NBA PM: The Issue Steve Nash Can’t Solve
When Mike D’Antoni took the helm of the Los Angeles Lakers last month, there was a very real concern about one aspect of the team’s game. There was no question that D’Antoni’s offensive prowess would help crank up the Lakers’ fire power, but D’Antoni’s defensive problems are equally well-known, and an immediate concern arose that perhaps the Lakers wouldn’t defend well enough to live up to their hype.
There were reasons to believe the Lakers might be better defensively than D’Antoni’s Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks right off the bat, starting with the presence of one of the NBA’s best shot-blockers in the low post. Dwight Howard’s ability to change shots and impact the defense around the rim would almost certainly give the Lakers a defensive advantage that D’Antoni’s previous teams didn’t have. Equally, Kobe Bryant’s perimeter defense would provide a built-in defensive advantage for the Lakers on the perimeter. Pau Gasol’s length next to Howard and Metta World Peace’s defensive presence would possibly be enough to make up for their new head coach’s lack of focus on that end of the floor.
The injury to Steve Nash set the Lakers back in a number of ways, but it likely had little or no impact on the defensive end of the floor. Nash or no Nash, the Lakers have been little more than average defensively.
The Lakers are off to a 9-12 start on the season and have lost seven of their last ten games. They are currently sitting at 13th in the league in team defense, yielding 98.71 points per game, and 17th in opponent’s field goal percentage, allowing teams to shoot 44.3 percent against them. Their combined defensive stats rank them 15th in the league overall, including 16th in transition defense, 23rd in defending a short shot clock, 24th in pick-and-roll man and 25th in defending cutters. They do rank 11th in post defense and third in preventing offensive put-backs, both due in large part to the presence of Howard. They are also second in the NBA in defending against spot-up buckets, due largely to the efforts of Bryant and Peace.
The return of Nash is unlikely to change the Lakers’ fortunes on the defensive end, as he, himself, is not a particularly good defender. Last season he ranked in just the 58th percentile on the defensive end of the court, including 29th percentile against spot-up shooters, 47th percentile on hand-off plays, 56th percentile when defending a pick-and-roll ball handler and 57th percentile in isolation. He did rank in the 86th percentile (excellent) in defending off a screen, but that also only accounted for 4.2 percent of the Suns’ defense last season.
There’s no question that the return of Nash will help the Lakers offensively, and there’s reason to believe that Pau Gasol could regain All-Star form as a result of playing with one of the best playmakers in the history of the NBA. It’s just that scoring hasn’t been a big issue for the Lakers, who are currently seventh in the league at 101.81 points scored per game. In their loss to the Jazz last night, the Lakers scored 110 points, shot 54 percent from three, 47 percent overall, and scored 25 points off of Utah Jazz turnovers. That’s a great offensive performance for any team. The problem is that they also allowed the Jazz, a Western Conference middle-of-the-pack team, to shoot 54 percent from the field en route to scoring 117 points.
That’s a problem that Steve Nash won’t help at all; in fact, he might make it a little bit worse.
Greg Monroe Proving His Worth
It sometimes takes a while for young big men to find their way in the NBA, and that has been the case with Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe. Selected with the seventh overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the Georgetown product is starting to come into his own as an NBA big man.
“You just have to come out and work, let the game come to you,” Monroe tells HOOPSWORLD of his approach. “My coaches and my teammates have put me in a lot of good positions to be successful, so I just try to execute and try to follow through with the plans and do what I know I can do within myself. At the end of the day, I just want to make sure I’m making plays and I’m willing to do anything to help my team win.”
November was one of the best months of Monroe’s career, as he averaged 16.7 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free throw line.
“He is another guy that has gotten better,” says Pistons head coach Lawrence Frank. “Each and every time he is out there he has made shots. He’s a guy that is a multiple-tool player in that he is not just a scorer but he is a very gifted passer. You can make the argument that he is the best passer on our team, and a very, very good rebounder. He has a big thirst and desire to want to improve and get better, he continues to make shots.”
Frank also likes the way Monroe is starting to be a leader on the team, helping young players like Andre Drummond find their way.
“I think it’s always a learning process for all those guys and I think that’s why each guy has to help each other and be willing to listen to each other and I think Greg has Jason Maxiell in front of him and Charlie Villanueva, guys with veteran experience,” says Frank. “Then Andre has those guys and then it’s the constant pushing and prodding of each other to do more and do better.”
Monroe credits his growing chemistry with second-year point guard Brandon Knight for helping him take his own game to a new level.
“Yeah, the more time we’re together, the better we’ll play together,” says Monroe. “He’s definitely gotten better as far as making plays, he’s always been a good scorer. The more we play, the better we’ll be as far as chemistry.”
The Pistons are off to a disappointing, if not surprising, 7-15 start, but they have also won five of their last ten games and are starting to put some things together. Monroe says his team’s desire to win is helping to change the losing culture that has embodied the team in recent years.
“Guys want to win here; we’re competitors,” says Monroe. “We want to win as a group, so it’s definitely something that we don’t like and we’re working hard as a group to try and change that.”
With Monroe and the rest of his young teammates showing incremental improvements, it may just be that the worst of the Pistons’ extended rebuilding period is behind them.
Kyrie Irving Set To Return
It seems the early part of the 2012-13 NBA season been defined by injuries as much as by what’s happened on the court, and while stars like Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Andrew Bynum are all still on the shelf, one injured starter is set to return to his team tomorrow night.
Cleveland Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving was on a tear before being sidelined by a fractured finger after just ten games. He was averaging 22.9 points and 5.6 assists per game while shooting 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from three. The Cavs were just 2-8 to start the season, but there was a real positive for their fans embodied in the eye-popping play of their young floor general.
The team has won just two more games in his absence, but there is a very real understanding that the Cavaliers are closer to the beginning of their complete rebuild than they are to the end. It’s hard to make progress along that road without the floor general in place.
While Irving sat out, rookie Dion Waiters stepping up his scoring to nearly 16 points per game, though his efficiency left a lot to be desired as he shot just over 30 perfect in his last ten games. It will be interesting to see how his games change now that he has the confidence of being able to put up good numbers along with the set-up man to help him do it more efficiently.
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