5 Reasons Steve Nash Will Reignite Pau Gasol for LA Lakers
The return of Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers' starting lineup cannot happen fast enough for one seven-foot Spanish basketball player who thrives in a motion offense that rewards good passing.
Steve Nash came to L.A. in order to play alongside Pau Gasol, the two-time NBA champion who, despite tendinitis and a badly bruised ego, is still regarded as one of the league's premier, skilled big men.
It appears that Nash and Gasol will finally get that opportunity this month, and it could not come at a better time.
The Lakers collectively have taken on the aura of the once-laughable L.A. Clippers, entering an extended four-game road trip this week with an embarrassing record of 9-12. Opposing teams have their number and are exploiting weaknesses with a regularity that borders on the ridiculous.
Under Mike D'Antoni, the Lakers are being questioned hourly about a stunning lack of defense, a haphazard, hurry-up offense and a perceived lack of discipline and passion.
Since the middle of the second game of the season, the Lakers have been without the services of the still exceptional Steve Nash, and that has cost them dearly.
Nash may not be the world's best defender, but he is one of the NBA's all-time point guards, and he's champing at the bit to work with Gasol, who is one of the game's most fluid big men.
There are a number of reasons why Nash and Gasol will make a formidable pair. Will it be enough to get the Lakers finally on track? Hard to say, though it will obviously help.
A healthy Steve Nash will make everyone (including Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard) on the Lakers better. It stands to reason, though, that the player most likely to benefit is Pau Gasol. He will thrive in a Nash-led offense.
Steve Nash and Pau Gasol Are Smarter Than Their Coach
This is not meant to mock the intelligence of Mike D'Antoni, but Nash and Gasol are two of the smartest basketball players on the planet and will know to take advantage of their respective talents even within the confines of a hurry-up offense.
The smartest thing D'Antoni did during his five years as head coach of the Phoenix Suns was to recognize the talent in Steve Nash and basically allow the former Santa Clara star to be his own floor general. In other words, D'Antoni gave the basketball "keys" to Nash and told him to start driving.
In one year (2004-05), D'Antoni's Suns won 33 more games than the previous season and he won NBA Coach of the Year honors. It was Steve Nash he owed the most thanks to.
If Nash had wanted to play with his former big man, Amar'e Stoudemire again, he would have gone to the New York Knicks this summer. Instead, he chose L.A. because he wanted to play with Pau Gasol, knowing full well what his strengths and weaknesses were.
And D'Antoni knows that Nash will make or break his stay in Los Angeles, which is why he so looks forward to the point guard's return from a broken leg injury that has kept him sidelined for 19 of the Lakers' first 21 games.
The Mike D'Antoni offense is really about letting his players set the tone. And with Nash at the helm, he will have the ideal captain.
Via Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLA.com, D'Antoni intimated that that the real key to his offensive scheme would be to let Steve Nash call the shots on the court:
"You just make it up. Because they can make it up better than we (coaches) can make it up. We want to rely on their skills and Pau's the best for it. That's why I'm a little perplexed when people say he doesn't fit. He fits."
Steve Nash Makes Everyone Better: Gasol Will Flourish
One of the reasons former Lakers coach Phil Jackson loved Pau Gasol so much as a player was his high basketball IQ and a total understanding of the triangle offense, which rewards players for ball movement.
Steve Nash may have been the point guard for an explosive, up tempo, seven seconds or less offense in Phoenix, but he also understands that ball movement—not sheer speed—is the way to offensive success for the team he currently runs in L.A.
Pau Gasol needs touches closer to the basket, and Nash will find a myriad of ways to make that happen, including pick-and-rolls at which he excels.
The fact that Gasol converts over 67 percent of his attempts from the paint but is currently taking 55 percent of his shots from outside that area tells you something about what the Lakers and Nash in particular need to do once they hit the floor together.
Assuming that Nash recaptures his physical abilities that were there last season and prior to his breaking his fibula, the duo should flourish.
Nash averaged between 9.7 and 11.6 assists in his eight years at Phoenix, including 10.7 last season in just 31.6 minutes per game.
Gasol Needs a Shot of Confidence, and Nash Will Deliver It
Pau Gasol is lost in the Mike D'Antoni system, trying to fit in to the up-tempo style of play but being looked at as the third or even fourth option.
That all should change under the guidance of Steve Nash, who will recognize how integral Gasol can be to the team's success.
This isn't the first time Mike D'Antoni has misread a particular player and sat him down because he didn't think he fit into the system.
He did it to center/forward Jordan Hill while the Lakers role player was a rookie with the Knicks.
But to sit a two-time NBA champion and four-time All-Star late in the fourth quarter of a loss to Memphis because "I'd like to win this game" (Gasol was just 3-of-8 and scored six points), is just plain stupid.
Antawn Jamison may be a streak scorer but Gasol, when used properly, gives your team a much better chance to win.
After that game, Gasol vented his frustrations about not getting enough touches where he can be most effective. Via the OC Register's Kevin Ding: "Pau made clear he'd like more opportunities in the post under D'Antoni, not just jumpers."
The more touches he gets around the basket from Steve Nash, the more Gasol's confidence will return. That will benefit everyone.
Steve Nash Has Never Won a Title, Feels He Needs Gasol to Do It
As hungry as Kobe Bryant is to win his sixth championship, it doesn't seem to be radiating with his teammates, most notably Pau Gasol.
Mike D'Antoni has given mixed signals about his confidence or lack thereof for his seven-footer.
The Lakers have been lacking a true leader on the floor this season. Dwight Howard may be the league's top center and a true defensive stopper and MVP, but he doesn't possess the ability to rally his charges and get them excited about winning.
Steve Nash, at 38, has accomplished just about everything one could hope for in an illustrious career, except for the big prize of winning a world championship. He has tremendous incentive to get all of his teammates involved in the pursuit of a title, especially Gasol.
It's obvious that Kobe Bryant's tirade toward his teammates following a loss to Orlando last week was not the right approach. Alluding to Gasol directly, Bryant told Fox Sports: “Put your big boy pants on. Just adjust. Just adjust. You can’t whine or complain about it.”
Steve Nash will deliver a much more positive message to Gasol when he's back on the court for the Lakers.
Window to Title Is Shrinking Every Day: Now Is the Time, Nash May Be the Answer
The Lakers constructed a team last August that they felt could compete for an NBA Championship. To date, that roster has been missing in action.
Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash played together during a lackluster preseason and didn't win a game.
Howard was in the the early stages of recovery from back surgery and Nash was trying to adapt to former coach Mike Brown and the Princeton offense, a coach and a system that seemed foreign to the former point guard of the Phoenix Suns.
Nash broke his leg just two games into the regular season, and Brown was fired and replaced by Mike D'Antoni three games later.
Nash is still out, and the Lakers have floundered under their third coach of the young season (Brown and interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff being the other two).
Is Steve Nash the savior of the L.A. Lakers? The simple answer is no. The Lakers still need to play better defense, and Nash has never been known to be a stopper.
Yet, D'Antoni truly believes Nash will help immensely by returning to run the offense and that, in turn, will have a positive impact on players like Gasol.
D'Antoni is as eager as anyone to see Nash and Gasol team up. Still, he is cautiously optimistic, telling Helene Elliott of the L.A. Times:
"If that (Nash returning) doesn't cure some stuff, then we need to have some heart-to-hearts and we need to understand what's going on because if he can't run it, then we've got some problems."