How Steve Nash fits with the Lakers

Steve Nash’s move to Los Angeles has been the biggest story of free agency so far (with apologies to Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, Mikhail Prohkorov, and all of Russia). Nash has left Phoenix after eight memorable years to pursue a ring alongside Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, and the loveable Metta World Peace. But will this move lead to success on the court? Will a 38 year-old Nash make the Lakers’ offense better? Everyone associated with the NBA seems to have an opinion, so let’s break the conversation down.

Before the sign-and-trade was consummated, Nash placed a phone call to the man himself, Kobe Bryant. Nash told 710 ESPN in Los Angeles, “For me, it was important to speak to [Kobe] and make sure he was completely on board.” Nash continued, “Kobe, he was great. He was excited, and explained to me how he thought it would help, and why he thought it would be great.”

So despite his icy demeanor toward Nash in the past, Kobe seems to be on board. And why wouldn’t he be? Bryant knows the Lakers’ offense and more specifically their ball movement has to improve if they have any shot at winning a title in the coming season. The Lakers were stagnant offensively in their first year under Mike Brown, and much of that had to do with their lack of a great distributor. The Lakers tried to solve that problem midseason by shipping out long-time starter Derek Fisher and bringing in Ramon Sessions from the Cavs. Unfortunately for them, Fisher and the Thunder dropped the Lakers like a bad habit in the second round of the playoffs. Now they have one of the greatest distributors in NBA history at the reigns and are definitely poised to improve mightily on last season’s disappointing results.

But how long will the honeymoon period last for Nash and Kobe? Bryant is notorious for taking over when times get tough and the Lakers might not be the relentlessly efficient behemoth we all expect them to be right out of the gate. Here’s J.A. Adande’s take: “Kobe will enjoy relinquishing ballhandling and creating duties … for a while. It will be interesting to see if he’ll be willing to play off the ball and let Nash handle it in crunch time.”

He’s right. It will be interesting. In fact, it’ll probably be one of the top five story lines heading into the season (unless Dwight Howard decides he’s only willing to play for a team on Mars). There’s really no way to know who will have the ball more between Nash and Kobe, because Bryant has never played with a point guard like Nash.

Since the trade went down, the stat that Bryant has never played with anyone who has averaged 8.5 assists or more has been circling around. There are two ways of looking at this. Either Bryant hogs the ball too much for anyone to dish out nine assists, or he’s never had a PG capable of getting that many assists. I tend to think the latter is a better explanation.

Furthermore, with the exception of last season, Bryant played in the triangle offense under Phil Jackson throughout his prime. The triangle is universally known as the place where point guards go to die. Its focus on ball movement turns every player into a distributor instead of focusing on one position to dish the ball out.

Mike Brown’s offense is more traditional and more structured. In Cleveland, Brown relied on LeBron to initiate the offense, something he thought he could do with Kobe last season. Unfortunately for LA, LeBron’s passing skills and desire are far more developed than Kobe’s and thus Bryant became a ball stopper at times and the whole offensive machine broke down.

Nash could be the oil to get it running well once again. In addition to being a great shooter who can space the floor and garner more attention from the defense beyond the arc than Steve Blake or Sessions, Nash is one of the best in league on pick-and-rolls. Whether its pick-and-pop with Gasol or Bynum rolling hard to the hoop, the Lakers’ offense has certainly added a new dimension by bringing in Nash. A larger offensive arsenal can only mean more wins for LA next season. Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus agrees.

Doolittle’s NBAPET projects win totals for the upcoming seasons. Before the Nash trade, the Lakers were projected to win just under 46 games which was good for sixth in the Western Conference standings. That record is not what Jerry Buss is spending nearly $100 million in payroll for, so the team went out and got a two-time MVP.

Adding Nash to the roster kicks the Lakers’ projected win total up to 54, an improvement of more than eight games. Fifty four wins puts LA behind only the Thunder in the projected Western standings, a place they will be more than happy with heading into the postseason. But of course, this huge improvement is only on paper. Whether Nash will fit in seamlessly and elevate the Lakers back into title contention remains to be seen.

No matter how it works out, there’s nobody happier right now than Steve. He gets to play with one of the best scorers of all time. He has two of the best big men in the game to find for easy shots. And of course he has the loveable and loyal Metta World Peace there to pick him up and get his back should Robert Horry decide to make a comeback.

And 1

  1. Though it hasn’t been talked about much, the Lakers’ defensive philosophy regarding Nash must be, “He can’t be any worse than Fisher, right?” In Phoenix, Nash could guard weaker shooting guards when an elite point guard like Russell Westbrook was in town. Now that he shares a backcourt with the soon-to-be 34 year-old Kobe, Nash may not have that luxury.
  2. Nash was interviewed by Max Kellerman and Mychal Thompson on ESPN 710 after the trade. They asked him who the best point guard in LA was. Nash responded, “I love Chris Paul. I think he’s, if not the best, top two point guards in the game. Now with Russell and Derrick Rose, they’re like super guards. I’m not sure you can categorize them as point guards. There was a time when I could have made an argument for myself as the best point guard in the game, but I can leave that to some of the other guys now.” A classy response from a great veteran.
  3. Nash will have to find a new number as Wilt Chamberlain’s No. 13 jersey has been retired by the Lakers.

Tags: Kobe Bryant Los Angeles Lakers Phoenix Suns Steve Nash Trade

  • Tony

    I hope Grant Hill joins Nash in LA, so that both can bring some class to that organization.

  • Robert

    In a way, a new jersey number might ease the pain, strange as it sounds.

  • Freddy

    Steve who?

  • Fan in Chi Town

    Not sure if it will work entirely. No question bynum and gasol will improve but like the article said, kobe is a ball stopper and if he’s not getting his shots, jealousy could break Nash’s offensive rhythm if he starts taking ill-advised shots too often.

    I know Nash going to the on-tv-every-single-week lakers is a big deal but seriously, I’m kind of irritated that the suns aren’t getting more positive media coverage on how they’ve already started rebuilding the post-Nash era. They’ve made some moves already and aren’t even getting mentioned on ESPN or anything. Brandon Roy signing with the Wolves got more coverage than any of the suns signings and if we get Eric Gordon they still probably won’t discuss it.

  • Scott

    Assistant: “Mr. Bryant, Steve Nash is on the business line. He want to talk to you.”

    Kobe takes the phone. “Speak.”

    Nash: “(muffled voice) Uhh … hey Kobe. This is Smush. I need money, man.”

    Kobe: “I told you not to call.”

    Nash: “(laughs) Hey, it’s Steve. Looks like I’m going to be able to join the team. Grant might be coming too.”

    Kobe: “Please tell me you’re not kidding. …It’s for real this time? (begins crying) Oh thank God.”

    Nash: “But Kobe …”

    Kobe: “Yes?”

    Nash: “I need money, man.”

    Kobe: “Dude, you crack me up! No.”

  • Mel.

    ^Genius. Though I think that “Kobe making phonecalls” is one of the most inadvertently comical memes from the last few years, with him taking the time to talk to Matt Barnes (another guy who supposedly had beef with Bean before he magically showed up in Lakerland), and then doing the same with Raja Bell (AND INVITING HIM TO LUNCH) being reported like some sort of breakthrough in an Iran-G7 arms summit.

    Of course, the fact that Nash allegedly had to call him makes it all the funnier.

    “Okay, you passed the first test. Now hold up a few minutes, I’m playing Madden.”

  • Tony

    @Fan in Chi Town,

    I agree with your analysis. I don’t think Bryant will be as much of an issue though. I think the more prevelant issue will be how to utilize the Lakers bigs with Nash? I mean if the Lakers are content on running a half-court offense, then they’re not utilizing Nash’s unique skill set. But if they try to push the tempo more, I don’t see Bynum and Gasol being able to last very long. The other issue they have is a lack of athletic wing players. Nash will have to slow down during fast breaks to let
    Artest or Barnes catch up.
    It’s not going to be an easy transition for the Lakers especially since their head coach, MIke Brown, has no idea how to make an offense work.

  • Fan in Chi Town

    True, gasol and bynum aren’t amare and marion but gasol can shoot and if bynum can catch a pass out of the pick and roll easy enough, it won’t be an easily defended offense. But then where does kobe come in? I wouldn’t underestimate kobe’s need for the rock though. We all know nash touched the ball on every single possession in phoenix and I just don’t think kobe will let that happen

  • martin

    this will be an improvement for the lakers, but I don’t think we can come close to calling them kings.
    They won’t be able to run- they are all too old and Bynum is too big.
    Their defense won’t be as good- no way Nash is even close to Fisher’s strength or ability on that end of the floor.
    And so their half-court offense is where it will be played out, and to be effective, Nash needs the ball- and I just don’t think he is quite as effective as he used to be as a shooter, which means teams can play off of him and wait for him to distribute.
    Also- Brown isn’t a good offensive coach, and even if he were, Nash is at his best when he’s improvising. The lakers are not used to playing so loose. That, I think, is the biggest issue with their team.

    Nash has been my favorite player for 10 years, but he really has worn down the past 2 seasons. He’s just not as much of a scoring threat anymore, and not as quick under the basket, which really hurts his game. He’s gotta be worse this year on those fronts than the last year.

    I actually look forward to watching them play- but worry about having to watch Nash be less and less effective as the months wear on.

  • thatdude

    Completely agree as i dont see this working out with Brown wanting to call every play. It will be interesting to watch for sure as by no means are they the favorites in the West. It all looks great on paper but come game time we’ll see.

  • Mel.

    I’m actually curious to see whether or not Nash can adjust to a system that doesn’t live and die based entirely on his participation. To say that PHX has indulged his pacing, passing and basketball IQ to the fullest–and you could even argue that this was to the franchise’s detriment, over the last two years–would be a hell of an understatement.

    If we’re going to hash over the fact that Kobe’s never played with a PG like Steve, then I’d suggest that the bigger concern is that Nash has never played with an SG like Bryant. Could be a great balance, and it could be a total disaster.

  • Scott

    @martin -

    I don’t know that Nash has really “worn down.” I think he had to carry a heavy load with such an untalented team the last two years.

    Give him players like Kobe and Gasol who can create their own offense, and give him an offensive star like Kobe who will prevent teams from trying to “chop the head off the snake,” and you’ll see Nash still chipping in with creation, though not on every play, and you might see Nash scoring more.

    It should put a lot less wear and tear on Nash than the last 2 years in Phoenix. And if the misses a game, no big deal. The Lakers won’t be a lock to lose without him.

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    One thing to remember is that when the Suns had Shaq Nash hated the half court game-which is what the Lakers play.

    Nash loves the run and gun game and he is the master PG of it. But, with the old, slow half court Lakers (they are simply to old to run and gun) Nash may get frustrated.