WHO TAKES THE LAST SHOT?
With a team comprised of 4 potential all-stars the question becomes far less concerned with who takes it, but rather who shouldn't and when. Obviously LA has plenty of guys sitting on the bench that can easily be on the "if all else and then some fails" list, but that’s too easy. The real question is who of the five guys you expect to be out there on the last play of the game are you most comfortable taking the that last shot.
The quick answer is still Kobe Bean Bryant. This man is a cold blooded killer regardless of how you break it down statistically (Check out "clutch" time statistics: http://www.82games.com/1112/CSORT6.HTM). The fact remains Kobe can still score in an array of ways that are so patented that it often looks as much like a ballet as a man trying to break down his defender.
But now, more than ever, Kobe needs to pass up bad or maybe even just sub-par looks to the likes of Nash, Gasol, and even Howard when they are in a high percentage scoring position. We have seen Kobe defer (although maybe not often enough) to Gasol, and more recently Bynum, plenty of times over the years, but low post guys don’t always have the skills to create good shots in a span of just a few seconds, hence leaving Bryant as the only player able to create his own shot on the fly.
With Nash on the team that’s just no longer true. Lack of time is no longer an excuse with Nash who can pull up and even fade from just about anywhere on the court. Additionally this is a guy who knows how to keep himself in the right places on the court. Just out of a law of averages Kobe should see a decline on how often he is used in these situations. With a two time MVP being the big reason why that fact is true, I doubt Kobe is going to make a fuss about making the "sacrifice."
However, just hoping Bryant gets a clean last second shot doesn't mean much. Teams are still going to double him attempting to force him to give up the ball to the likes of Gasol or maybe Howard who are less effective under a short clock. If the shot clock is in the 8+ range a guy like Gasol can be lethal because a) with time he can create his own shot and b) his soft touch leaves a guy like Howard with the ability to get a put back before the clock expires. Of course this is again assuming the Lakers a down by two or less.
In a three point condition I would think Gasol would be best at the five with Jamison playing the four with Kobe, Nash, and at this point probably Meeks unless MWP or someone else is just hot from deep. Howards best asset with the clock winding down would be his put-back abilities, but down by three unless you expect him to rebound/tip it back to a teammate for another 3pt attempt his skills are primarily useless at this point. A defense might even go Hack-A-Howard, stopping them from even attempting a good shot.
By the way Laker fans, welcome back the "Brick Party" that Shaq was hosting at the Staples free-throw line for all those years. I know you'll take it for a player like Howard, and more so for Shaq, but those blood chilling "CLINGS" will bring back flashbacks like none other… for better or worse.
Under this account so far, there only remains Howard who seems at this point to bring as much positive as negative. Statistically speaking if Howard is a 50% shooter at the stripe (a very generous number) his odds of scoring one point is 50% and only 25% that he makes both. Kobe, Gasol, or Nash will all likely have a much better chance statistically shooting a FG than chancing Howard at the line to make two.
But one big thing Howard does bring is he can really be a dangerous threat to do a last second tip in, which by my personal account wins a lot of last second games. Lastly, according to 82games.com Orlando had five players in the top ten best +/- number during crunch time. Maybe you can blame it on the skills Redick, Anderson, and Turkoglu (ranked 2,3, and 4 respectively) have as shooters, or (and more likely) that Howard made those guys around him that much better.
In sum, we should agree from a non-ego-managing viewpoint, each of the Lakers "Big Four" have situations where they could, and should, be the player taking the last shot. However, it's ironic that the player who sticks out as the least effective player is the same player who left Orlando because he wanted to be the guy with the rock when it mattered most.
Most important to any fan is that the Lakers have so many options is about diminishing the least effective ones for the most effective. This is going to be tricky, and Mike Brown has a lot to prove, but any coach in history would love to have his problem.