The Inbounds: Steve Nash, the Lakers, and the lawlessness of the point guard wilderness

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy.

“How does Steve Nash help them stop Russell Westbrook or Tony Parker?’

That’s the standard reaction from skeptics to the Lakers’ addition of Steve Nash. Sure, Nash can dish at an obscenely high rate even as 40 comes screaming at him like a bald eagle ready to pounce on him with a good ol’ American mid-life crisis on his Canadian head. Sure, he can still shoot at an efficiency that makes the assembly line look like two dudes with hammers whacking away at sheet metal. But Nash has never been a good defender. People with full understanding know that it’s in large part because he has a degenerative back condition that forces him to lay down every time he goes to the bench and that the fact he’s able to move laterally at all is a miracle. But it doesn’t change anything. Nash isn’t going to make the Lakers’ point guard defense, which was shredded against OKC in the Western Conference Finals and in the regular season against San Antonio. 

Here’s the problem with that line of reasoning.

We’ve reached critical mass with point guard offensive talent in the NBA. Versus every other position in the league, point guard is no longer determined by “who can you line up to beat the other guy across the lineup sheet from you” and has gone simply to “who’s the guy that can do the most damage for your side?”

Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, Kyle Lowry, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Steve Nash.

Then there’s Ty Lawson, Brandon Jennings, Jameer Nelson, Jrue Holiday, Darren Collison, Jeff Teague, John Wall, Mike Conley, Stephen Curry, Isaiah Thomas.

That’s a murderer’s row for defenses. Those guys can slice, dice, torch, saute, roast, blend, poach, chew up and spit out any defense out there on any given night. Very few of them can be defended with one player, it necessitates a team effort. And almost none of them can defend well enough on their own.  Westbrook and Parker often play to standstills across their season series, based on their inability to contain one or the other. Chris Paul will slide by any defender, manipulate any switch, but put him on an island, and you’d better have help behind him. This has less to do with the quality of these players as defenders, and more with the elite level of offense that is produced by this caliber of point guard, and the sheer number of such guards they face night in and night out.

(Note: Not all these players struggle to defend. Clearly Rajon Rondo is a crackdown, lockout, shut-em-out defender, but by and large, the trend skews towards turnstyle.)

Consider how often you’r seeing small forwards shift to cover point guards. LeBron James on Rajon Rondo. Andre Iguodala on Derrick Rose. Carmelo Anthony on Deron Williams. It’s trying to contain the elite perimeter speed with size and length, and even then, you have to have great help defense. That’s the real hallmark of a great defense in this league. The Bulls’ defense isn’t elite because Derrick Rose is able to shadow, harass, and bottle up anyone who tries to create outside-in, it’s based on their ability to bring a second and third and fourth guy to swipe, challenge, and deter once they get past Rose. And Rose has become a passable defender! What of the teams like the Lakers with Nash? The truth remains that with players like Westbrook, it’s partially challenging them at multiple opportunities, partially goading them into the shots you want them to take (that they can still hit), and living with it. But that’s not something you can stomach if you’re one of the few teams bringing a knife to a heavy artillery fight.

That may make the Knicks’ situation with Jeremy Lin as fascinating as anything. Lin’s defense was surely questionable. But over and over again last season, he found ways to make plays on his own. When Lin has the advantage, great. When he doesn’t, all he has to do is be what I refer to as a “painkiller.” He just has to take away enough of the sting from what the point guard is doing on offense by providing his own numbing euphoria with timely buckets and big shots. Do that, and you can survive the onslaught if the rest of the team steps up.

With the Lakers, they have the capacity to be an elite defensive team. They showed it at times. But they were so discombobulated for such long stretches that you could tell they lost their way on both ends. With Nash, the offense will be great. Not fine. Not better. Great. He solves nearly every issue they have, specifically. And he’ll get torched.  The Lakers will once again have a hard time finding ways to slow down or deter opposing point guards. Nash will do almost none of that.

But look around you. We’re in a point guard looting-and-plundering paradise. Point guards are the Allied Powers, cleaning out the Eagle’s Nest. If it’s not bolted down, they’re taking it. The Lakers have to win all the other battles, and that’s a bigger trick for Mike Brown and company. But they can live with Nash letting his man get past him. He’s going to get past his guy enough, make the right pass enough, hit the big shot enough.

This is a league where point guard play is the Wild West. It’s not about law and order, or structure. It’s just about who’s got the fastest gun and the most bullets. And Steve Nash?

He’ll make you famous.

LeBron James: Team chemistry not “like instant oatmeal. It is not that fast.”

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We shouldn’t overreact to the opening night loss for the Lakers in Portland, there were a lot of things in there we should have expected. First, Portland is a superb team led by two All-Stars that is always tough at home. The  Moda Center is never an easy place to win for any team. Second, the shooting woes the Lakers had were too be expected when we looked at the roster, and while it’s going to be a lingering problem all season they will have better nights than 7-of-30 from three and 0-of-7 from the corners.

However, the biggest takeaway is this: The Lakers lacked continuity and chemistry, and in a one-point game in the fourth (101-100) that really started to show, while the Trail Blazers are primarily the same team running primarily the same system, and their chemistry fueled the win.

That also shouldn’t be a surprise. So LeBron James, how long is it going to take for the Lakers to find that chemistry? (As reported by Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN).

“Um, not as fast as you guys think it’s going to happen,” James said when asked how long it will take for the Lakers’ chemistry to develop. “I always kind of compare it to like instant oatmeal. It is not that fast. It takes a while to get to where you can close your eyes and know exactly where your guys are.”

LeBron has history on his side here. Both when he went to Miami to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and when he returned to Cleveland, his teams got off to slow starts as they figured out their team chemistry. It takes player a while to adjust to playing with LeBron — who was working hard to set his Laker teammates Thursday rather than just taking over — and for him to adjust to them. Both those Cleveland and Miami teams went on to the NBA Finals.

The difference is this is the West and there is almost no margin for error, and early struggles could cost the Lakers’ playoff seeding. Or more.

Shirtless man berates Bulls center Cristiano Felicio on Philadelphia street: ‘You ain’t no Michael Jordan’

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Cristiano Felicio didn’t play in the Bulls’ loss to the 76ers last night.

But the center made an appearance in Philadelphia.

Josh Haber:

Plenty of well-articulated points here that are worth thoughtfully considering.

Steve Kerr: “I support Colin Kaepernick 100 percent,” says true patriotism is helping others

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If you’ve seen or heard Steve Kerr talking politics in the past few years, it’s no surprise the Warriors coach has Colin Kaepernick’s back — he’s blasted the NFL’s national anthem policy before

Kerr once again threw his support behind Kaepernick during a wide-ranging interview with Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area, which can only be seen in full on the new NBC Sports My Teams app (you can see part of the interview video above).

“I support Colin Kaepernick 100 percent, and I think he deserves a chance to play,” Kerr said to NBC Sports Bay Area. “And I was happy see Eric Reid was picked up recently — Kap’s teammate who also knelt last year. So I support their right to play.”

Earlier in the same interview, Kerr shared his qualms with the militaristic and nationalistic displays before sporting events. What if the NBA just did away with the anthem before games completely?

“It wouldn’t bother me. I’m not for it, nor against it,” Kerr said. “I believe patriotism is about doing something good for others, for other Americans. That’s the best way to be patriotic, to get out and volunteer and help others. That’s what drives me crazy about the uproar over the NFL players who have knelt in a fight for social justice. So many of them have given so much to their communities — given not just money but time. I read a lot about Malcolm Jenkins in Philadelphia and what he’s done in his community. And Chris Long. And people like Colin Kaepernick who have given a million dollars to charity.

“I’m so proud of so many athletes who are out there in their communities, knowing the power they have and the financial resources they have to make a change. That’s patriotism to me. The anthem is just kind of a symbol for that.”

The NBA has not faced the same national anthem issues as the NFL because no NBA players have taken a knee (they have locked arms on some teams). There are a lot of reasons for that, most of which have nothing to do with politics (or even the NBA’s rule that players “stand and line up in a dignified posture” during the anthem). For the NBA it’s more about  Commissioner Adam Silver and owners encouraging players to speak out on social issues, making the players feel heard (and cutting off the problem before it blew up). Besides, the player/owner power balance is different in the NBA than NFL, no NBA owner would dare cross a superstar player that way (the free agent backlash would be sharp). Of course, the biggest reason is the NBA’s core demographic is younger, more diverse, and more urban (read: bluer) than the NFL’s, and if an NBA player kneeled there would not be the same kind of vitriol from the fan base. Most would just agree.

However, protesting during the anthem is an issue that still hovers over the NFL. While Kerr wants to see Kaepernick get a chance to play, as a former general manager himself he understands why it has not happened (and it’s not about anything on the field).

“I also see this entire media frenzy that surrounds it,” Kerr said. “And if I’m a GM of a team, I know the minute I sign Colin Kaepernick, it’s like signing Tim Tebow. Or it’s like signing, you know, one of the Ball brothers. And that’s probably a bad analogy. But it’s going to come with a storm. So even if your heart’s in the right place, and you go, ‘You know what? This is all BS,’ I want my team to be able to function. And I want to bring in a backup quarterback. But I don’t want a news conference every single day. I could see a GM going, ‘Man, I don’t really want to deal with that.’ That’s modern media. That’s modern American life.”

Kerr plans to keep using his platform to speak out on American life. And some basketball.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Anthony Davis wants to be great player on great team ‘every year. Not every other year. Not every few years. Every year’

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Pelicans star Anthony Davis has made the playoffs just twice in six years. Last season was the first time he won a a series.

That’s atypical for a player of his caliber.

Davis, via Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

“When you look at LeBron, every year you know he’s going to be great and his team is going to have a chance to win the title,” Davis said. “From here on out, I want to be in that conversation every year. Not every other year. Not every few years. Every year. If that’s going to happen, we’re going to have to win, and I’m going to have to be the most dominant player.”

Davis is putting it on himself to be that player.

The big question: Are the Pelicans good enough to be that team?

Both Davis and New Orleans met his expectations in a resounding opening win over the Rockets, but it’s a long season. The Pelicans are good, though flawed. They’ve never contended for a title with Davis, let alone done so annually. As he enters the midst of his prime, it might be now or never.

Davis can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and he’s setting a bar. A high one.