July 4th, 2012 will be a special day in Lakers history. A "where were you when it happened" moment. It marks the beginning of a new era of Lakers basketball, one far brighter and filled to the brim with alley oops. The news that Steve Nash was traded to the Lakers stunned not just fans of the franchise, but anyone who followed the NBA. It felt as if it was destiny for Nash to be sent to the New York Knicks to reunite with Amar'e Stoudemire, or the Toronto Raptors to end his career in Canada, but the whispers that Mitch Kupchak was closing in on the point guard lingered. The fuse was lit and Kupchak managed to convince Nash to head out to Hollywood. It was only a matter of time till the first firework went off.
Then, it was purple and gold fireworks across the sky, breaking the silence of an extremely important off-season for Los Angeles and bringing the sigh-lence (gag) to New York and Toronto. Steve Nash was officially a Los Angeles Laker. I couldn't believe my eyes. I yelled in victory. I called every Lakers fan in my family to confirm that it was, in fact, real, and I wasn't trapped in a dream about a dream in another dream as in Inception. Sweet, sweet victory had arrived. Summer has turned to fall, now, and the anticipation to see the newly minted Lakers point guard in full action has only thickened.
This is the one position that has produced more moans and groans at Staples Center than any other for the Lakers, and while there is still an "OH MY GOD WATCH OUT FOR THAT CLIFF" dropoff in talent from the starting point guard to the likes of Steve Blake and Chris Duhon, having a legendary point guard running the Lakers offense is oh so sweet. It's time to savor it.
Steve Nash is 38 years old, ladies and gentlemen. His health is part of the circle of stomping elephants in the Lakers circus tent, he has never played in an offense as structured as the Princeton will be (albeit a strangely organic structure), he's signed through to the fine wine age of 42, but none of this matters today. The Lakers, and Steve Nash, are both living in the "now" and they need each other desperately.
The Nash Mobile odometer reads 1,152 games worth of regular season basketball. Over that time, he has served up 9,916 assists to his teammates, placing him fifth all time behind Magic Johnson, Mark Jackson, Jason Kidd, and John Stockton. Yes, he's an all time great. To put this into further perspective, if you combine the 2,540 total career games Jordan Farmar, Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, and Ramon Sessions have played in their careers, they've only scrounge up 8,868 assists. That is McDonald's' numbers versus the Mom and Pop Diner in the heart of the seedy neighborhood you never pass through. Steve Nash has been cooking for the masses. The rest of those guys' burgers taste like...
His career assists per game, 8.6, shouldn't see a hit. With a Ginsu knife set to cut the defense into perfect tomato slices, he has the opportunity to actually push for a career high (11.6 in '06-'07) in assists, which would be quite ironic considering his career arc. However, in the Princeton offense, the adverse is also a possibility. With a philosophy focused on "making the right pass", doing so could see his assists flutter out of his box score and into his teammates'. Numbers aside, what matters is good ball movement, and Nash will initiate that instinctively for the Lakers, both in the Princeton, and when he's directing traffic on his own.
The other facet of Nash's game that is worth mentioning is his shooting stroke. He is not only the Lakers best facilitator, but their best pure shooter. In particular, his mid-range game is remarkable. This spells disaster for defenses, as working the screen and roll game against Nash and Dwight forces them into a split second decision. Commit to the rolling Howard, or try and pressure Nash. That is, if they aren't floored from the screen the "6'11'' bronze statute of Apollo" (via the currently defunct DwightHoward.com) sets for his new best friend. Between having great pick and roll options, and a healthy mix of off-ball movement the Lakers have already put into action, Nash will find plenty of space to shoot. He averaged 12.5 points per game last season, and even though he likely will find the offense to come easier for him with three other players who will draw attention away from him, it's unlikely that Nash pushes much further than that mark. The biggest hurdle, ironically, may be finding the perfect mix of asserting his own offense and trying to involve all of his teammates. The vet will need to walk a tightrope the span of the fresh new Staples Center floor, but it is one that he has the aptitude to safely cross. All in due time.
However, despite all the optimism and joy to be had, the truth is he IS 38 years old. To put him up to the task of playing over 32 minutes per game may be too much for the veteran. The thing that makes Steve Nash great isn't that he's blowing by defenders with his youthful speed, it's that his basketball I.Q. doesn't diminish, which is his greatest weapon as a point guard. His health will make or break the Lakers this year, and the frailty of it was exposed Sunday night against the Sacramento Kings. After Kobe lazily "tapped" the ball over to his back-court mate, Isaiah Thomas of the Kings sprinted in to intercept the pass, and stepped full speed onto Nash's ankle. It was like watching Ray Lewis blindside a baby deer. That's all it takes. One bad collision, one misplaced step, and Steve Nash is out of the starting lineup for the year.
And this is without mentioning his defensive deficiencies. A few weeks back, Mark Travis broke down the Lakers defense, and summed it up perfectly.
Once they've had some timed to gel together, a Nash-Kobe-World Peace-Gasol-Howard line-up should rank amongst the league's better defensive line-ups, if used correctly. Nash is far from an upgrade defensively over what the Lakers have had at point guard over the past few years, but I truly believe that it's impossible for him to be any worse than Ramon Sessions (and Synergy actually rates Nash as good when guarding the pick-and-roll; not a perfect metric, but still). And Nash will have a luxury that Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and the like didn't have: a mobile center capable of erasing some of their mistakes.
So, yes, Steve Nash is well worth fawning over through every game, every pass, and every drained bucket. He should be appreciated for the brilliant basketball in a Lakers uniform the same way that Phoenix appreciated his every step in a Suns uniform. But his health, and defense, leave just enough doubt to make you hold your breath. Much like every Lakers fan did Sunday when he was holding his ankle, crumpled like a used towel on the floor.
Steve Blake, Chris Duhon. Chris Duhon, Steve Blake. It's hard to tell the two apart when you're looking at the stats they've compiled in their careers. Blake, however, has a leg up in this scenario, as he is the evil the Lakers coaching staff is already well aware of. It isn't for lack of effort; Blake generally looks as if he is putting forth great effort on both ends of the floor. The issue is that even though he is putting in the work, the results are rarely positive. Since putting up career numbers for the Clippers (43% from deep. Where can we find THAT Steve Blake), he has spiraled downward as a Laker.
However hard it may be to root for Steve Blake when he takes the floor, he still remains a Laker, and an extremely important one at that. In our Writers' Roundtable discussions throughout the off-season, C.A. Clark made a great case as to why Steve Blake may be the key bench player for the Lakers' title hopes.
The Lakers desperately need a point guard that can play quality minutes coming off of their bench, because for the first time in two decades, they have an elite point guard starting the game. An elite point guard who is 38 years old and has been able to stay at a super high level and avoid too many injuries because his minutes have been heavily regimented at 31 to 33 per game.
Steve Blake and Chris Duhon are the only guys standing between Steve Nash and the kind of minutes that will grind him into the ground come playoff time. Nash is the only guy on the entire team who MUST be regimented at all times. Blake, or Duhon, must give Mike Brown the confidence to allow them to play, so that Nash doesn't have to.
The hope for Blake has to be that when he is a role player on the floor with a player like Dwight, who will draw defenses in the paint, he will find open space to hit his outside jumper again. There's still a glimmer of hope that Blake will find his stroke for the Lakers as it typically rears its head once every two weeks. The good thing is that hitting a nearly career-low three-point shooting percentage of 33% last season, the Lakers may have hit rock bottom with Blake. This means the outlook can only be rosier going forward. In the end, though, let the past be the past for Steve Blake. The Lakers will need 18-20 minutes of him a night, and if he can just keep the boat steady while Steve Nash lays on the floor next to the bench, catching his breath, these last two years of torture will be forgiven.
Travel dance jokes aside, Chris Duhon gives the Lakers "depth" (even mud can sink pretty deep) at the point guard position. Both Blake and Duhon will be important to relieving Nash, because if Blake happens to walk over spikes in the parking lot again, someone will have to give the Lakers 20 minutes of suspense (or profanity laden rants). Truth be told, shooting percentages are shooting percentages, and he hit 42% of his outside shots last season. Duhon is, more or less, a "side" grade to Blake, which means he definitely has a chance to jump up a spot in the point guard rotation if his counterpart under-performs. It could be worse though, Lakers fans. At least it isn't Smush Parker.
And here is the biggest disappointment for the preseason. Darius Morris was the only out when it came to the Blake and Duhon Show, and he absolutely blew it. Yes, his time was limited, which is telling in itself. He was so bad in the preseason that Mike Brown didn't even want to bother with giving him valuable time that could be spent on cast-away Andrew Goudelock, Chris Duhon, and Steve Blake. It isn't necessarily his fault, but his development has a long way to go if he wants to last even as a third string rotational point guard in the NBA. If his money wasn't guaranteed it wouldn't be outlandish to suggest he deserves to be waived instead of a guy like Chris Douglas-Roberts who recently met that fate. Still, the prospect is there for a 6'4'' 190 lb point guard who is only 21 years old. If the Lakers do hang on to him, expect Morris to be shipped out to the D-Fenders immediately where he can gain valuable playing experience and remain with the team as a low-tier prospect.
With a point guard like Steve Nash leading the Lakers, there's nothing that makes non-Laker fans shake their fists more than complaining about the bench behind him. However, there is definite reason to worry about the Lakers point guard group, and if Nash misses an extended stretch of games because of health, chaos could very well break out. However, after years of waiting for a point guard to do the basics, like throw a proper entry pass, it's hard to complain about the scenario. Steve Nash, the Laker, is actually happening.
This concludes our positional breakdowns here at Silver Screen & Roll, and it was a blast combing through this roster with everybody. Thank you for reading along, and be sure to catch any of the other previews you may have missed down below!
Shooting Guards - The Great Mambino
Small Forwards - Basketball Reasons
Power Forwards - The Great Mambino
Centers - C.A. Clark
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