LA Lakers: Are Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant the Perfect Pairing?

Howard RubenContributor IJuly 14, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Guard Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns looks to shoot the ball as guard Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in Game One of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 17, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

For all the critics—and there are many—who think Kobe Bryant will have difficulty adjusting to a point guard who handles the ball a majority of the time, I have a simple two-word answer: think again.

In his entire 16-year career, Kobe Bryant has never had a backcourt mate who ran an offense like Steve Nash. In fact, the Lakers of the past 16 years have never had anyone with the eye-popping assist totals of a Steve Nash. 

Bryant's new backcourt mate has averaged at least 7.3 assists per game for each of the last 12 years and led the league in total assists the past three. In six of the last seven seasons, Nash has dished out over 10 assists per game. How can this not be a good thing for Kobe and company?

All signs point to an on-court relationship that instantly kicks the Lakers up a notch or two in the race for an NBA championship, as ESPN points out. Even the Las Vegas oddsmakers have changed their tune on the Lakers winning the title after Nash agreed to the sign-and-trade deal that brought him to Los Angeles this month. 

Odds that L.A. would win an NBA title in 2012-13 from one site,, were 12-1 before Nash and 8-1 since his arrival.

It's hard to argue with the pairing of Nash and Bryant. Their complementary skills will open up the Lakers offense much the same way the triangle under Phil Jackson allowed for finding the open man with crisp, accurate passing around the perimeter and through cutting lanes to the basket. 

Through pick-and-rolls and pinpoint passing, Nash creates open shots more adroitly than most any other floor general in the NBA. And he's still executing at the highest level at age 38.

Nash will handle the ball a majority of the time but knows when and where to pass and look for easy buckets. Nash led the league this past season with 664 assists. His average of 10.7 assists per game was second only to Rajon Rondo of the Celtics, but Nash played 31.6 minutes per game while Rondo was on the court for 36.9. 

On an assist-per-48-minutes basis, Nash averaged 16.3 to 15.2 for Rondo—tops in the NBA. By comparison, Chris Paul of the Clippers averaged 12 dimes per 48 minutes. Nash's numbers were all the more impressive as he single-handedly carried his clearly inferior Phoenix Suns to the edge of making the playoffs.

Having a "coach" like Nash on the court will allow Bryant to roam and post up more for shots. Nash runs pick-and-rolls to perfection, and those two will free up Kobe from his regular double-teams. Lakers coach Mike Brown won't need to call a lot of plays with Nash in the game.

Bryant shot just 43 percent from the field this past season—much of that because he was constantly double- and triple-teamed. Because his teammates did not consistently make shots, the burden often fell on Bryant late in the clock to take ill-advised shots. By the fourth quarter of many games, Bryant was spent, and no one else was hitting.

Nash and Bryant are fierce competitors who hate to lose—their playoff battles were epic, and Nash's Suns knocked the Lakers out of the postseason in back-to-back years.  

Nash told ESPN's Dave McMenamin: "I think you're looking at two very dedicated gym rats, frankly. There's definitely a lot of commonality in there amongst what seemed like a lot of differences from afar. I definitely think we can relate to each other's drive and competitive spirit."

Kobe and Nash together will be a thing of beauty to watch. It's the rest of the team that will need to step up their games for the new-look Lakers to succeed. Outside shooters such as Meta World Peace, Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks and others will get more open looks playing with Nash than they ever dreamed possible. 

Nash has always been a good shooter. For his career, he's 49 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. He is extremely efficient, scoring 14.5 points on just 10.7 shots. Other than his defense, which can be porous, there's not a lot to dislike about Nash and his game.

Nash and Kobe have been enemies on the court for 16 years, since 1996 when the former entered the NBA as a first-round draft pick by Phoenix out of Santa Clara and the latter an 18-year-old coming straight from high school in Philadelphia to the Lakers. They have battled but always had mutual respect for their respective games and the dedication they brought to it every night.

In many ways, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant are very much alike. They're both hungry to win and will do whatever it takes to make that happen. 

Bryant and Derek Fisher were a great pairing for the Lakers during their five championship seasons together because D-Fish could stand up to Bryant and his strong personality. They respected each other and the hard work needed to win titles.

Steve Nash will have a similar effect on the Mamba because, like Fisher, he's a natural-born leader, and he commands respect by his work ethic and results on the floor. 

And taken one step further, Nash has the skill set that Fisher never did. Sounds like a perfect pairing.