What is Steve Nash's Proper Role on the LA Lakers Next Year?

Thomas Duffy@@TJDhoopsFeatured ColumnistJune 15, 2013

Mar 30, 2013; Sacramento, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash (10) dribbles the ball against the Sacramento Kings in the first quarter at Sleep Train Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

There is no reason why a healthy Steve Nash can’t be one of the most effective players on the floor for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2014. At age 39, Nash is a step slower than he was in his prime, but throughout his career he has never relied on athleticism or strength to win—just his head.

The only foreseeable roadblock next season will be his health. Although Nash’s physical fragility doesn’t hinder his production, it does affect how often he gets injured. Last season, the veteran point guard played in just 50 games, the second-lowest total of his 16-year career in the NBA.

Nash suffered a fracture in his leg just two games into the new season and missed about seven weeks in addition to sitting out the final eight games of LA’s season with a hip injury that caused nerve damage in his right hamstring.

Statistically, Nash is slowing down.

In 2013, he dished out 6.7 assists per game, just the second time in the past nine years that he has averaged less than 10 dimes a night. However, a great deal of that can be attributed to the fact that the offense never really clicked under Mike D’Antoni the way it did when Nash played for him on the Phoenix Suns.

Steve Nash is not LeBron James—he is not going to go coast-to-coast and finish above the rim, nor is he going to work in isolation on the offensive end.

Nash has been a pick-and-roll master for his entire career, as evidenced by his back-to-back MVP award in 2005 and 2006 under D’Antoni in Phoenix. However, Kobe Bryant took over the role of distributor with Nash in and out of the lineup.

With the Mamba running the show, Nash was relegated to becoming basically a spot-up shooter. The future Hall of Famer readily accepted the role, netting nearly 50 percent of his shots from the field and 43.8 percent from beyond the three-point arc while posting 12.7 points per game.

Next season, Nash will have a much larger role in the offense. Bryant had surgery on his torn Achilles, and Dwight Howard may leave in free agency—that leaves Nash and Pau Gasol to carry the purple and gold torch.

Gasol and Nash are the perfect pick-and-roll duo, despite the fact that Howard was the primary roller last season. Although he’s a highflier and a ferocious finisher at the rim, D12 doesn’t have the outside shooting prowess or passing ability that Gasol has in his arsenal.

So, we’ve established this much—a healthy Nash can swish, dish and orchestrate the offense. However, if Howard leaves LA, the team will struggle defensively, more so than in 2013 (if you can believe that), largely because Nash won’t be playing with arguably the best defender in the league behind him.

With all due respect, Nash is one of the worst defenders in the NBA.

Although he is at a disadvantage because of his age at his position—imagine being asked to guard someone like Russell Westbrook when you’re 40—he has always been a lackluster defensive player. The team may have to incorporate some zone into its rotation in order to cover up for the point guard’s lack of ability on that end of the floor.

What can you expect to see next season from Steve Nash? Well, for starters, you’ll see what you've always seen with him as a professional: an intelligent player with class, a great teammate and a hard worker. What kind of production you’ll see on the court from Nash is contingent upon his health.

Lakers trainer Gary Vitti hinted to Mike Trudell of NBA.com that Nash could have a minutes limit next season:

I think he’s going to come back in great shape, and then it’s all about how he’s used. You don’t want to beat him up in practice. Save it for the game, figure out the appropriate minutes that put him in a successful situation. The example I use is Robert Horry, where we played him a lot of minutes, and it was difficult for him to recover and be productive at his age. But he goes to San Antonio, plays 18 minutes a game, and the guy was an unbelievable force off the bench for them. I think if we figure out how best to use Steve, he can be the same way.

The Lakers are certainly going to need Nash to be an unbelievable force in 2014 to have any shot of making the playoffs. And if he’s healthy, he’s very capable of being just that.