Steve Nash's Dynamic Playmaking Masks Defensive Flaws

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistDecember 26, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 22:  Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers in action against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on December 22, 2012 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers have won their fifth straight game, and their second since the return of Steve Nash. Naturally, there's been a lot of talk surrounding Nash and what he does for this team, both positive and negative.

The argument for the good Nash does is a mile long, with most of the items on that list being related to offense and the remaining few related to intangibles. 

Offensively, I don't think you'll find a single NBA fan who will try to argue that Nash does not possess one of the greatest basketball minds of our time.

Nash seems to be so intelligent offensively that I've thought for years that he could pretty easily become a player-coach, but that's an argument for another day.

Over the past eight seasons, Nash has been the epitome of an All-Star offensive point guard. Averaging 16.2 points and 10.9 assists a game, Nash is about as much as you can ask for out of a facilitator.

A lot is made out of the elusive 50/40/90 number in shooting percentages (field-goal/three-pointer/free throw), and Nash has averaged those percentages since leaving Dallas in 2004. Furthermore, he's just nine-tenths of a percent from the floor away from making those marks his career numbers.

Of course, there are two sides of the coin in basketball. Defensively, Nash has his flaws. However, his offensive prowess will continue to mask the flaws he has on the other end of the floor in a few different ways. 

Ball Protection

A big part of the Lakers' defensive woes have come on the offensive end, as strange as that sounds.

The Lakers have averaged 16 turnovers per game this season, a mark that puts them dead last in the league, tied with the Houston Rockets

In the three full games that Nash has played in this season, the Lakers have racked up 15 turnovers per game, which is still a pretty big problem. However, once he gets acclimated with the rest of the team, that number will plummet.

The 2007 Phoenix Suns, the best incarnation of Nash's Suns teams, averaged just 14.5 turnovers per game, while playing at a ridiculously rapid pace.

Fewer turnovers leads to fewer transition opportunities for the other team, leading to fewer chances for them to score uncontested baskets.

The Offensive Factor

You'll often hear the old cliché, "A good defense is the best offense," but with Nash's teams the opposite can often be true.

When you have a high-powered offense that's capable of outscoring any team in the league, that team only needs a mediocre defense to make a few stops here and there to end up winning games.

The fact is that Nash is a guy who makes his teammates so much better on offense that his shortcomings on defense don't really matter too much in the long run.

This article takes a pretty good look into the so-called "Nash Effect," stating that players, on average, increased their shooting percentage by 2.3 percentage points when joining a Nash-run team and dropped by 1.1 percent after leaving a Nash-run team.

Is Nash That Bad at Defense?

Steve Nash is not a good defender. There's no way I can sit here with a straight face and tell you anything otherwise.

What I do believe, however, is that people overrate how bad he is, based on how much a point guard can actually affect a game on defense. It's not the five equal pieces to the puzzle that it may seem.

For instance, an argument could be made that Rajon Rondo is the best defensive point guard in the NBA. However, his team actually gives up fewer points per 100 possessions when he's off the court compared to when he's on the court (105.6 points when on, 103.1 when off).

Compare that to his teammate Kevin Garnett. With Garnett on the floor, the Celtics give up an average of 97.8 points per 100 possessions, compared to 114.9 points per 100 when he's off the court.

That might be a bit of an unfair comparison, but it demonstrates how much more a big man can mean to his team than a point guard on the defensive end. 

Nash's role on offense is to guard the point guard, who in most cases will either end up running a pick-and-roll, or passing off to a wing player or down into the post.

When guarding the pick-and-roll, Nash has three main jobs. First, he must cover the point as well as he can through the screen. Second, he must attempt to disrupt a potential pass as much as possible. Lastly, he must try to get back in front of his man as he tries to beat him off the dribble (Nash's worst quality).

The offense's main goal in a pick-and-roll (which is the basis for every competent modern basketball offense) is to disrupt the initial defender. In this case, the initial defender is already a bad defender in Nash, so disrupting him isn't going to change the plans of the team's defense in the long run.

Compare that to the rest of the players on the floor who must constantly chase, fight through screens, contest shots, keep their players out of the paint, rotate to open shooters and play passing lanes.

Nash will always have two big men behind him to help him out, along with a very energetic and athletic wing in Metta World Peace to save him if he gets beat.

Nash's impact defensively would be minimal even if he were a good defender.

Give me all of Nash's offensive genius and I'll gladly take the defensive lapses any day of the week.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.