Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash
The NBA is filled with a multitude of dynamic backcourts, most of which are terrific and productive in their own different ways.
The Brooklyn Nets’ pair of starting guards leave you with the impression that they should have the advantage on most nights against their opponents. The Golden State Warriors’ guard tandem is just plain scary to leave open because of their shooting ability.
And then there is the Los Angeles Lakers backcourt, which comes with Hall of Fame credentials because of their respective individual accomplishments.
Steve Nash won back-to-back league MVP trophies with the Phoenix Suns on the strength of Mike D’Antoni’s seven seconds or less offense. It took the league over by storm as opponents struggled to defend Nash and as his teammates while the Suns piled up victories, all during D’Antoni and Nash’s marriage out in Phoenix.
Kobe Bryant is the proud owner of five championship rings, two Finals MVP trophies and one league MVP award—given his incredible prowess as a scorer, occasional set up man and closer. As the pressure mounts, so does Bryant’s game as he looks to take over on both offense and defense.
It’s been well chronicled that Kobe often has a penchant for dominating the ball late in games, as he trusts himself more than he does his teammates to make big plays when the game is on the line. Hence, many wondered if Bryant could coexist with Kid Canada.
So far, that hasn’t proven to be problematic whatsoever and it’s evident why: trust.
Kobe Bryant respects Steve Nash’ credentials and it’s quite obvious during games. Indeed, the Black Mamba willingly defers ball-handling duties to his new point guard. Nash allows him to run the offense and even loves running pick-and-rolls with him to create mismatches, where Bryant ends up with a point guard defending him.
Because Kobe is well aware that the former Suns player will feed him the ball exactly where he wants it, he will get himself into scoring position and then ask for the rock as opposed to just demanding the ball from any random spot on the floor.
Nash’s return to the lineup has essentially given the Lakers superstar the ultimate green light to put the ball up, as he no longer has to worry about getting the team into its offense and feeling the burden of creating shots for others. Instead, Bryant can concentrate on what he does best: get shots up and score.
According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, when Kobe Bryant has shared the court alongside Steve Nash in December, he has produced 29.5 points, 3.7 assists, 23.9 field goal attempts and 1.5 turnovers per 40 minutes on 48.4 percent field goal shooting. That is quality production from the off-guard position and it’s quite impressive, even for a player of Bryant’s caliber.
Mind you, when we look at Kobe’s numbers when Nash is off the court in the past three games, it’s night and day. NBA.com’s advanced stats tool tells us that the former league MVP is manufacturing 48.3 points, 3.3 assists, 41.7 field goal attempts and 3.3 turnovers per 40 minutes on 48 percent shooting when Nash is off the court.
The sample size is obviously incredibly small and somewhat skewed by the Golden State game in which Kobe put up his fair share of shot attempts; but the figures confirm that the five-time world champion is much more at ease with Nash back in the fold after three games.
Kobe hasn’t completely abandoned his playmaking responsibilities, but chooses instead to focus more on them when the opposition double-teams him, finding open shooters and willingly feeding them open looks; especially Nash, who is shooting a sizzling 64.3 percent from the field since returning to the lineup.
The tandem hasn’t been ideal defensively, but perhaps they will play better on that front in the next few games—especially if Dwight Howard avoids picking up fouls and ejections, which have limited his playing time.
If there is one area of concern for the Los Angeles Lakers at this point in time, it has to be the coaching staff’s reliance on their backcourt. In the three games Nash has played this month, Kobe has averaged a ridiculous 43.7 minutes per game, while the Santa Clara product has averaged 36.7 minutes per game.
Even more surprising though, in the total 110 minutes that Steve Nash has played in December, only three of those minutes have been played with the Mamba on the bench per NBA.com’s advanced stats tool.
Coming into the season, many assumed that the Purple and Gold would only go as far their big men took them, yet it seems that every discussion revolving around the team will center around its backcourt.
Nash and Bryant are clearly still great players, but who would have thought that they would have to sustain their Hall of Fame level of play to keep the Lakers afloat at the moment?
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.