How Steve Nash and Pau Gasol Can Help Kobe Bryant This Season
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Expect big bounce-back performances from Steve Nash and Pau Gasol this season.
Last season was the worst year in a decade for both Nash and Gasol. Two future Hall-of-Famers, who pride themselves on their ability to contribute to a team, will make sure it doesn't happen again.
Whether Bryant is in the lineup or not, the two wily old veterans will help him shoulder the burden, particularly on the offensive end.
Here's how they can do so.
Pick, Roll and Repeat
Nash used to be the premier pick-and-roll point guard in the NBA but saw his PNR chances decline drastically last season as he shifted to more of an off-ball role.
Without Bryant to begin the 2013-14 campaign, Nash should have the ball in his hands constantly once more. Mike D'Antoni will incorporate more of his system this year with his old muse at the helm, giving Nash plenty of freedom to wheel and deal out of the pick-and-roll.
Nash doesn't get the same penetration he used to in his heyday, but he's still a threat to knock down outside shots if opponents go under the screen.
His vision is still top class as well.
Nash can manipulate defenders off the ball and open up hidden passing angles. His creative array of off-hand and unorthodox passes catches defenders off guard and gives his teammates an extra second to get off a quality shot.
Nash was still an elite screen-and-roll player last season.
According to mysynergysports.com, Nash was in the top-seven percent in the NBA in points per possession as a PNR ball-handler. And those numbers don't even include his assists.
Gasol, meanwhile, is a perfect PNR partner for Nash. He can roll hard to the rim and finish with either hand, pop out for a mid-range jumper, face up and attack his defender or catch the ball in the middle of the paint and quickly find the open man as the defense collapses on him.
His versatility makes the Lakers' offense unpredictable. Each PNR set provides a variety of options given Gasol's diverse skill set.
The sublime passing of both Nash and Gasol makes their PNR pairing one of the more delightful ones to watch in the entire league.
We already touched on Gasol's artistic passing ability. It's among the reasons why he's still one of the best post players in the entire league.
The Lakers can feel comfortable running their offense through Gasol in the post to counter-balance the pick-and-roll actions.
They leaned on Gasol's post play heavily down the stretch of last season, and he responded by filling up the stat sheet to the tune of 17 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists over the final nine contests of 2013 (including two triple-doubles in the last three games).
Gasol can score in a variety of ways on the low block.
He's comfortable shooting a jump hook with either hand, in addition to incorporating whirling baseline drives and soft fall-aways. He's great at reading double-teams and firing those diagonal passes out to shooters which slice open defenses.
He can also facilitate superbly out of the high post. Gasol's shooting ability keeps defenders from sagging off of him, allowing him to throw passes to cutters diving to the rim.
One of the Lakers' go-to offensive plays last year was the classic "Horns" set, which allowed Gasol to survey the floor from the elbow. Nash was used in the play to either set back screens for cutters or flare out himself for a spot-up three.
Los Angeles had a lot of options out of that set thanks to the all-around skills of Nash and Gasol. Putting those two in positions to work the defense and make plays for others elevates the Lakers' offense to uber-efficient levels.
Without Dwight Howard around, demanding unproductive post touches, and with Bryant sidelined to begin the season, the two offensive stalwarts will get a chance to remind everyone why they're two of the best players of their generation at their respective positions.
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