How Steve Nash Can Still Play a Valuable Role for Los Angeles Lakers

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How Steve Nash Can Still Play a Valuable Role for Los Angeles Lakers
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Los Angeles Lakers fans never got to see the real Steve Nash donning the Purple and Gold, and at this point, they probably never will.

As the 40-year-old prepares for his 19th NBA season, the only near-certainty is that he's unlikely to produce at a rate befitting his $9.7 million salary—if he's able to produce at all. Battling both Father Time and a lingering back problem, he's played only 65 games over the past two seasons combined.

Yet, hope is not lost for the two-time MVP. He can still provide valuable assists to this franchise, just not the kind that LA had initially envisioned.

Even if his body isn't right, his mind is as sharp as ever. Considering his All-Star ascent leaned heavily on intelligence, as opposed to Olympic sprinter's speed or a jaw-dropping vertical, he has plenty to offer the rebuilding club on or off the court:

That's not to suggest that his days inside the lines are finished.

It's hard to rule anything out when it comes to Nash. He had one scholarship offer after high school. He now has eight all-star selections on his resume.

As Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding noted in March, Nash has never been one to lie down and accept fate:

When he was barely a teen, Nash decided on his own that it was time for him to play again. He got some contraband scissors to cut off the cast from his broken arm. He enlisted buddy Adam Miller to help pull the cast off, a scene that was akin to a wrestling title match: the two boys versus the cast.

They got it off. And Nash played in his night-league basketball game that night.

Granted, there is no cast to cut off this time around. And this isn't night-league basketball.

But if there is any possible path to playing time, he'll work hard to find it. With no crystal ball in hand, it's hard to say if it actually exists.

Realistically, his potential floor presence is not the biggest part of this story. He's a part-time player at best, whose selflessness and shooting stroke are struggling to compensate for his deficiencies at the defensive end.

The Lakers don't need Steve Nash the point guard. Not as badly as they need Steve Nash the teacher, at least.

USA TODAY Sports

There are question marks littering this roster: Who mans the small forward spot? How will the interior rotation play out? How much can be expected from the 35-year-old Kobe Bryant?

Those might not be fun to answer. Not after an offseason that briefly flirted with fortune-reversing additions but eventually yielded a collection of salary cap placeholders:

But the point guard position could hold one of the more intriguing inquiries: What exactly do the Lakers have there?

With plenty to spend and an even greater need for production, the Lakers gladly took Jeremy Lin off the Houston Rockets' salary-shedding hands earlier this summer. Two years removed from his meteoric rise with the New York Knicks, he now joins the Lakers after a pair of solid seasons in Space City.

Lin's Steady Production with the Rockets
Season PTS FG% 3P% AST TOV PER
2012-13 13.4 44.1 33.9 6.1 2.9 14.9
2013-14 12.5 44.6 35.8 4.1 2.5 14.3

Basketball-Reference.com

There's nothing particularly special about those numbers, but the Rockets weren't asking him to be special.

He shuffled in and out of coach Kevin McHale's starting lineup. His 9.3 field-goal attempts per game ranked fifth on the team last season.

He took whatever his teammates gave to him, rarely working to find his own shot. A career 34.3 percent three-point shooter, he was most often used as a spot-up shooter (26.1 percent of his offensive plays), via Synergy Sports (subscription required). Pick-and-rolls only accounted for 22.7 percent of his plays, while he ran isolations another 12.4 percent of the time.

During his magical run with the Knicks, he showed what he could do with the ball in his hand. Nearly 43 percent of his plays came as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, while nearly 16 percent saw him running isolations. That season, he was the NBA's eighth-most efficient player in isolations (1.02 points per possession).

That same year, Nash was one of many to join Lin's fan club.

"I think every team can use a point guard like him," Nash told reporters in February 2012. " ... I think he'd be good anywhere he played the game."

Now, Nash can play an active role in proving himself right. He has a wealth of knowledge to share with Lin, who will turn only 26 in August and could still become part of the franchise's future plans.

"Lin's game has long featured a bit too much 'put your head down and go,' and he could definitely benefit from learning some subtler methods of attack from the crafty veteran," Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes wrote.

Lin's expiring $8.3 million salary is what brought him to LA, but Nash's teaching could be what keeps him there.

Both have a fearless approach to the hardwood and the ability to penetrate a defense off the dribble. What separates Nash from Lin—along with almost every other player at the position—is the patience and poise he shows inside the paint, which allows him to create passing lanes other floor generals simply cannot see.

"We likened him back in the day to [Wayne] Gretzky where he would get behind the goal and Steve would probe the baseline, baiting people to get sucked in," Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown said, via Comcast SportsNet's Dei Lynam. "And then he would pick you apart with his three-point shooters."

Between Nash's court vision and basketball IQ, the only thing surprising about his five assists titles is that he doesn't have more.

For players at this position, it's hard to imagine a better mentor.

And that should be music to the ears of rookie Jordan Clarkson.

Acquired in a draft-night trade with the Washington Wizards, the second-rounder had a productive five-game stay at the Las Vegas Summer League (15.8 points on 42.4 percent shooting, five rebounds a night). Explosive and long (6'5" with a 6'8" wingspan), he's not exactly a Nash clone.

But his comments at summer league seemed to sign him up for study sessions with the veteran.

"When asked about his play during the team’s time in Vegas and what he needed to work on/what was the hardest thing about playing at the NBA level, he mentioned finding the proper pace and adjusting to the speed of the game," Darius Soriano of ForumBlueandGold.com wrote of Clarkson.

How many players have a better grasp of playing with pace than Nash? How many other guys are able to consistently go full-throttle without ever losing control?

You can count them on one hand, and none of them come cheap.

Nash may never be the point guard the Lakers wanted him to be, but he could still have a hand in filling that spot for years to come. LA has talent there now, but it needs to be molded. If Nash can play sculptor for a season, he could still serve a valuable role in getting the Lakers back on the road to relevance.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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