Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Impact of Steve Nash on the Los Angeles Lakers

It would be impossible to talk about this NBA season without talking about the biggest free agent signing this summer: Steve Nash with the Los Angeles Lakers. The long time Phoenix Sun and former Dallas Maverick shocked the league by announcing he would be joining the Black Mamba and crew in L.A. The big debate among analysts is whether or not this hurts L.A.'s chances at a Finals run.

Many believe Nash is too old and too weak defensively to help his new team, and in fact he's hurting them in the long run. True, he will be turning 39 in February. True, his defense drops him a few spots on some All Time Point Guard lists. But somehow the simple fact seems to be dismissed: HE IS AN ALL TIME POINT GUARD, and he didn't get to that level by accident. Here's why:
  • Save for a handful of players, he plays better than almost all of the league's point guards not only past his prime, but in his twilight years at 38. There are two caveats here: Nash must have a strong support coming off the bench, which he had in Leandro Barbosa and Goran Dragic in Phoenix, to distribute the ball and score when necessary, a James Harden if you will. And, of course, he needs to stay healthy, particularly regarding his back.
  • Nash earned two consecutive league MVP's by elevating his entire team beyond anyone's expectations. During their playoff runs in the mid-2000's, Phoenix's starting five and several bench players were achieving career highs, with injuries (Stoudemire), age (Grant Hill), and average talent (Kurt Thomas). Imagine Gasol and Kobe Bryant getting career-high or near-career-high numbers backed by their playoff experience. Need I say more?
  • Not since John Stockton have we seen the pick and roll run to its perfection. Ask Amare Stoudemire, and get ready to ask Pau Gasol come training camp. Nash's unselfishness is legendary, and he will no doubt be happy to have a shooting big man in Gasol and a strong finisher in Bynum. Both big men are going to have to learn very quickly how to run a pick and roll offense, and Mike Brown is going to have to learn very quickly how the triangle offense works. He should ask Kobe.

Now, we can't forget Kobe Bryant's notorious inclination for being the focus of his team, but more than likely a penetrating pick and roll point guard as good as Nash will only draw Bryant's defender for at least half a second, and for Kobe that's all it takes. He then has the freedom to shoot or catch his defender off guard and drive to the basket. Kobe is excited about this prospect, contrary to some opinions that he'll be unhappy to sit in the corner waiting for a kick out.

Despite the glanced-over criticism, Bryant also knows that Nash is a very competitive player, an outstanding leader, a positive and endearing role model for both players and fans, and overall a great human being. The question that remains is: will his team step up to the higher level that he expects of them? That is, will Metta World Peace and Andrew Bynum remain calm and collected during crunch time? Will Mike Brown and the coaching staff make enough necessary adjustments to effectively allow their players to do what they do best?

Nash seems to think so, otherwise he'd still be in Phoenix dishing to Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley trying to break.500. Instead, he and the Lakers will be staring down the young guns in Oklahoma City on their way to the Finals. Who will flinch first?