Why Los Angeles Lakers Steve Nash May Regress Like Other Aging Point Guards
But, despite performing near the top of his game last season, Nash will turn 39 during the 2012-2013 campaign, exceeding the age range where most players experience a decline in their statistical and physical performance.
Although Nash has a reputation of keeping himself in great shape, history tells us that it's virtually impossible to fight off Father Time for too long. For example, John Stockton—another great point guard known for keeping himself in top condition—experienced a slight dip in his performance after age 35.
The same can be said for Gary Payton, Mark Jackson and Jason Kidd.
Typically, the first aspect of a player's game that suffers with age is his quickness. This is especially true for guards. Nash plays at a fast pace and constantly has the basketball in his possession, which can take a toll on his legs over the course of an 82-game season.
At 38, going on 39, it's doubtful that Nash will be able to sustain that accelerated pace for more than 28-30 minutes per game.
Considering that the Lakers are a virtual lock to make the playoffs, coach Mike Brown and staff will need to monitor Nash's minutes closely throughout the season. Former Utah Jazz head coach Jerry Sloan applied a similar restriction on minutes for Stockton later in his career, subbing Stockton out at a set time during each of the first three quarters to keep him fresh later in games and later in the season.
With Chris Duhon, Steve Blake, Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris all on the roster, the Lakers have more than enough PG depth to keep Nash's minutes down throughout the season.
Another aspect of Nash's game that may see a decline at his advanced age is scoring. In his prime with the Suns, Nash was a 15-18 PPG scorer that was capable of carrying the team offensively late in games (Nash averaged 17 PPG between 2004-2010, ages 30-35).
Nash's scoring dipped to 13.7 during 2010-2012. Some of the decline in scoring can be attributed to Nash playing fewer minutes (Nash played an average of 34.3 MPG from 2004-2010 compared to 32.5 during 2010-2012). But in comparing Nash to John Stockton, Stockton experienced a similar decline in his scoring at the same ages, from 14.4 (ages 30-35) down to 11.8 (ages 36-40).
For both Nash and Stockton, the decline in scoring can also be attributed to a shift in mentality. Nash realizes he's no longer in his prime and relies more on setting up his teammates early in games, saving most of his scoring for the fourth quarter.
Luckily Nash will be surrounded by tons of offensive weapons in L.A. and won't be relied upon to score nearly as much with the Lakers as he was with the Suns. Nash's scoring should level off somewhere between 11 and 13 points per game, which should be plenty for this upcoming season.
The final aspect of Nash's game that will regress due to his age is his defense.
Nash has never been known as a strong defender, but he was able to at least bother opposing point guards to an extent. At 38-39, Nash's lateral quickness will be nonexistent and will allow constant dribble penetration. Gary Payton, who is regarded as one of the best defensive point guards in NBA history, experienced a similar dip in his defensive abilities post age 35.
This is an area Nash will relay heavily on his teammates to clean things up for him. Dwight Howard is an excellent shot-blocker and Pau Gasol—though not as athletic as Howard—can alter shots with his length.
Howard, Gasol and reserve big man Jordan Hill will need to swat away a ton of shots to make up for Nash's defense, or lack thereof.
Steve Nash is undeniably still on of the top point guards in the NBA, and even at age 38 can still perform at an All-Star level any given night. But Lakers fans will need to maintain realistic expectations for his production over the next few years, as history shows that Nash's skills will regress and his minutes will be more limited now than at any stage of his brilliant career.
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