What Steve Nash Must Do to Bounce Back in Mike D'Antoni's Offense
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The biggest obstacle Nash faced in his first season in Los Angeles was a lack of touches. D’Antoni ran the offense through Kobe Bryant and tasked him with most of the playmaking responsibilities. That meant Bryant was responsible for setting up Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
Thus, because Bryant handled the ball most of the time, Nash was relegated to the role of floor spacer.
Synergy Sports tells us that 17.8 percent of his field goals came in spot-up situations. That is the highest share of these types of shot attempts Nash has recorded since Synergy Sports began tracking the stat in 2009-10.
The former Phoenix Sun is a deadly shooter. He certainly affects the way opponents defend the Lakers, but this is not the best use of his talents.
Howard is now a member of the Houston Rockets. That means Nash will have to carry a bigger load offensively. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year’s touches will be redistributed amongst the core of Nash, Bryant and Gasol.
Nash is a terrific ball-handler and setup man as evidenced by his career 8.5 assists per game. Thus, putting him in the pick-and-roll and allowing him to occasionally isolate his defender is a terrific way to exploit defenses.
Nash is a clever passer who is always looking for his teammates. When defenses adjust in an attempt to take away his passing angles, the future Hall of Fame point guard looks for his own shot.
Nash is a career 49 percent shooter overall, so it is in the Lakers' best interests to have him go on the aggressive every now and then. Nash’s usage rate in 2012-13 was on par with his rookie season, which speaks to his reduced role with the Lakers.
It is important to be realistic in terms of the expectations and the execution of the Lakers’ scheme. Bryant probably will not cede the bulk of the playmaking duties to Nash, so they must find a happy medium.
One option for the coaching staff is playing Nash for longer stretches when Bryant is resting. In 2012-13, the tandem averaged 29.6 minutes per game together on the court, per NBA.com.
Nash averaged 32.5 minutes per game last year, which means he rarely got an opportunity to drive the Lakers' car. He was mostly relegated to shotgun status while playing alongside Bryant.
D’Antoni will be better served by staggering their minutes and giving his point guard more opportunities to run the offense and prove he is a threat on the floor. Nash must be more than a glorified spot-up shooter. He must be forceful and look to create opportunities both for himself and his teammates.
With teams shifting their defensive focus almost exclusively to Bryant, Nash will have multiple opportunities to attack the man guarding him off the bounce. Because he is such a gifted passer, teams have often stayed at home on his teammates and completely forgotten to rotate to him and contest his layup attempts.
Watch the video below for evidence of this:
He must absolutely get back to that aggressive mentality where he forces opponents to pick their poison.
Keep in mind, Nash was mostly injured during the course of the 2012-13 campaign.
He missed 32 games and looked out of sync at times. Heading into 2013-14, he will benefit from a training camp with D’Antoni, which will help him get reacquainted with his previous form.
The familiarity as well as his health will give him chances to run more quick-hitting plays. Indeed, D’Antoni ran an offense in Phoenix that was called “Seven Seconds or Less” because of the speed with which the Suns attacked opponents.
This is one of Nash’s best gifts: picking apart a defense before it sets. He must get out in transition with the ball and make decisions on the fly. His creativity is incredibly difficult to plan for and scout.
At his best, Nash is a daring player who takes risks.
In a battle for alpha male supremacy with the Lakers, he probably loses the fight to Bryant. However, Nash must come into training camp with the mentality that he is not a role player, but rather a huge cog that makes the Lakers machine function.
In his first season in Los Angeles, Nash’s job late in ballgames was to give the ball to Bryant and then simply get out of his way. Watch him do just that against the Minnesota Timberwolves below:
The Purple and Gold will take that scenario on most occasions given Bryant’s success throughout his career in this setting. Those instances often reflected the change in Nash’s approach when compared to his Phoenix days.
As a member of the Suns, the two-time MVP set up every big field-goal attempt or took every big shot in crunch time. In Los Angeles, it is quite understandable that Bryant owns that job, but there is nothing wrong with Nash taking the reins in the clutch.
If anything, Nash taking over the offense down the stretch will be a welcome change for a Lakers team that has traditionally struggled late in ballgames in the Kobe Bryant era.
NBA.com tells us that Nash’s conversion rate in the final five minutes of games with a scoring margin within five points has consistently been great.
There is some obvious irony at play here. The version of Nash that made plays down the stretch of games is the one that put fear in the heart of Lakers fans once upon a time. That's part of the reason Mitch Kupchak brought him aboard.
However, he has not really had a chance to display his offensive talents down the stretch of close contests with the Lakers. Reminding us of what he once accomplished is practically obligatory if the franchise wishes to earn a postseason berth heading into 2013-14.
Thus, the Lakers’ lead guard will have more opportunities to dictate the flow of games with Howard gone. Instead of dumping the ball into the post merely for the sake of placating Howard, the Lakers will become a free-flowing perimeter-oriented offense.
This is the perfect setting for Nash to rejoin the list of elite point guards in basketball. Once upon a time, he was the best maestro in the world. He still has that in him, and he now has the blueprint to show it.
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