The Los Angeles Lakers are built to run a pick-and-roll offense, but who should have more control of these offensive sets: Kobe Bryant, who has made it clear that the Lakers are still his team, or Steve Nash, who has made it clear he can succeed in Mike D'Antoni's offense?
In case you’re wondering, this is a good problem to have. Very few teams in the league have to ask themselves, which future Hall-of-Fame guard do we want controlling our offense?
Bryant and Nash are two very different players, but both have their advantages in a pick-and-roll offense. They’re both used to having the ball in their hands, they both attract double-teams and they can both make plays out on the perimeter.
The argument is there for both players, but in reality, this decision comes down to one basic concept: Nash is arguably the best pick-and-roll facilitator in the game today.
Aside from pushing the tempo, the true staple of Nash’s offense is the pick-and-roll. He’s established quite a reputation because of it, as he’s averaged double-digit assists seven times throughout his career.
Quite frankly, Nash is an assists machine, and that's not likely to change with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol on his side.
Nash runs the pick-and-roll as well as anybody, and now he has one of the best pick-and-roll big men on his side—if not the best—in Howard. Even Gasol has a chance to get in on the action if he's healthy and playing at a high level.
D’Antoni has seen what Nash can do with a dominant big man on his side. With the Phoenix Suns, Amar’e Stoudemire was one of the league’s best finishers at the rim. Nash could find Stoudemire in almost any situation, and the two of them made for one of the best one-two punches of the mid-2000s.
If his passing ability isn’t enough reason to put the ball in his hands, Nash is also as deadly a three-point shooter as there is in the Association.
If teams opt to defend the pass, Nash can make them pay with his stroke from deep range. He’s shot 42.8 percent from beyond the arc for his career, and his accuracy while shooting on the run is one of the more unique skills found today.
The other area where Nash has the edge over Bryant is in his willingness to keep his dribble. Bryant has a tendency to get caught pump faking or passing out of a shot.
Despite the Lakers' struggles, Bryant is having a fantastic season. He's scoring at an incredibly high rate and has improved his efficiency. He's even established his presence in the pick-and-roll game.
We all know that Bryant wants the ball in his hands, and having a healthy Nash on the floor isn’t going to change that. The Lakers have to find a way to keep Bryant involved in the offense.
Like Nash, Bryant will draw defenders away from the rolling player. His mid-range game is conceivably his best asset, and he requires tight coverage, especially late in games when his clutch gene is in full effect.
If teams choose to back off, he’ll make them pay. If they bring the double-team, he can pass out of a shot at the last second like few others in the league can.
Bryant’s never been known for setting up his teammates, but with a player of Howard’s rim-rocking abilities, even the simplest entry passes are bound to be rewarded.
Where D’Antoni and the Lakers can really get creative is if they’re willing to experiment. Using the 2-guard to set the pick will allow Nash to be the decision-maker, and he can create the offense that flows through Bryant's scoring.
Nash must be the one who controls the pick-and-roll offense, but if you’re the Lakers, you can’t simply forget about No. 24. Changing Bryant's role to sidekick won't end well for the team—on or off the court—and quite frankly, the 14-time All-Star won’t let it happen.
The Lakers may still be Bryant’s team, but it’s D’Antoni’s system that is now in place. Nash was born to run this offense, and he has to be the one running the pick-and-roll more times than not if L.A. wants to find success.