While the Miami Heat may be the defending NBA champion, most of the media attention at the start of this year’s NBA preseason is focused on the Los Angeles Lakers. In what has been prematurely deemed one of the best and most important off-seasons in NBA history, the Lakers acquired two future Hall of Famers in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. But screw that premature praise; the Lakers are going to win the 2013 NBA championship.
As a Lakers fan, I am absolutely thrilled by the acquisitions of Howard and Nash and on paper, the Lakers should be the most talented team in the league and the front-runner for the championship. However, I want to give caution to both Lakers fans and haters that there will most definitely be bumps in the road. Much like Miami’s first season with “The Big Three”, the Lakers will be heavily scrutinized if they ever lose to a team at the bottom of the standings or go on a three-game-losing streak. Losses will happen; the Lakers will not break records for the most wins in one season, but this will be a supremely talented and entertaining team to watch.
Miami struggled in its first season to develop chemistry, as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all struggled to find roles on the Heat. Maybe the Lakers will have some chemistry issues to start the season, but with some of the smartest and hardest-working players in the game, the Lakers’ transition into a poised and cohesive unit should be much faster than that of the Heat.
Pau Gasol, Kobe and Nash possibly have the highest basketball IQ of anyone at their respective positions and Howard is a one-of-a- kind athlete at center. Kobe is no longer 25 years old. He knows he cannot continue to score 30 points a game and he will adapt to the new roster because he will do whatever it takes to win that sixth ring.
The Lakers might lose a few games early in the season as they find their groove, but come playoff time, they should be the most feared squad in the league and unlike the Heat, finish the first season together as champions.
Starting Point Guard: Steve Nash
Nash is one of the all-time greats in terms of passing ability and basketball IQ. He is not the most gifted athlete in the world and has never been a great defender, but his abilities on the offensive side of the ball are unquestioned. He averaged over 12 points and 10 assists a game last year. His high assist numbers will be aided by the fact that he is playing with three other All-stars. Expect Nash’s scoring average to stay relatively the same, with his assists rising by one or two a game. Nash can hit the three ball as well, an often forgotten aspect of his game that has been sorely lacking for the Lakers. Starting Shooting Guard: Kobe Bryant
Kobe is obviously an all-time top-five player. His ability to score in bunches has produced some of the most remarkable performances in the history of the game. At 34 years old, he will not average the nearly 28 points per game he put forth last year. I would say 25 points is a more realistic projection for the guard, with maybe five or six rebounds and assists each a game. With all of the offensive weapons on the team, Kobe’s scoring will drop, but his assist numbers should rise. You know Kobe is hungry for his sixth championship.
Starting Small Forward: Metta World Peace
World Peace is nowhere near as talented as he was during his days with the Kings and Pacers, but he is still an above average defender.
Apparently motivated by the new acquisitions, he is in the best shape since his days with the Pacers. If he can perform as he did during the last month of the regular season, where he averaged over 14 points per game, the Lakers will truly have a weapon at each position.
World Peace will have many opportunities for open shots and if he can knock them down and play tough defense, Los Angeles should be able to beat any team in the league.
Starting Power Forward: Pau Gasol
Pau’s numbers last year were very inconsistent. He averaged over 17 points per game during the season and nearly 20 during the last month, but his numbers in the playoffs dropped off considerably at under 13 a game. With Howard under the rim, Gasol can play where he is most comfortable — 10-15 feet from the basket — and take more open jumpers. If he can replicate his performance for Spain in this summer’s
Olympics, he can be one of the top power forwards in the game. When Gasol goes into beast mode, he looks like an
All-star. The only problem is he lacks that consistent tenacity. Gasol should see a boost in production, as teams will be forced to pay more attention to other weapons on the offense.
But the main difference between the 2010 Heat and the 2012 Lakers is the unquestioned leadership. Kobe Bryant is the leader of this team. Dwight Howard has even said he is eager to learn from Kobe and is looking forward to being challenged by the hardest working player in the game. Kobe will concede control of the offense to Nash, but control of the game is still his. The same unquestioned leadership could not be said about the Heat.
LeBron and Wade often struggled in late-game situations, both fighting to be the “Alpha Dog” in the relationship. James had yet to perfect the late-game finishing touch he developed last season. At the end of a game, you know Kobe is taking the last shot if he has it; none of that passing to a backup as LeBron did with Udonis Haslem.
Let’s look at a position-by-position breakdown for the Lakers and the possible impact each member of the starting five will have on the team this season.
Starting Center: Dwight Howard
The best big man in the game, Howard is an athletic freak, featuring the speed of a small forward and the power of a center. He opens up the Lakers pick-and-roll game and forces defenders to double-team him so he cannot get to the rim. He may not have a great back to the basket game, but he will have plenty of opportunities to score, especially with Nash passing him the ball. Defensively, Howard is a drastic upgrade over Andrew Bynum and gives the Lakers a defensive presence unmatched in the league.
The Lake Show will play some entertaining basketball this season. If they can produce on the floor with the talent that they have on paper, this could be a team for the ages. The starting five is set, and with an improved bench consisting of Antawn Jamison, Jordan Hill, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake, the Lakers have the talent to become champions this season as well as over the next three years. Questions of depth remain for the Lakers, but they possess the most talented starting five in the league. I hope the NBA is ready for an exciting season of basketball.