Nash no longer elite in L.A.
Two weeks ago, if you were to ask me what the most intriguing fantasy basketball development in Julymight be, I'd have listed some of the rumored probable possibilities: Deron Williams to Dallas, Williams and Dwight Howard to Brooklyn, a Howard/Andrew Bynum swap, a Josh Smith/Pau Gasol swap, Steve Nash to the Knicks (or Mavericks) and Mike D'Antoni to, well, anywhere.
If I'd known Mitch Kupchak might do this, Nash to the Lakers would have shot straight to second place, right behind whatever happens to Howard.
Even at an advanced career stage, the bringing together of Nash and Kobe in the same backcourt is a numerically delicious collision, the closest fantasy hoops has come to a Higgs Boson moment since "The Decision." It also allows us to project a scenario in the neighborhood of what Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers might have been.
Barring a Dwight Howard swap, four-fifths of the Lakers' lineup would appear to be locked in:
For fantasy purposes -- per usual with the post-Odom Lakers -- we can restrict our discussion to Los Angeles' starting five (with an occasional Matt Barnes sighting. By the way, Ramon Sessions may have signed with Dallas by the time I finish typing this sentence).
With the Lakers still sporting a relatively thin bench, this aging/aged group will be counted upon to hold down a large portion the Lakers' available minutes. Last year their MPG (minutes per game) averages went like this: Kobe 38.5, Gasol 37.2, Bynum 35.2, Peace 26.9. Nash, 38, clocked in at 31.6 MPG, a number we can probably expect to hold steady as long as Steve Blake remains the only option at backup point guard.
We're not talking about a ton of new variables to consider. We're essentially swapping Sessions for Nash, and probably Peace for a new starting small forward.
What makes this interesting to project fantasy-wise is that there isn't a comparable situation to be found within Bryant's career history. Kobe's first big run was within the confines of the Triangle; he got used to having the ball in his hands, and matters have largely remained the same over the past decade.
The Lakers have run a more traditional point guard-centric attack over the past couple of seasons with Mike Brown. But aside from a one-month honeymoon period burst with Sessions, this has essentially been Kobe's team to command (or restrain, depending on your point of view). The issue with Bryant lately is that although Kobe has still been "getting his," it's been in conjunction with a drop in efficiency (his 21.9 PER last season tied for his lowest rating since the previous millennium).
By and large, here's what I expect, realizing that more moves (including a big, big one for Howard) could be in the offing:
1. Any commingling of superstars means that while efficiencies may stay the same or even rise, raw volume-based numbers will fall. It happened in Boston, it happened in Miami, and it will happen in Los Angeles. You already had three stars in L.A. with Kobe, Bynum and Gasol. Adding a fourth -- even a master distributor like Nash -- won't boost anyone's fantasy portfolio.
2. Playing off the ball will conspire with the aging process to cause a natural, yet acceptable, dip in Kobe's production. A couple of comparable situations could be post-Decision Dwyane Wade and post-Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen Paul Pierce. (Yes, Nash doesn't score as much as LeBron/Bosh or KG/Ray Allen, but the ball will be in his hands for the start of most trips downcourt.)
Dwyane Wade's statistics before and after LeBron James.
Paul Pierce's statistics before and after Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.
I'll throw one more comp at you; 2003-04 Kobe Bryant. The Malone/Payton year. That was the last time we witnessed a large drop in Kobe's Usage Rate (32.9% to 29.1%). That year, his averages dropped from 30.0 PPG, 5.9 AST, and 6.9 REB to 24.0 PPG, 5.1 AST, and 5.5 REB. Those numbers -- give or take an assist -- feel about right (for the time being).
3. Unless Mike Brown allows Nash and Kobe to significantly alter the Lakers' iso-rich offensive philosophy, you shouldn't expect a large jump in Los Angeles' overall offensive output. Their pace (92.9 possessions per game in 2011-12, good for 20th in the NBA) could rise slightly, but the Lakers won't become the Suns any time soon. The silver lining, fantasy-wise, is that the Lakers will remain an elite rebounding team.
4. Nash's assist numbers may drop significantly. This is due to the fact that Nash will have to appease Kobe on the offensive end. That means fewer pick-and-rolls and more isolation sets.
I'd project a reversion back to Nash's Dallas production, which saw him average around 7.5 assists per game. The stunning efficiency numbers and percentages will still be there, but I'd temper my expectations to around 13 points and 8 assists a night. Which would make Nash a more ambulatory version of Jose Calderon.
5. Gasol's numbers won't suffer as much as some people might think. In the aftermath of the CP3 switcheroo, it was obvious that Gasol sort of regressed in 2011-12, notching only 17.9 points and 10.4 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game (his assists per game remained impressive at 3.7).
Gasol's in line for a slight bounce-back season, and his mercurial nature should perk up at the prospect of playing pick-and-roll with Nash. But be warned that Nash's more natural partner on the pick-and-roll could well be (the more explosive) Bynum.
Furthermore, I'd expect a slight drop in Gasol's assists, as the role of facilitator -- once shared by Kobe, Gasol, and the Lakers point guard du jour -- will consolidate under Nash's control. Until we start seeing some preseason games, I'd restrain my Gasol expectations to around 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists a night.
6. Bynum's numbers should hold, and could even, rise if he makes a leap in his maturation process. This is where bringing in Nash and a Grant Hill could have unexpected benefits.
Along with Nash, Hill's presence could balance out Kobe's more, shall we say, "to the point" leadership style. This could have a positive effect on Bynum and Gasol. The natural progression would be for Nash to aid in the torch passing-process from Kobe to Bynum over the next couple of seasons (like, say, Kareem to Magic). But that's assuming Bynum A) stays healthy, B) grows up and C) stays in Los Angeles.
For now, let's pencil in Bynum at around 18 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game.
7. Nash and Kobe may be put on a minutes limit as the season progresses. This may even extend to days off a la Kevin Garnett. Don't worry, Lakers fans, it's for a pleasant reason; because the trade makes the Lakers title contenders once more (still behind Oklahoma City in the West, but at least back in the conversation), they have to think about resting their core for the postseason.
If the Lakers look primed for an extended postseason run, you could see Mike Brown giving his (ahem) experienced stars an occasional breather. I'm not overly concerned about injury; both Kobe and Nash have proved very durable as of late.
But remember the rest factor when considering either player on draft night.
8. Nash will be slightly overvalued now that he's a Laker. It's just the natural order of things. Take any player -- even an all-world one like Nash -- and put him on one of the NBA's most historically hyped franchises, and you'll see him go at least a round too early in fantasy drafts.
9. This could all get reshuffled again if there's a Bynum-for-Howard deal.
Let's talk about the domino effect of Nash to Los Angeles. It has already registered aftershocks in at least three other cities, with Goran Dragic signing with the Suns, Jason Kidd (presumably) joining forces with Jeremy Lin in New York, and Kyle Lowry heading to Toronto.
We have plenty of evidence on how Dragic will perform as A) starting on a team lacking a true No. 1 option, and B) starting for the Suns. It's a very similar dynamic to the one he faced in Houston. I'd project him out to 17 points, 8 assists, 2.0 3-pointers and 2.0 steals per game. Which means I'd draft him ahead of Nash. Start thinking about him late in the second round.
The statistical effect of Kidd-to-the Knicks won't have the impact would have had even two or three years ago. It's a good basketball move, but in fantasy terms, he'll only be siphoning numbers from Jeremy Lin (whose offer sheet I am assuming the Knicks will match).
The floorboards already fell out from beneath Kidd's production last season, so you should at least know what to expect; 6 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 1.5 3-pointers, and 1.5 steals per game. Which would make Kidd a bench player at best in most fantasy formats.
Jose Calderon to Dallas? Doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Calderon has to land somewhere with Kyle Lowry now the presumed starter in Toronto.
Count on Lowry to duplicate the stellar averages he produced with the Rockets; 15 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 3-pointers and 1.5 steals should be within reach.