Given the acquisitions made by the Los Angeles Lakers, the Western Conference will go through them with all due respect to the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. The purple and gold have the talent and more importantly, they now have two cold-blooded killers in Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash — Nash never gets mentioned for his late game ability, but he is lethal in clutch situations — to take over games whenever things get tight. In a league where contests are often decided in the last five minutes of a ball game, that is a huge advantage.
Mind you, it’s impossible for players to always come through in the clutch regardless of their reputations for raising their level of play with the game on the line.
Thus, if a team can keep games relatively close and be within striking distance late in the ball game, anything goes. Indeed, the Sacramento Kings have had a knack for doing so against both the Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors but have failed to close out these games for the most part; mostly because they lack cohesion as a ball club.
But the question arises: can the Golden State Warriors give this new Lakers team the same type of fits that the Kings have given them in seasons past?
Let’s make this clear from the outset, the Dubs do not have the talent that the Lakers possess nor do they have the rich history and tradition; but they do measure up to some extent.
Indeed, the Warriors projected starting five of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Richard Jefferson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut could be problematic on paper for a Lakers squad that projects to start Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
The strategies of both teams will obviously play a huge part in dictating the matchup, but the first thing that jumps out is that both squads have legit options at center.
The Dubs might run a few post ups for Bogut but he will not be counted on to be the team’s primary offensive option whereas the Lakers will do so with Howard. Indeed, given the team’s penchant to dump the ball into the post in the past few years, it stands to reason that they will favor that strategy and go to the block to the big man.
For his career, Dwight Howard has averaged 18.4 points per game on 57.7 percent field goal shooting. In the past two seasons, he’s averaged just a little over 13 field goal attempts per game and double-figure free throw attempts in about 38 minutes of playing time on his way to over 20 points per game. Needless to say, he is somewhat of a force to be reckoned with given his size, strength, finishing ability and all of the fouls he draws.
There are times at which Howard must simply be double-teamed for fear that he might run roughshod through a team, much like he did to the Warriors last season with the best performance of his career.
But that equation changes dramatically with Andrew Bogut.
The Australian big man may not necessarily be as strong as the new Lakers player, but his big body, length and foot speed can complicate Howard’s life on the block. Indeed, the Utah product can defend D12 one-on-one and force him to make shots more than most big men can.
Unfortunately, Bogut did not play head-to-head with Howard last season due to injury, but we still have some data from the 2010-11 regular season.
According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, both players were matched up for 48 minutes total — which technically translates into a full game — during the 2010-11 season and the new age Superman produced 18 points, three offensive rebounds and 18 total rebounds on 6-for-10 field goal shooting and 6-for-10 free throw shooting.
Mind you, in 80 minutes with Bogut on the bench (or out with injury), Howard put up 59 points, 12 offensive rebounds and 33 total rebounds on 17-for-28 (60.7 percent) field goal shooting and 25-for-42 free throw shooting against the Milwaukee Bucks. The totals might not hit home, so let’s take those figures and project them over 48 minutes: 35.4 points per game, 7.2 offensive rebounds per game and 19.8 total rebounds per game on 16.8 field goal attempts per game and 25.2 free throw attempts per game.
The former Milwaukee Buck certainly seems to make a difference against the overpowering Howard doesn’t he?
Keep in mind, it’s not so much that Bogut neutralizes Howard, but more so that he tends to keep him under or close to his career averages, which is all you can ask for from a standout defensive player going up against the best player at his position.
And when we incorporate the other players, things become increasingly interesting. For instance, Stephen Curry has had some good shooting games against Steve Nash in his career, but that’s mostly been because he’s been camped out in the corner waiting for passes from Monta Ellis; but he’s struggled against the Lakers — 16.6 points per game on 41 percent field goal shooting and 27.5 percent 3-point field goal shooting — because they forced the ball out of the hands of Ellis and often forced the Davidson product to make plays and or shots with either a good defender or the outstretched arms of a big man in his face. With Ellis gone, Curry’s role changes and perhaps so does the type of looks he now gets.
Klay Thompson on the other hand had some good and bad stretches against the Lakers last season because he often chased shots instead of allowing them to simply come to him. With Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace in his mug, it seemed as though the rookie wanted to prove to the world he could compete with the big boys and thus took several ill-advised shots. Mind you, later in the season, his shot selection proved to be far more judicious and even his performance in summer league play suggests that he is more confident in his game but also more prudent. Far be it from me to suggest that Thompson could match Bryant’s overall game, but he might make the superstar guard work just enough through screens to somewhat affect his game at the other end.
And to boot, we have two power forwards with completely different statistical outputs, and yet the one with the “lesser” stat line is by far the better player. Make no mistake though, David Lee is a lot to handle for every big man in the league and he will push Pau Gasol to perform and play well for his team to be successful.
Last season, the Florida product gave the Lakers some fits as he put up 21.7 points per game, 8.7 rebounds per game and 3.7 assists per game on 42.1 percent field goal percentage. His ability to set up shop on the block and convert with either hand as well as his natural knack for rolling hard on pick-and-rolls make him a tough cover for opposing big men; although the Lakers length has bothered him at times.
The Dubs struggled on occasion against the Los Angeles Lakers last season and lost all three head-to-head matchups against them. Mind you, they managed to make the games extremely competitive despite the fact that two of the games came after the Warriors waived the white flag on the season.
The Pacific division title will not be up for grabs. The Lakers will own the division this upcoming season and should probably win it with a comfortable lead. But given the Dubs’ new defensive anchor coupled with their versatility and shooting on offense, one can predict that the Golden State Warriors won’t be a cakewalk for the team that many are already predicting to win the title in June 2013.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.
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