Just last week this time, the Laker roster was already improved from this past season. Acquiring Steve Nash contributed to that improvement significantly, after decades of insufficiency at the position (see my post on scarcity of Laker point guards below). They improved their bench by bringing in veteran forward Antawn Jamison, a more reliable option than any member of the Laker bench last season. Improvement is the theme for every team during every off season, and just last week, it was fair to say the Lakers had improved.
If you scrolled down to see my post when the Lakers acquired Nash, you also saw my own reaction as a Laker fan. What I then described as a borderline religious experience was exceeded last night when I received text messages from fellow Laker fans simply reading, "DWIGHT". First, allow me to address why I believe Dwight Howard is a better fit than Andrew Bynum. Although Bynum has evolved himself into probably the most dominant offensive center in the league, there are aspects of his floor game that would not benefit this Lakers squad as much as Dwight. Perhaps most notably, the pick-and-roll.
Dwight Howard's biggest criticism has been scoring with his back to the basket. His offensive moves have certainly improved, but Howard clearly thrives in the pick-and-roll game, an area where the 7-foot Bynum was too rigid to include in his arsenal. Dwight Howard shot 74 percent and averaged 1.36 points per possession when involved in a pick-and-roll sequence last season, the best of any big in the NBA. Dwight is more agile than Bynum rolling to the basket, not to mention running the floor and quicker getting off the ground. These attributes make Dwight a better fit for Steve Nash to work with than someone like Andrew Bynum, who thrives more on traditional post-ups and has struggled as a post passer. Defensively, it's no contest. In 2011 Howard became the first player to earn three consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards. A more athletic, tremendous shot blocking protector of the paint for Los Angeles.
Now to address the title of my post. When we say "on paper", it quite literally means looking at a team's roster on a piece of paper. Compare the new Laker roster against any roster in the league (even OKC and Miami) and the Lakers have the advantage in at least one area. Who else has one of the best point guards in Nash, one of the best players in Kobe, one of the best defenders in Metta World Peace, perhaps the most skilled big man in Pau Gasol, and a Dwight Howard, all in their starting five? I've just learned along with Dwight the Lakers also will have Chris Duhon, a worthy back up for Nash, and Earl Clark, a versatile forward who can defend and rebound. Throw in Antawn Jamison and Jordan Hill and you've got yourself a solid bench.
The question marks are there. Dwight and Nash both have had recent back problems. For Nash it might be more strenuous at age 38. Chemistry has to be established. The back court of Nash and Kobe is seasoned (a nice way of saying old). But Steve Nash brings a facilitator this team hasn't seen since Magic, Dwight Howard makes this team more formidable than Andrew Bynum ever could, and just for kicks, the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls' starting guards were both over 33 years of age. They seemed to do just fine.