Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash of the L.A. Lakers
Bryant has been hampered by an Achilles rupture and knee fracture. The Lakers’ all-time leading scorer is projected to remain out at least until the All-Star break, and it’s killing him.
The 2-guard shared as much with Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding: “You’re taking Bruce Banner and putting him in the middle of a bar fight and hoping he doesn’t become The Hulk.”
Nash has been sidelined due to nerve damage in his back, and much like Bryant, he has only appeared in six games so far this season. Luckily for the Los Angeles Lakers, it appears as though the Canadian will be rejoining the team.
In late January, Nash shared this tidbit with ESPN LA’s Dave McMenamin: “Tomorrow is definitely out, but next week I have extremely high hopes to play"
The return of L.A.’s point guard is a step in the right direction for a franchise that has seen all of its floor generals physically break down. Indeed, Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake have missed roughly half of the team’s game this year.
With Nash back in the fold, the Lakers will slowly begin to reconstruct their second unit by initially bringing the two-time MVP off the bench.
It will give Nash an opportunity to attack second-unit players and slowly build his confidence back up before focusing on battling starters.
Steve Nash: the good and the bad
Steve Nash’s return should help a Los Angeles team that has struggled with shooting. The Lakers are in the league’s bottom third when it comes to field-goal percentage, and given that Nash is a career 49 percent shooter, it stands to reason that he can help on that front, in a perfect world.
The reality of the situation is that Nash was anything but a shooter in his early-season performances. He only converted 12-of-46 field goals (26.1 percent) and looked a little beaten down.
Moreover, Nash’s confidence took a huge hit, and he stopped looking like a competent NBA player. He offered his thoughts early in the season to Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding: “Hopefully I can play at a better rate at some point in the near future.”
As bad as his offense was, it paled in comparison to his defense or lack thereof. The former Phoenix Sun has always been a poor individual defender, which in turn has resulted in teams attacking him in isolations, post-ups and pick-and-rolls.
Naturally, Nash’s age and physical limitations make his shortcomings on this end even more pronounced. It’s quite likely his lateral movements will be the worst they have ever been, which means he will be the weakest link on a Lakers team flirting with the last spot in defensive efficiency.
Provided that Nash is a productive offensive player, his defensive issues will likely earn him a bit of a pass from Mike D’Antoni. However, should the sharpshooter struggle with his shooting and playmaking, one has to believe that will land him a warm spot on the bench.
Expectations from Kobe Bryant
Prior to fracturing his knee, Kobe Bryant returned from his Achilles tear and produced mixed results. He naturally seemed out of sync and saw his jumper betray him a little.
In six games, the four-time All-Star Game MVP averaged 29.5 minutes, 13.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists on 42.5 percent shooting. Bryant did a decent job of setting up his teammates, but his lack of synergy with them resulted in several miscues.
Indeed, he coughed up the ball 5.7 times per contest. Bryant’s struggles did not stop there. Defensively, the two-time Finals MVP was simply awful. To be fair, this was a product of his physical condition.
Bryant was still working himself into game shape and lacked the required quickness to stay with wing players. The coaching staff made attempts to hide the superstar defensively by assigning him to guard non-threats. Still, his focus was a bit lacking and as a result, opponents beat him for easy scores.
This serves as a cautionary tale as it pertains to what Bryant brings to the table. When Bryant rejoins the Lakers, it’s safe to say that he will be a little worse off, at least in his first few games, because he will be compensating for two lower leg injuries.
The five-time champion will have to get reacquainted with his body and recalibrate his strengths. Based on his first six games of the season, one has to think his jump shot will be an obstacle once more and as a result, the Purple and Gold will have issues scoring the ball with him on the floor.
The data corroborates the evidence of the eye test as well. According to 82games, the Lakers were simply a better a team overall with Bryant riding the pine.
Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash together
Although Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash were projected to start in the Lakers’ backcourt, this now seems like a pipe dream of sorts. The tandem is unplayable on paper when we take into account their limitations.
Neither of them has demonstrated the ability to help the Purple and Gold win games. Their shooting has been less than stellar, and they also can no longer be serviceable defenders.
Couple that with the fact that Kendall Marshall, Jodie Meeks and Nick Young have all been really good for the Lakers this season, and well, it becomes abundantly clear that they will not share the floor together for anything resembling long stretches.
Mike D’Antoni might give them a few token minutes to figure out if they play well off each other, but once it becomes obvious that L.A. is inept on both sides of the ball with both in the lineup, the coaching staff will put an end to that experiment.
Bryant will need spacing on the floor in order to enjoy any semblance of single coverage, and Nash’s frigid shooting will surely compromise it. In addition, Nash will have trouble turning the corner in pick-and-rolls, which means he will not be much of a playmaker.
Defenses will play him straight up and force him to finish plays, knowing full well his bodily state will not allow it. This sets up a scenario where the ball is out of Bryant’s hands, and in the possession of someone incapable of producing high-percentage plays.
That’s a scenario Bryant will never accept given that it puts him at a disadvantage on the offensive side.
On the other end, the Lakers might be able to hide one perimeter liability, but not two. Having both Bryant and Nash share the court likely means that the Kobe Bean will get the toughest matchup out of the two and get exposed.
If we look a little further into the future, the crystal ball tells us that Nash will get completely phased out. When both end up hurting the team because of the decline of their respective skills, the Lakers will undoubtedly side with Bryant.
The Lakers’ all-time leading scorer is the greatest 2-guard to play for the franchise, and he has earned more than enough leeway. This was apparent in Bryant’s lone year with Dwight Howard.
Despite the fact Howard was going to become a free agent by season’s end, D’Antoni ran the offense through Bryant and allowed him to dictate the direction of the team.
The 15-time All-Star is the Lakers’ present as well as its future as evidenced by his $48.5 million extension that will keep him in uniform until the conclusion of 2015-16.
The coaching staff must do everything possible to ensure they are aligned with Bryant given that he factors so heavily into the team’s next few years. Thus, if Bryant gets to the point where he can give the Lakers 35 minutes per contest, expect Nash to spend the bulk of the game observing from the sidelines.