The common expression in sports that a particular player can make everyone else around him better is perhaps the best way to describe Steve Nash, the newest member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers new starting point guard immediately does that just from his presence and reputation for being a pass first, shoot later guy who is responsible for an additional 20-30 points per game solely based on his court vision and ability to read a defense.
The first and most obvious benefactor of Nash at the point is Kobe Bryant as the shooting guard. Bryant no longer needs to worry about bringing the ball up the court or spending the vast majority of the shot clock dribbling in and around two or three defenders looking for any space to jack up a difficult shot.
It will be an adjustment for Kobe, but one I think he will gladly welcome. With the ball in Nash's hands, Bryant will be able to slide off pick and rolls to his heart's content, which should free him up for a lot of easy buckets and more single coverage from the opposition.
True, Bryant averaged 27.9 points per game last season, but his efficiency was not great. He only hit on 43 percent of his shots, one of the lowest marks of his 16-year career and, more strikingly, turned the ball over 3.5 times per game. With Nash leading the offense and utilizing Kobe for what he does best, the Mamba's shooting percentage should come up and the turnovers come down.
Speaking about the Lakers hopes for another title with Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times, Bryant sounded more than a little excited about Nash: "He gives us a much, much better chance."
Which member of the Lakers will benefit most from having Steve Nash on the team?
In that article by Bolch, ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said of Nash, "He's an unbelievably efficient offensive player. You just don't see guys shoot 50 percent, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the line and make the passes he can make. It's pretty amazing."
Assuming he is with the team when they open camp this fall, power forward Pau Gasol should also benefit tremendously from playing with Nash. Until now, the seven foot Gasol was asked to be more of a facilitator than scorer and although he is one of the best passing bigs in the NBA, he needs a great passing point guard who can get him the ball down in the paint for easy, short jumpers or dunks.
Gasol's 17.4 scoring average on 50 percent shooting in 2011-12 should go up under the watchful eye of Nash. In a video chat last Thursday (via LA Times), Gasol said Nash is "probably the most unselfish player in the NBA."
As Mark Medina, beat writer for the LA Times, noted in that same story last Thursday, "After the Lakers acquired Ramon Sessions in a trade from Cleveland last season, both Sessions and Gasol say they instantly meshed well as they ran pick-and-rolls with each other. Considering Nash will likely assume ball-handling duties, Gasol will also likely receive more open looks off pick-and-pops, efficient passes and cuts into the lane."
Nash said he was intrigued about playing with L.A.'s big three of Bryant, Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Having a leader such as Nash on the floor suddenly changes the idea that the Lakers should trade Bynum for Dwight Howard. Bynum is nowhere near being a leader for the Lakers, but now, with Nash on board, he doesn't need to be.
Bynum has one year left on his contract and Nash could help turn that into a banner season for the 7-foot, 285 pound, 25-year-old center. Last year was Bynum's coming out party, in which the first time All-Star averaged 18.7 points on 56 percent shooting and was healthy the entire season.
You can already envision Nash floating picture perfect lobs to the streaking Bynum who then slams home another easy dunk over the opposing defense. Nash has the same intense, positive, on court demeanor as former Lakers great Derek Fisher—only better. Way better. Bynum will benefit tremendously from his leadership and pinpoint passing skills.
The entire Lakers team will be enhanced by Nash, but coach Mike Brown must be doing the biggest happy dance because he now has a superb floor leader who really is a coach on the court. You can take Brown's anemic offensive schemes of last season and trade them in for a Dash of Nash. Just turn on the motor and let the engines roar.
Nash will help simplify the offensive flow and involve everyone. He can space the floor better than almost anyone in the league, which will get his teammates open looks for high percentage shots. The Lakers should easily become a 100 plus points per night team again.
Last, let's not forget the fans. Although the Lakers could use more youth and athleticism, they still will be an exciting team to watch in 2012-13 because of Steve Nash. They may not be Showtime of the Magic Johnson era but the new-look Lakers of next season will be a first run feature you won't want to miss.