Friday, July 6, 2012

Steve Nash on the Lakers isn't enough to beat the Thunder

Steve Nash going to the Lakers was a coup for Mitch Kupchak. He traded two meaningless first round picks and $3 million to the Suns for a future Hall of Famer. A year after gifting the Mavericks Lamar Odom, the Lakers used the trade exception created in that deal to fix their point guard situation. Point guard was certainly one of the weakest spots for the Lakers last year, but I don't think this move changes much in the Western Conference.

The Thunder made it clear last year by beating the Mavs, Lakers, and Spurs that they were the best team in the West and only getting better. Because of this, the Lakers should be gearing all of their moves towards beating the Thunder. The idea of putting together a team specifically to beat the best teams isn't new. In fact, Sam Presti did this brilliantly two years ago when he acquired Kendrick Perkins to defend the Lakers' centers. Presti's plan came to fruition in this year's playoffs when Perkins and Serge Ibaka limited the effectiveness of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Things are different now. The Thunder don't need to figure out how to beat the Lakers; they are already better. The Lakers need to figure out how to beat the Thunder and Steve Nash is not the answer.

The Lakers lost to the Thunder in five games during the Conference Semifinals in large part because they could not stop Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. The Lakers have no one to guard Durant. Sorry Metta World Peace, you aren't tall enough or long enough. On defense, the combo of Sessions/Blake could not keep Westbrook in front of them, and Kobe is too old to play hard defense against Harden without losing his offensive effectiveness. These issues coupled with the Lakers' lack of athletes capable of forcing turnovers were the reason the Lakers lost, and getting Nash does nothing to change that.

The Heat established the blueprint for beating the Thunder. You need different athletic wing defenders to throw at Durant, an athletic two who can shut down Harden, and team defense to stop Westbrook from getting to the rim. On offense, having a quick big man or a big man with a reliable jump shot like Chris Bosh takes Ibaka and Perkins away from the rim, limiting their strengths. Bynum and Gasol lack the quickness to drive from the elbow and play primarily from the post. Kendrick Perkins can literally only defend guys in the post like Gasol and Bynum. Well, he can also scowl and pout. Ibaka's defensive value comes from blocking weak side shots, so having a big guy who can pull him out of the lane and hit shots from the elbow or baseline is perfect. Again, Gasol and Bynum can't do this consistently enough. These are obviously incredibly difficult things to accomplish. There is a reason the Thunder made the Finals, but they have weaknesses that can be exploited.

Adding Nash to the Lakers will help their offense tremendously, but it still hurts their defense. The wisdom of giving three years to an older player is another issue, but let's not digress. Steve Nash is an incredible shooter, and in a pick and roll, he will make Bynum and Gasol better on offense. He will increase everyone's efficiency and help Kobe's knees survive a 17th season. These things will be good enough to propel the Lakers past other top West teams like the Spurs, Mavs, Clippers, and Grizzlies, but not the Thunder.

The Lakers have not adjusted their team to stop the Thunder specifically. They don't have a wing defender capable of guarding Durant. They don't have someone quick enough to get around Perkins. They don't even have someone quick enough to stop Nick Collision from dominating the offensive boards. Until the Lakers address these glaring issues, they cannot be taken seriously as a team capable of winning the West. The Lakers need a bench with wings capable of defending multiple positions, a backup point guard quick enough to stay with guards, and a big man capable of hurting the defense with his shooting or quickness. The Lakers need to spend the rest of their off-season towards getting players with the specific abilities necessary to beat the Thunder. The path to the Finals goes through OKC, and even getting Steve Nash doesn't change that.

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