Breaking Down How Steve Nash Will Allow Dwight Howard to Thrive in the Paint

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 25:  Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns watches from the bench during the NBA game against the San Antonio Spurs at US Airways Center on April 25, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Spurs defeated the Suns 110-106.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers knew that acquiring Steve Nash meant more than adding another superstar to a team that already had its share—it meant adding a guy who can make those other stars even better.

A scary thought for the rest of the NBA.

That's as true with respect to Dwight Howard as it is with anyone else on this roster, even though the Lakers landed Howard well after Nash came to town. As dominant as the center is in so many facets of the game, he can use a little help when it comes to scoring.

Whereas his predecessor Andrew Bynum was a bit more content to simply catch the ball on the low block and go to work with his back to the rim, Howard is at his best getting the ball when he already has prime real estate in the painted area.

More often than not, that requires someone else to make a play, and that's where Nash comes in. Here's a look at three ways in which he'll become Howard's enabler—in the best possible sense of the term.


The Pick-and-Roll

We know that few point guards have ever been able to run the pick-and-roll so eloquently, but it turns out that Dwight Howard can hold his own in the situations as well. In fact, he was the most productive scorer among those doing the picking and rolling in 2011-12 according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Put these two together, and it's no secret that the play will inflict some serious damage.

Pau Gasol's versatility gives the Lakers the luxury of spacing the floor a bit more on pick-and-rolls, so D12 will have an unprecedented amount of space in which to operate when rolling to the basket. Meanwhile, Nash's ability to pull up and shoot such an accurate mid-range jumper will force Howard's man to make difficult decisions between hedging on Nash or staying glued to D12.

Even more importantly, no one is better prepared to make the right decision and the best possible pass, alternating between perfectly placed lobs and bounce passes.

We saw him do it with Amar'e Stoudemire, and we'll see him do it again.

Howard won't be as adept at popping as Stoudemire (or Gasol for that matter), but he may not need to be. If he could get to the basket while running the play in Orlando, it should be that much easier with the Lakers.



On the one hand, Steve Nash isn't the only reason the Los Angeles Lakers will space the floor so well this season. Head coach Mike Brown notes that all of Howard's teammates will make his life easier in that respect (via Hoopsworld's Yannis Koutroupis):

We think of that often as a staff when we’re talking about what we’re going to show and/or give to our team come training camp. It’s almost not (possible) to think about double teaming, you just have to have a heightened sense of awareness if or when you decide to double team us because we do feel like we have guys who can make you pay at all five positions.

On the other hand, though, Nash uniquely contributes to that spacing in at least a couple of ways, the first being that he's an outstanding long-range shooter who's made nearly 43 percent of his career three-point attempts.

Just as importantly, players like Nash are what make good spacing so deadly. If Howard passes out of a double-team, the first guy to touch the ball may not be in the best position to shoot—it may take another pass or two around the perimeter, and that's where Nash becomes such a valuable commodity.

He doesn't just make the routine pass. He'll read the defensive rotation and make the best pass.

Of course, all of this assumes that another club is actually willing to double-team Howard, but the point is really that Nash and Co. will deter them from doing so. With so many dangerous shooters and playmakers dotting the floor and waiting for an open shot, taking a team-defense approach to shutting Howard down will more even more of a gamble than it usually might be.


The Fast Break

Steve Nash has long understood that making the right pass can speed up a tempo far more than attempting to push the ball down the court with the dribble.

Even when he isn't availed a two-on-one or three-on-two opportunity, maintaining the right pace is important to getting Dwight Howard the best possible position in the paint. The longer the defense has to set up, the less likely Howard will be to get comfortable next to that restricted area.

With Nash getting the ball up the court more quickly, Howard should find plenty of easy baskets early in the shot clock.

He runs the floor as well as any big man in the league, so the trick is making sure someone actually rewards him for it. Nash will have it covered.