Steve Nash Addition Is More Critical Than Dwight Howard for L.A. Lakers

When Steve Nash signed with the Lakers this year, it was huge news. Immediately, the Lakers were put back into the hunt for the postseason. Weeks later, the addition of Dwight Howard has made Nash an afterthought, but in the short term, Nash is the more valuable addition. 

Prior to explaining this reasoning, allow me two qualifications to this statement. First, be clear this is a reference to the short term only. This year, and perhaps next year, this will hold true, but over the long term Howard is more valuable. 

Second, Howard is the better player without question. I’m not arguing against that. I’m arguing that for the Lakers, Nash is a better addition. 

There are two reasons for this. First, Howard is only slightly better than Andrew Bynum. But Steve Nash is a vast improvement over Derek Fisher, Ramon Sessions, and the rest of the Lakers’ point guards from last year. 

Last season, with Steve Nash taking the lead role, the Phoenix Suns were a plus 3.6 in efficiency differential from the point guard position, sixth best in the league. The Lakers, by comparison, were 28th in the league with a minus 6.7. 

This is in spite of the fact that perhaps more than any position in the NBA, the point guard is reliant on the rest of his team, and the Lakers had a far superior supporting cast. 

Yet it was Steve Nash who led the five-man-unit who had the third best net rating in the NBA last season, as he made Marcin Gortat, Grant Hill, Channing Frye and Jared Dudley look like a cast of All-Stars. 

The upgrade from any of last year’s guys to Steve Nash for the Lakers is simply colossal. They suddenly have one of the best passers in the history of the league passing to a supporting cast that includes three future future Hall of Fame players. That may be one more than he’s had in his entire career combined. 

On the other hand, the Lakers have traded last year’s Western Conference starter at center in the All-Star Game for his Eastern Conference counterpart. The Lakers were a plus 5.2 in efficiency differential from the center position, good for second in the league. 

It’s not like this is a case of the Lakers filling a hole. They just went from very good to very, very good at the center spot. Are they better? Sure. But how much better did they need to be to win a title?

Where they’ll get the most help from Howard is on help defense. Sure, they’re going to need that defense with Steve Nash playing the point, but they’d need that defense with Ramon Sessions or Steve Blake playing the point.

They needed it last year and Andrew Bynum, to a degree, provided it. Certainly he is not the defensive player that Howard is but he’s not a slouch. Bynum had an opponents’ PER of 13.7 to Howard’s 12.1. Not quite as good, but not so bad. 

The second reason is that with Nash in the fold, Howard will be better, and happier, than he would be without him. 

Last season, in spite of the fact that the Lakers had arguably the two best seven footers in the league on the offensive end of the court, they were only ranked 27th in the league when going to the roll man on the pick and roll. 

Meanwhile, Nash had the Suns as the second most effective team at scoring on the pick and roll. 

While the Lakers averaged just .85 points on those plays, the Suns were scoring at a rate of 1.17 points per play. 

Howard was the second-most efficient player in the NBA last year as the roll man in the pick and roll based on Synergy’s rankings. 

Certainly there’s sufficient reason here to see that Howard and the Lakers will be more efficient this year because Nash will be running the offense. 

Beyond that, the Lakers got what they needed in a “good cop” to Kobe Bryant‘s “bad cop.” Howard, without Nash there, could easily be seen to have a personality conflict with Bryant, who likes to get in his teammates’ faces and set them straight. 

Howard’s tendency can almost lean towards the cavalier and nonchalant, which surely won’t sit well with Bryant’s “I’d rather die than lose” attitude. Nash will be able to serve as the go-between who can relay Bryant’s message to Howard without wounding his feelings. 

Keeping Howard happy will be important, as his feelings effect his play. 

That’s not just true with Howard either. It’s also true with the rest of the team, but it’s more true with Howard who hasn’t grown “Kobe-calluses” yet.

Howard is a better player than Nash, but Nash will be the more important addition because he’s a more critical cog and because he’s more of a leader. He’ll certainly make the Lakers an entertaining team to watch as he’s shredded defenses with his passing before distributing to a far inferior cast. 

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