The Los Angeles Lakers appear to have drastically improved their roster from last year with the two major trades they made this summer acquiring Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. So much so that many are calling them NBA title favorites already.
On paper, the two trades seem like they will definitely make the Lakers a bigger threat in the Western Conference, where they finished third last season behind the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.
Let’s take a closer look at how Howard and Nash will change the Lakers’ offense.
The Lakers were in the bottom half of the league last season in pick-and-roll offense efficiency at 0.84 PPP. The Lakers have been a team that hasn’t had a point guard play a significant role on it in recent history. L.A. acquired Ramon Sessions last season and he improved them in that department somewhat but not much.
Most of the ball handling was done by Kobe Bryant who was second in the NBA last season averaging 27.9 points per game although shot only 43 percent from the field. Kobe found his offense with the pick-and-roll 12.2 percent of the time and had a 0.86 PPP.
The two primary roll men in the pick-and-roll for the Lakers were of course Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Gasol was surprisingly below average with a 0.73 PPP. Bynum was hardly ever used in the pick-and-roll, just 3.4 percent of the time, and had a 1.12 PPP.
Nash and Howard should help the Lakers most in this area of the offense. Nash has been a master of the pick-and-roll for all of his career and Howard is one of the best roll men in the league.
Nash did 60.9 percent of his scoring in the pick-and-roll last season and had a 0.92 PPP. Nash is also as good a passer as anyone in the league and was second in the NBA last season in assists. This doesn’t take into account how effective he is distributing as well.
Howard was the roll man 8.9 percent of the time on offense and had a blistering 1.36 PPP. Howard may even improve upon that number now being surrounded by more offensive options and Nash handling the ball most of the time.
Gasol is the player most likely to benefit from playing with Nash now. Gasol will never be wasted with Nash on the floor and should good more touches in better spots. He should become the perfect pick-and-pop option as well.
The Lakers posted up as much as any team in the NBA last season as it accounted for 20.5 percent of their offense. They were very efficient at it two finishing second in the NBA with a 0.89 PPP.
Kobe was most efficient when working out of the post with a 0.93 PPP and he got 19.3 percent of his offense from there. Gasol had a 0.95 PPP and Bynum 0.89.
Howard was right around where Bynum was last season posting a 0.88 PPP. This is where acquiring Howard shouldn’t be too much of an upgrade from what Bynum did last season. Bynum has one of the best post-up games in the NBA and played nearly the entire season last year making his first All-Star game for the Lakers.
One area where the Lakers really thrived in was scoring off cuts, which often came from big-to-big passing out of the post. Gasol had a 1.17 PPP on cuts last season and Bynum had a 1.53. They each got a decent chunk of their offense from this too, 14 percent or more for both. The Lakers as a team were fifth in PPP in cuts last season at 1.26.
Howard only got 8.2 percent of his offense from cuts last season, about half as much as Bynum, and had a 1.41 PPP. Gasol is a very skilled passer as a big so we should expect Howard to have more offense from this next season. Not to mention Nash who will open up more opportunities for cuts in the offense next year as well.
The Lakers got 12.4 percent of their offense from isolation plays last season and were right in the middle of the pack with a 0.79 PPP.
Kobe of course leads the way in this department with isolations accounting for 27.9 percent of his offense. That number should go down some next season as Kobe won’t feel the need to try and do everything for the Lakers on offense with Nash and Howard in town now.
Kobe had a 0.86 PPP on isolations which isn’t bad but he is on the decline overall and the less he has to rely on isolations, the better for the Lakers. Kobe has been more reliant on his jumper more than ever lately and has lost a step on his drive.
Nash is a very good isolation player too and often looks to score in these situations after bigs switch on to him in a pick-and-roll. Nash had a PPP of 0.89 on isolation plays last season.
Spot-up shooting is the area Nash will really help the Lakers. You can go down a long list of pros that Nash made into excellent 3-point shooters just by playing with them. The Lakers went to spot-up shooting plays 16.6 percent of the time last season and were 19th in the league with a 0.94 PPP.
Kobe had a 0.92 PPP on spot-ups and Gasol 0.88. Expect both of those numbers to go up and to see the Lakers get more of their offense from spot-up jumpers as well. The acquisitions of Jodie Meeks (1.03 PPP) and Antawn Jamison (0.93 PPP) will help in this department as well.
The Lakers should have a much more efficient offense next season in the pick-and-roll and spot-up shooting. Howard is hardly an upgrade over Bynum in the post however. Nash will make things very easy for everyone and shooting percentages should all climb from last season.
The Lakers were close last season and Howard and Nash will make them legitimate title contenders next season. This was just how their offense will improve next season. Their defense should as well with the impact Howard makes on the end of the floor, being second to none.
The key will be how much time it takes these guys to learn to play together. This isn’t like what Miami had to deal with when LeBron, Wade and Bosh teamed up. All of these pieces fit so we should see them gel quicker more like how Boston did back in 2008.