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.