By Ian Thomsen
December 11, 2012

Many have said that we can't really judge the Mike D'Antoni Lakers until Steve Nash returns, but the offense hasn't been the problem in Los Angeles. The Lakers are top 10 in the NBA in points scored per possession, but just middle of the road in points allowed per possession. Seems like a 38-year-old point guard who was already a defensive liability would just exacerbate that problem. Am I right? -- Christopher, Los Angeles

You make a good point, Christopher. You're saying that the Lakers would be able to survive their injuries if they were playing winning defense. They've had an agreeable schedule -- the Lakers are tied for the most home games, with 13 -- and yet they're a disappointing 9-12 because they've been poor defensively for both Mike Brown and D'Antoni.

While I agree with your premise, I'm going to argue that the return of a healthy Nash will make a difference for them across the board even though he is, as you point out, a porous individual defender.

The Lakers have had no identity without Nash. They've looked and played like a bad team built around a single scorer in Kobe Bryant. He's No. 3 in career minutes (43,163) among active players -- only Kevin Garnett (46,354) and Jason Kidd (48,501) have more mileage -- and yet Bryant is leading the Lakers in minutes with 37.4 per game while also pacing the league in scoring with 28.6 points.

[Rob Mahoney: Kobe better than ever on offense]

When the Lakers acquired Nash and Dwight Howard while holding on to Pau Gasol, no one was thinking that Bryant would be No. 1 in NBA scoring. They were supposed to be impossible to guard because they would be starting four prolific All-Star scorers -- but that team has yet to be seen in full. Everyone but Bryant has underachieved individually, and as a team they've looked demoralized and old.

The trade for Nash created so much promise for the Lakers because he was supposed to bring joy and energy to them. When he comes back and his legs are strong (Nash expects to be sidelined at least two more weeks), it's fair to imagine he'll have the same kind of impact he had on Phoenix and Dallas for the previous dozen years. The Lakers will play with new life, and in the vitalized flow of the game -- a flow enhanced by his former coach D'Antoni -- Nash will create the same kinds of opportunities for teammates that he has always created. Howard and Gasol are going to look much better with him than they've looked without him.

The Lakers have played as if they don't believe they can win, and a demoralized team is never going to play good defense. An inspired team that believes in itself is much more likely to make winning plays at the defensive end, especially around a defender like Howard.

If Nash is exploiting all of the talent around him, then the Lakers are going to control games with their offense. They won't be dominant defensively, but at least they and everyone else will know what they stand for. He'll provide them with the offensive confidence and winning identity they've been lacking.

Nash is one of those rare stars who knows how to max out the talents of his teammates and enable them to exceed the sum of their parts. We always knew how important Nash was going to be the Lakers. So far we've only seen how much they miss him. Soon, I believe, we'll see how much he'll help renew them in all phases of the game.

Excellent article on the new taxes that will come into play over the next several years, but I have a question that wasn't answered in your article. Where does the taxed money go? I mean I get it goes to the NBA, but what do they do with it? Do they spread it around to lower revenue teams like baseball's revenue sharing, give it to charity or development basketball leagues, or does it just line the commish's pockets? -- Ryan G., Portland, Ore.

Thanks, Ryan. Half of the money goes into the NBA's new revenue-sharing program, which is meant to give every team a chance to be profitable. The other half is returned to teams that operate below the tax threshold. Not only are taxpayers levied a heightened penalty, but they also miss out on receiving the distribution.

I'm not disagreeing with anybody on your All-Manu Ginobili Team of second-round steals, but I am wondering why Chandler Parsons was left off? I'm guessing it's because he is only in his second season and doesn't have the résumé that some of the other guys have, but can't we at least say that so far he's been an absolute steal for the Rockets? -- Dan Rachal, Tampa, Fla.

Thanks, Dan, and you are entirely correct -- Parsons, the 38th pick in 2011, has been terrific. He's having a better season than any forward in his 60-player draft class apart from Kenneth Faried, who is averaging 12.2 points and 10 rebounds in 29.9 minutes for the Nuggets. Parsons is giving the Rockets 15.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 37.6 minutes while shooting a respectable 44.9 percent. His shooting has diminished since he bruised his right shoulder two weeks ago, and it will be interesting to see if he returns to form. He improved his accuracy from the three-point and free-throw lines over the summer (he is hitting 38.5 percent and 75.5 percent, respectively), enabling him to seize a bigger role this season after being drafted as a four-year senior from Florida.

With about a quarter of the season gone, there is really only one surprise when I look at the standings. Golden State figured to be better in Year 2 under first-time head coach Mark Jackson. But 14-7? It's not like they've leaned on a home-loaded scheduleeither. They're 8-4 on the road and Andrew Bogut, who is easily one of the best half-dozen centers in the league when healthy, has played only four games. They're giving up an un-Warriors-like 99 points a game. Is it safe to say Jackson has brought some East Coast toughness to the notoriously soft Warriors? -- Jeffrey Wright, Watertown, Mass.

They've been impressive, Jeffrey. Not only have they missed Bogut (whose absence is large, even though I would not rate him among the NBA's top six centers -- he hasn't earned that ranking yet), but Klay Thompson also began the year in a shooting slump before recovering his form recently.

They're benefiting from the health of Stephen Curry and tremendous contributions from David Lee (who looks like an All-Star) and sixth man Carl Landry. The Warriors are off to their best start in 21 years because Curry has led them to a 11-3 record in games decided by single digits, and because Jackson has raised the standards for team defense and rebounding since last season.

It isn't going to be easy for the young Warriors to make the playoffs because the talented Lakers and Nuggets -- both currently outside the top eight -- figure to climb up the standings as the season progresses. But any team that is 7-2 against opponents with .500-or-better records is by definition a playoff contender.

[Rob Mahoney: Why the Warriors are an early-season surprise]

Kudos to Kobe Bryant for being the youngest player to score 30,000 points. Given Kobe's durability, and the fact that he's currently leading the league in scoring, I wonder: Could Kobe be the first player to reach 40K? If not Kobe, how about LeBron James or Kevin Durant? -- Stephen Melvin, Louisiana

It's a good question, Stephen. At Bryant's current scoring pace -- which he'll be unlikely to maintain when Nash is back and the Lakers are exploiting other scoring options in addition to Kobe -- he'll finish the season with fewer than 32,000 points. He's going to need to average a little bit more than 2,000 points (or 24.5 per game for a full season) over the next four years to surpass all-time leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) on his way to breaking the 40,000-point ceiling.

To put it another way, Bryant would need to rank among the league leaders as a 38-year-old shooting guard in his 21st season. James and Durant would also likely need at least 20 seasons to total 40,000 points.

[Ben Golliver: LeBron, Durant hot on Kobe's heels as youngest to 30K]

It's going to be difficult for any of them because they're perimeter players. The Nos. 1 and 2 scorers, Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone (36,928), were interior scorers who didn't rely on athleticism. Their ability to score around the basket extended their careers. Would wing players like Bryant, James or Durant be able to find other ways to score at a high rate so late in their careers? You shouldn't rule it out, but you shouldn't expect it either.

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