No, he's not crippling the offense, nor is he the primary reason for their continued atrophy. But he has made an already tenuous defensive attack even weaker.
By now, we've all come to understand the futility that is the Lakers' defensive sets. Los Angeles ranks 22nd in points allowed per 100 possessions (107) and is 26th in points surrendered per game (101.7).
At the heart of these defensive struggles is Nash, who has long been castigated for his troubles on defense.
To be fair, while plenty of the criticism he has drawn for his defense over the years is warranted, much of it has been blown out of proportion. He's not an exceptional on-ball defender, nor is he adept at manning the passing lanes, but he's always been agile and, therefore, able to play sound defense in spurts.
On the heels of an extensive shin injury, however, much of that same lateral quickness now fails him. And thus, he has looked like a deer in headlights on the defensive end.
Some of his struggles were masked in the early going by poor performances from point men such as Raymond Felton and Damian Lillard. For the most part, though, opposing point guards have had their way offensively.
Since Nash has returned to the lineup, opposing facilitators are averaging 19.8 points and 8.3 assists on 43.1 percent shooting.
Believe it or not, it gets worse.
Over the last five games, opposing point guards have really torched the Lakers. They're averaging 24 points and 8.8 assists on 52.6 percent shooting from the floor.
Los Angeles has allowed 100 or more total points in each of those five games, all of which it has lost.
To put Nash's defensive performance in an even clearer scope, just take a look at the stat lines a handful of opposing point guards have put up against the Lakers since his return:
|Point Guard||Points||Assists||Field-Goal Percentage|
Of course you are, and rightfully so.
Dwight Howard—before being shelved—was supposed to save a docile defensive attack. To an extent, he has. The Lakers allow fewer points when he's on the floor, and despite his physical limitations, he remains the only player in the NBA who is averaging at least 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per contest.
But Howard can only do so much. He can't protect the rim and the perimeter at the same time, and he can't fight Nash's defensive battles for him.
And Nash knows it. He knows that he has to play better defense. He also knows the team is crumbling under an absence of defensive structure.
“We’ve lost five games in a row; it’s pretty self-explanatory,” Bryant said. “We still have to straighten some things out on the defensive end, but I feel like we competed.”
The Lakers have allowed at least 100 points in every game of their losing streak.
“When we get our big guys back, then there’s no excuses,” guard Steve Nash said. “We really have to build our defense and do a better job.”
Excuses such as the one Nash offered aren't of value anymore.
Would Howard or Pau Gasol have helped hold Tony Parker to less than 24 points and six assists? Would they have been able to disrupt his 62.5 percent conversion rate from the field? Would they have prevented him from going 2-of-3 from beyond the arc?
Nash plays 33.4 minutes per game and must accept the responsibility of keeping pace with the opposing distributors—on both ends of the floor.
He was signed for his court vision and his ability to unite complex offensive schemes, but that doesn't exempt him from defensive accountability.
As Howard noted prior to Nash's return (via Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times), the point guard's presence was supposed to enhance the Lakers defense, not further facilitate its decadence:
While Nash is not known to be a defender, Howard believes his return will help the Lakers on that side of the floor.
"Most of the time our half-court defense has been pretty good. That teams that kill us [do it] with fast-break points, which on the stats sheet show up as points in the paint, and it makes it seem like we're not playing defense."
"If we can control the ball on the offensive end, play the way we want to play on offense and get a good shot every time, then we get back and set our defense, which for the most part is pretty good," he said. "When we turn the ball over, it puts us in a bad position to get back because we're running a play and then losing the ball, our momentum is going this way and they're going back the other way. We just really have to focus on getting a good shot every time, using the clock shot to our advantage."
But Nash hasn't quelled any of Los Angeles' defensive concerns.
The Lakers still turn the ball over 15.3 times per game (fourth-most in the league), and they're allowing more appoints in transition (15.6) than any team in the Association.
I understand benching Nash isn't an option and that his suddenly murky durability hasn't helped his mobility, but his rotations and ability to keep his man in front of him have to improve. He has to keep the opposition out of the paint.
He has to get better.
Will the Lakers make the playoffs if Steve Nash doesn't improve on the defensive end?
With the game on the line—like it was with the Los Angeles Clippers—the Lakers shouldn't be forced to throw Kobe Bryant on Chris Paul, thus creating a sizable mismatch somewhere else.
But that's exactly what they've had to do, and will have to do, until Nash can feign competency on the defensive end.
Until he admits it's less about Los Angeles' bigs than it is about him not blowing an assignment.
Until he understands that a Lakers turnaround will remain an illusion as long as he continues diluting an already languished defense.