MD playing in a freeroll and regardless what you think of him or his performance, his most important qualification is the fact that he followed Mike Brown and under the circumstances that he did. It was built in job security.

    Failure Bar: This is all relative. Are we speaking as fans, that well, at one point we were underdogs by some to make the playoffs and now we should be happy to make them? – OK. At the other extreme is the pre-season, pre injury expectations. However I don’t think the “season” is a success if we just make the playoffs. And I am speaking from an overall performance standpoint – not just coaching. If that is the level that is considered a success then this truly is a freeroll for everyone – players included. We have the highest payroll in the league, and even with the injuries, we should be better than eeking into the first round and losing. The last two years have been considered failures with losses in the second round. We upgraded the roster (yes we did) and unless you buy into the Jim Buss theory (it is all due to injury), then a similar or worse performance should not be considered successful. Even if Jim says it is.
    In any case – I am still hoping for better. The Spurs are old. Howard is better than Duncan. Kobe is better than anyone on their roster. Nash (many are saying he still has it ) should be able to hold his own against Parker to a reasonable extent. Manu and Pau cancel each other out when converted into Euros. So if MD can hold his own against Pop, there is no reason we should lose to that team (I hate the Spurs almost as much as the Celtics). No grading on a curve. Everyone says 2011 and 2012 were failures, so 2013 must be graded on the same scale. And no – I am not hard headed – the injuries must be taken into account – but that is all – taken into account. They do not provide a completely free ride without respect to results. Let’s not make up the excuses before the season is over.

  7. One advantage the lakers have if they make the playoffs: the big four have not played together completely healthy. And that could be a problem for opposing teams. On paper, that’s a pretty intimidating line up on the offensive side, but really slow defensively. .

    And I’m not sure MDA can develop an offensive scheme for them to work effectively together on the floor. It would not be an uptempo pace.

    A bench that includes, blake, earl clark, antawn…we could make some noise if we can avoid okc in the first round

  8. Howard is better than Duncan.

    ___

    Not this year. Duncan will be higher–probably much higher–on final MVP balloting than Howard will. Howard may still make 1st-team all-NBA, but there are other subjective evals out there, and a lot of that is many people still do not see Duncan as a center.

    Like I have said, at times you still seem to be dealing with the roster than you were imagining in September, rather than the one that is playing. If Kupchak had put this roster together in 2009, the Lakers would be awesome, and Howard has more trade value since he is nine years younger, but Duncan has been a better player by almost every metric this year.

    _____

    if MD can hold his own against Pop, there is no reason we should lose to that team

    _______

    I know you are an “observation” guy, but you need to look at some numbers as well. You can’t see everything from your TV set. The Lakers have no non-Kobe wings anywhere near as good as Ginobili. Splitter has outplayed Pau this year. Leonard is better than Jamison, MWP or Clark. Parker is way ahead of Nash statistically. Joseph and Mills are better than Morris and Duhon. The Spurs are 4th in the NBA in 3p%. I could go on.

    You can chalk all that up to the differences between Popovich and D’Antoni if you like, but that is asking coaching to do a hell of a lot of heavy lifting. It is pretty easy to see this by looking at two teams: Chicago and the Clippers. There is widespread agreement among fans and analysts that Thibodeau is a far better coach than Del Negro, whom he replaced, is. But without Rose, Chicago is just another team, and with Paul and Griffin, and a deep bench, the Clippers are really good.

    There are, as I have said, very solid criticisms to be made of D’Antoni: pace factor, 3s, rotations. I do not think that he has done a particularly good job. But the Spurs are better than the Lakers are for many reasons.

  9. We upgraded the roster (yes we did)

    ______

    PER/WS/48

    Howard 2013
    19.1/.129

    Bynum 2012
    22.9/.183

  10. I have a long post stuck in mod, and there is noise in the Howard/Bynum data. But I think most people would be hard-pressed to explain exactly why 2013 Howard is a big upgrade on 2012 Bynum.

    The rest we have covered. The Lakers upgraded the roster offensively, but not defensively. MDA has probably made that problem worse, but it would be true either way.

  11. a lot of noise. we’re talking about bynum’s best year which likely won’t b reached vs arguably the worst of dwight’s which also should not b repeated… i hope.

  12. rr,

    I guess the problem with the comparison is that the Lakers would have a 0 for Bynum if he had stayed this year vs what Dwight has put up. Better in that respect at least?

  13. rr: I’m not sure it’s fair to compare Bynum’s best most fully healthy season with this season’s Dwight not being himself until the asb. And the coaching change, system change and injuries. Lots of variables in play this season that weren’t last year. But I’ll take Dwight after this asb over Bynum’s after last year’s asb. Dwight has turned the corner Bynum was a head case. It’ll probably come down to the team making it past the 2nd round but you compared the individual and their numbers are almost identical.

  14. Team N, harold:

    Absolutely. I would have made that trade in a second, and I think that is also true of any FO in the NBA.

    My point was that Robert and some other folks who are down on MDA often compare this year’s team to last year’s team, and at times seem to assume that Howard 2013 is an upgrade on Bynum 2012, since Howard is a big name and Bynum is injured again. But I don’t think there is clear evidence that such is the case.

  15. rr: I am commenting on what is going to be considered successful. So I ask you: If we barely make the playoffs and then lose in the first round – are you going to consider the season a success?

    With regard to your comparison with the Spurs – of course they are playing better than us – look at their record : ) Using 2013 stats – of course their guys look better. I am saying – I think DH is better right now. If I am picking teams on the playground with the Spurs and the Lakers as my talent pool – Kobe is my first pick and DH is my second and it is not even close. Now I agree with you that when we get to the bottom of the roster – then their players are chosen first – but overall – I think we are better. They have played better this year – no doubt – but that is due to our poor performance – which is caused partially by injuries.

    Second question: do you think we can beat the Spurs if we get matched up with them in round 1?

    And rr – I was comparing this year’s team to both 2012 and 2011, and I think our roster is better now, but you could twist my arm and say – OK – not that much better. However I would never agree that we moved backwards roster wise. I remember how everyone felt going into this year – including you : )

  16. I agree Duncan’s been the better player year long but no many can claim they’ve been better than Howard post asb. Lakers lost to the Spurs by 2 early fresh off a coaching change and at spurs without Pau and Dwight by 3 against a fully healthy spurs team. Lakers can beat the Spurs because they are the more talented team and the new found chemistry. Coaching matters but Lakers have always bested the Spurs because they’ve had the better players.

  17. As with most evaluations, context matters a great deal. If you’re going to look at this year’s team or their record as Robert is prone to do, it’s impossible to separate where they stand now from what they were earlier in the year when they had their season turned upside down with a coaching change and with numerous injuries (or in Howard’s case, recovery from injuries). So, Robert’s question about being satisfied with barely making the playoffs and/or a first round exit is sort of silly. No one would be happy with that but the reason why they’re even in that position is due to the circumstances earlier in the year that has it so at the 69 game mark this team is barely starting to come together.

    This is my general issue with the approach that several people take here at this site. It’s impossible to remove context from this team but it’s *constantly* done in order to try and make a point. True analysis often lies in the gray areas, not in the extremes.

  18. That we are even debating whether a first round playoff loss would constitute a disappointing season is evidence of how far the Lakers have fallen.

    If you can tolerate a team that loses the season series to the Suns and needs miracle comebacks against the dregs of the league, then I guess merely making the playoffs is enough to avoid disappointment. However, if you thought a roster including the likes of Nash, Kobe, Howard, Pau should be a title contender, you can’t view anything short of a conference finals trip a huge letdown.

  19. So I ask you: If we barely make the playoffs and then lose in the first round – are you going to consider the season a success?
    ____

    At this point, I just want to see three things occur:

    1. Make postseason.
    2. Keep Howard.
    3. Either can MDA and hire Shaw, or trade Pau and as part of that, get decent guys 4-7 who can play D’Antoni ball.

    It has gotten lost with the team’s improved play and Pau’s injury, but in his long interview with Simers, Pau more or less flatly stated that if Howard and MDA are both still here next year, he wants out. That could change of course, but I tend to doubt that it will.

    Is that a “success” relative to preseason expectations? Of course not. But, it was apparent in preseason that this team was not bulletproof and had *potential* issues with age, depth, health, fit, defense, and coaching.

  20. but overall – I think we are better.

    ___

    You can certainly think that, but there is really no evidence for it that I can see. Basically, ISTM that you just can’t accept that a team that has Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard on it isn’t great. But Kobe is 34 and Howard is not himself, although he seems to be getting closer, and basketball teams consist of more than just two guys.

    As to the idea that the Lakers can beat the Spurs in a best-of-7, sure, it’s possible, if the Lakers are healthy and play well. SA’s depth is less of a plus in a postseason series that it is over 82 games. But the Lakers would obviously be underdogs.

  21. Darius: You are making the leap that I am removing the context to which you refer, which is trying to figure out what I am thinking – something you yourself take great offense to. I am not removing that context. Going into the year I was very optimistic and said we had the best team. So at that time, I would have not considered the season successful unless we made the Finals at least. I have of course – due to the injuries etc., adjusted this bar down some. However I have not adjusted all the way down to the point where I will consider the season (all context considered) a success if we get bounced in the first round. You can disagree with this and I will not consider it silly : )

  22. Funky,

    Well, if you are comparing now to what we hoping for in October, sure. If you are looking at the actual team on the floor and how it has played, I think the goal should be to get in. But even so, 8/1 upsets are rare; they happen, but they are rare, and while the Lakers, if they are able to go, say, 9-4 the rest of the way and get in at 45-37, would not be a “typical 8th seed” in terms of marquee value, they would be one (a pretty good one, but not awesome) in terms of performance.

    I am not giving up hope; maybe with the whole team healthy, and Clark available to provide a little athleticism, they will find another gear.

  23. Very well stated Funky – your references to how far we have fallen, and the performance against lessor opponents are perfect.

  24. Robert,
    I guess the part where I said “no one would be happy with that” was lost on you. Maybe I’ll just repeat myself more to try and get my point across. That seems to be the trend around these parts.

  25. rr, I don’t have the ability to do like some, notably Darius, and re-set my standards based on this week’s or this month’s facts. When it comes to supporting the only two professional sports teams that I love, the standards are pretty much already in place–forged by the sucesses of the 1980’s.

    Sure, if the Lakers had assembled a team over the summer that looked like the Suns, I would probably have lowered expectations–but I’d still be disappointed when they bow out of the playoffs (as I was during the bleak year when the starting lineup included the likes of Smush Parker, Luke Walton, and Vlad Radmanovic).

    Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether I or anyone else is “disappointed” by the season. I root for the team pretty much every night (making exception for those nights where they are so lethargic or unprofessional that I don’t want them to be rewarded with a win). I’ll do the same for the rest of this season, but I know damn well that I’ll be shouting at the tv with disappintment during the playoffs when the Lakers are getting run off the floor by the Thunder, Spurs, or Nuggets (not sold on the Clips…). Knowing that the team has had injury problems, is old, and has a weak bench and possibly a weak coach doesn’t really portend any less disappointment for me….

  26. Funky,
    Have I once said what my standard is?

  27. Darius, if you have, I missed it. What you have done, repeatedly, is demonstrate a more nuanced approach to discussing this Laker season than many of us. I don’t know if this is you acting like a moderator, suppressing your emotion, or if this is how you naturally look at the Lakers–blog or no blog.

    You have cautioned patience in the face of coaching changes and injuries, and have not been disposed towards the more hyperbolic commentary that some of us fall into from time to time (see, e.g. any game thread when the Lakers are losing to a bad team).

    Not sure if you took this as a criticism (it wasn’t). My point was that some folks, which I thought included you, were less critical of the Lakers poor play when it could reasonably be attributed to one of the many legitimate reasons/excuses they have had this year. To me, that showed a willingness to reset expectations based on current circumstances (a healthy thing–but something I’m not able to do…).

  28. Funky,

    I guess I am not clear here on whether we are talking about emotions or analysis, and as I have said many times, I don’t think mixing the two works so well.

    Emotionally, this season has been a drag. I was as excited as anyone about Nash and Howard.

    Analytically, however, I saw the possibility that the team might have some issues. I thought they would probably be very good, but it was clear that problems might occur, that there were roster issues, and that is how things have gone down.

  29. I find this type of discussion very interesting. How other people view the Lakers and how it is similar to or differs from my own views is good stuff. I don’t find someone elses views annoying simply because they are different from mine. They are simply opinions. There is no correct way to root for the Lakers. There is also no correct way to intellectually study the Lakers. There are many ways to do both. To each their own.
    Funky: With regard to your shouting at the TV: Years ago, I got so mad during one playoff game that I almost knocked over the entire entertainment center that my lucky TV set was on. Fortunately I was able to keep everything from falling over (it was close) and the Lakers came back and won that game : )

  30. Lots of interesting points. It’s simple for me. I just want to see them make the playoffs. The thought of waiting till next year and having to watch Blake doing punk slams or James and Wade with those stupid smiles makes me Sick.

    Give me at least 4 or more games to yell about.

  31. rr, I was commenting on the “disappointment” issue which, I think, is entirely emotional. The rational analysis is what I think Darius does. I can and do appreciate this. What makes being a fan unique to me is that it is one of the rare situations where I look at things both ways–emotionally and rationally. Emotionally, I hate watching the Lakers struggle. Rationally, I believe this team is very flawed and will, as I’ve said before, have a very short and unfulfilling playoff run.

  32. Nuance, indeed. Half of me retains the very high expectations from the summer’s acquisitions (and i think frairly so). But the other half of me realistically knows about injuries and coaching hijinks and understands the reality of this team – as it’s really played – and would be happy to see _those_ guys win the 1st round or (more realistically given the likely caliber of their high-seed opponent) at least make a respectable showing.com. and the other half of me (yeah that’s 3 halves so what) is just a fanh i dont even care, from this perspective, and will be happy when they play any game and sad when they are done for the year – just like always, since ’73 (Just Wait til Next Year!)

  33. I think you guys are crazy, wanting OKC over SA.

    OKC destroys us we just do not have an answer for Durant and that is huge. Dwight’s impact defensively is minimized vs OKC (poorely contested (at worst) midrange jumpers for Ibaka, Durant, Westbrooke and Martin) and Perkins is a tough match up for Dwight. (if you think this team I’d going anywhere without dwight being a superstar, then your kidding yourself)

    Vs SA? Well, first you have the GregPopovich Theroy (they will run out of gas in the 4th)

    then you have a team that traditionally suffers vs great rebounding (memphis anyone?)

    And finally, let me just say, (i am bring honest) kobe,dwight,pau,nash>parker,duncan,ginobili,lenord in the playoffs… I’m serious. Just wait…

    Which sf is going to kill us vs SA?

    What is SA going to do vs a team with two legit guys that can guard tim “i had a stretch where i played really really well at a weak position, defensively, and people think I’m going to continue to do it for 39 minutes a night vs. pau and Dwight” Duncan

  34. Yeah, WCF baby…

  35. Every season will be a disappointment if we don’t win it all. Period.

    But, realistically I set different standards as the season goes along to satisfy my ‘I thought so’ part of self that helps me deal with the disappointment.

    So while I will be very disappointed with a first round exit, it would be somewhat better than what I expected when Nash broke his leg and slightly worse than what I am expecting now that the team seems to be coming around. Right now my reasonable self has cautiously set the standard at a second round exit, which will change as the season plays out.

    Of course, with each win/loss in the playoffs that standard will change. And of course, I will still be disappointed that we didn’t win the whole thing.

  36. We are all fans which should be and is short for fanatics. We love our Lakers and have become accustom to (and spoiled by) championships. This team has proven that our FO acted hastily when compiling a complete team because of the health of our owner. We have a bunch of pretty pieces that don’t fit. Pau is not the team player that everyone keeps saying he is. D12 must remain because a team with Pau as your primary center will not work. He intimidates no one in the middle and his blocked shots are a result of people “testing him” not because he is a shot blocker. If he doesn’t want to be here, make a trade. though, I would never make trades with Mike D in mind because I hope he’s not here next year. Again, I want a flyer on Jeremy Tyler. Darius will say it’s not my money but it is my opinion.

  37. I have the fanaticism of a football fan. My gunners have disappointed my expectations when they landed Podolski and Santi Cazorla, even with the loss of RVP to Manchester United. But injuries and roster inadequacies have robbed them of contention. Still I will follow them and root for them even if they are relegated to the b league. The journey, even pain and suffering, is part of my interest in sports. Everyone likes happy endings, but sad endings are okay too, as long as there is something to root for in between (save for the Korean hyper violence film). In fact, many fans revel ever slightly in the masochism of rooting for the perpetual down and out. Just ask Cleveland _______ fans.

    When I first read FreeDarko many years ago, I began to think about sports in a different way. I’m still a Laker fan, but I follow the game, the gamers, and unfortunate Kwames born with hands of stone. Too bad liberated fandom has gone by the wayside.