Nash being Nash
The Lakers struggles have been well documented this season, on television, in print, in blogs, and along the Pacific Coast Highway.
After an offseason where the Lakers where nearly everyone associated with the NBA picked the Lakers to win everything this season, it really has been remarkable to see the Lakers struggle. Who could have predicted that they would barely be in contention for the playoffs?
While one of my “Lewis Laws of Life,” is that if you have a brain, you can’t make excuses (another is you can never have too much cheese), the Lakers have had to cope with injuries, with Nash missing time with a leg injury, Gasol out with foot problems, and Howard gradually returning from back surgery and playing with shoulder pain.
As professionals, the Lakers have had to get over it. If I can muster up the strength to play with my friends a couple times a week with zero training staff and eating on a budget, the Lakers can play together.
One of the things that has worked in the Lakers offense has been how Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant have played together. According to 82games, the top ten lineups that Nash has been a part of all include Bryant at either the two-guard or as a small forward.
One of my favorite things that the Lakers have done is run a 1-2 pick and roll. Jared Dubin of Hoopchalk did an excellent breakdown of that play, and how effective it was against Chicago.
However, there have been other things that Nash has done well as he has grown more comfortable in his second tour with Mike D’Antoni and more familiar with his Lakers teammates.
Picking His Spots
In this play against Washington, Nash has been having some back and forth with Pau Gasol who has set his feet near the left elbow. Howard and Bryant are content to watch what is happening, but are spaced out well enough that their defenders aren’t going to leave them to help double Gasol or trap Nash. The only other Laker who has movement on the play is Metta World Peace, and I’m not sure if he’s running plays, or just running.
The Wizards respect Nash’s passing ability enough that they make sure that Gasol will not be open to collect a pass on his dive to the rim. Nene feints towards Nash, but is committed to limiting space for a pass from Nash. MWP’s man comes over to help Nene, but won’t exit the paint. Nash pulls up from the L sticker on the court, and knocks down the jumper.
Runs the Pick and Roll
Jared Dubin’s Hoopchalk article shows off the 1-2 pick and roll, but Nash doesn’t just run off of screens from Kobe. In this play, Nash has two options in the HORNS set – go right, and work with Howard, or go left and work with Clark. Clark sets a quick screen, Wall goes over the top, and Clark starts towards the rim.
The “Nashty” part of this play is how Booker gets faked out of position by a subtle ball fake from Nash. Every Wizard is either in the paint or one step away from the paint – there shouldn’t be room for Clark to receive the ball from Nash. Yet Booker bites on the fake, raises his arms, and Nash slips the ball under his Booker’s left shoulder and into Clark’s hands.
The vision element isn’t what helps Nash set this play up – it’s the future Hall of Famer’s ability to create a passing lane even when the play appears to be shut off.
Also, if you want to see how other teams in the NBA use HORNS, watch Coach Nick’s breakdown below.
Let Opposing Point Guards Shoot
This has long been the knock on Nash’s game – defense. While playing for Phoenix, the defensive liabilities were not as large of a detraction from his game, because the Suns were playing at a pace where the defensive breakdowns were not as destructive.
But this isn’t 2007. With a first-team defensive center behind him, even at less than 100 percent health, Nash should be doing a better job helping his teammates defend. He doesn’t have to worry about scoring as much, or even controlling the ball as often. Basketball-Reference has calculated that his usage rate is at 17.6 percent – Nash’s lowest mark since the 1999-2000 season during his final season on the Mavericks. Opposing point guards are scoring 22.3 points per game against Nash, according to 82games, another dark spot on the veteran’s stat sheet.
Will Nash be able to help the Lakers make the playoffs and play against either the Spurs or the Thunder in the first round? With the regular season still promising games against Damian Lillard, Tony Parker, Chris Paul and Steph Curry, the old vet will have a chance to match up against some of the top point guards in the game.