Offensive Success Will Depend On Balance

Darius Soriano —  July 12, 2012

The Lakers have acquired Steve Nash. It’s official now. Yesterday, in his introductory press conference, he fielded questions like a gold glove short stop and dished out answers like the top 5 all-time assist man that he is. In those 40 minutes in front of assembled media, Steve Nash looked comfortable and at home.

Of course, looking comfortable in front a bank of cameras is less important than looking comfortable on the hardwood when playing with his new teammates. And, to that end, there are legitimate questions as to how well the Nash acquisition will work on offense. Over at TrueHoop, Henry Abbott explores one of the more popular concerns when asking if Nash can do his thing with the Lakers.

In essence, Abbott argues that historically, what has led to Nash being at his best is the offense revolving around him with the ball in his hands and how that’s not always so easy for his teammates:

Nash has rightly earned a reputation as a selfless player, but the fact is that when he does his brilliant thing, which often ends in a pass, he has the ball for an eternity, in NBA terms. If the first screen doesn’t get the job done, he’ll use another, then another. He’ll dribble all the way to the hoop and back out again, and then back in. Meanwhile, not having the ball very much plays havoc on the psyches of some teammates who feel they can and should do more. Marion and Joe Johnson are just two of the players who won a lot of games, starred in a lot of highlights and were tremendously productive alongside Nash — but nevertheless sought work on teams where they show more of their skills and win more of the credit. Stoudemire ultimately left for a bundle of reasons, money chief among them, but before doing so he expressed a will to, for instance, have the ball in the post once in a while, which seldom happens when Nash is dribble-probing all possession long. Here’s where we have to start thinking about how Bryant, Bynum and Gasol might handle life as a Nash teammate.

There’s really nothing to disagree with in that excerpt. I said something very similar when putting the Nash acquisition under the microscope. Getting the best out of Nash has often meant freedom to set and reset the offense as he’s seen fit in order to produce the best looks for himself or a teammate. Whether that meant pushing the ball or playing a half court game, Nash was literally the Sun  that Phoenix’s offense revolved around; the decision maker in which the entire offense was built upon.

So, when taking this idea a step further, it’s easy to see where issues may arise. Nash isn’t walking into a team that’s built around him, but rather one that already has 3 high functioning offensive pieces that have all had a lot of offensive success in this league. And with this the case, there will need to be adjustments from all parties on how to work with and off each other in order to maximize results.

From these adjustments, a balance must be struck.

The coaching staff must build sets that give Nash the freedom to be himself. He’ll need to be able to run pick and rolls, will need to be able to push the ball when the opportunities present themselves, and will need be able to set and reset the half-court offense as he sees fit. These are ways the Lakers can shape their offense to give Nash an appropriate comfort level within the offense that can help him thrive. Which, in turn, should also benefit his teammates. Pick and rolls – whether of the Nash/Kobe, Nash/Pau, or Nash/Bynum varieties – will create open shots for roll men and spot up shooters. More running opportunities will do the same. And with Nash orchestrating the offense, we’ll see more of these chances throughout the course of the game.

However, the coaches must also work Nash into the schemes that are already in place. The expectation can’t be that the Lakers will suddenly morph into the Suns because that’s not how they’re built. They don’t have a big man that should be shooting half his shots from behind the three point line (ala Channing Frye) nor wings that like to camp behind the arc for full possessions just spotting up. The Lakers offer more diverse talent on O and that means more guys able to do more on their own without being spoon fed by their point guard.

Integrating Nash so he can mesh with this talent is also a priority. What needs to be said, however, is that Steve Nash can operate within and can help the sets the Lakers ran last season. Many of the Lakers’ offensive issues last season stemmed from the lack of space on the perimeter due to threat of the players who were positioned on the wing. Outside of Kobe Bryant – who was never left open for more than a split second – no perimeter player was respected enough to not be helped off of in the half court. This led to a crowded paint and disrupted passing angles to the Lakers post players and guys cutting through the lane. This then created stalled possessions that turned into iso heavy approaches where players – most notably Kobe – ended up forcing shots against the shot clock with little success.

With Nash in the mix, that changes. First off, Nash’s ability to make defenses pay for leaving him open creates floor spacing. Leave him to double team or to rotate to your next assignment and he will knock down shots. Second, his ability to create off the dribble to score means ball rotations to him put the defense in a dilemma. Once Nash makes a catch, he’s a threat to make a long jumper or beat his man off the dribble to create for others. Kobe used to be the only perimeter Laker that was respected in both of these areas and that gave the defense easy outs. They’d cover him, force him way out on the perimeter, and when the Lakers needed a player to create off the dribble from the wing it resulted in someone ill-suited to do so or Kobe making a catch 30 feet from the basket trying to create in isolation.

Not so sound redundant, but Nash changes this. The only Laker – at least in the starting lineup – that a team can consistently leave to help is Ron Artest. This makes defensive schemes much easier to decipher. If the double comes, it’s likely coming from the small forward. If it comes from someone else the odds of Kobe, Nash, Pau, or Bynum getting a one on one look go up exponentially. Even if it comes from Ron’s man, the read will likely be an easy one where the offense can simply move the ball to the open man. And with two players (Nash & Kobe) on the floor that must be respected beyond the three point line, the defense is compromised by having to make multiple rotations by design. With Nash and Kobe sharing the floor, the defense will be in scramble mode more often, opening up offensive rebound chances, passing angles, and driving lanes.

And, understand, it doesn’t take a Nash-centric approach to develop these sets. A simple post up where Nash brings the ball up with Kobe in the corner and Bynum in the pivot creates a problem for the D. Do you sag off Kobe in the corner to disrupt a post entry? Do you sag off Nash? Do you try to front Bynum and help off Gasol when Nash has the ball in his hands? Run a basic HORNS set with Nash cutting through the lane to screen for Kobe and the Lakers can create an action where Pau has the ball and Bynum, Kobe, and Nash are all running screen actions on the weak side of the floor to get a good shot up. These are only two options from the Lakers’ playbook this past season that change dramatically simply because the Lakers have replaced Fisher/Sessions/Blake with Nash.

When looking at specific sets that capitalize on the Lakers big men, the coaches need not look much further than some of the combo pick and roll sets they ran last season. At the start of the year, the Lakers were extremely effective running a Kobe/Pau P&R where Pau popped to the shallow wing while Bynum used his size to carve out position under the rim. Often times, Pau caught a pass from Kobe and either took a short jumper or tossed a lob to Bynum under the rim. The play was so effective it looked like a cheat code. As the year progressed, however, this play became less effective because Kobe started to have issues turning the corner with his handle (and Sessions wasn’t the same threat that Kobe was). The play was further disrupted when the defense helped off the SF and PG off the ball to gum up passing angles.

Now, replace Kobe with Nash and put Kobe off the ball. Help is less available to block off passing angles and Nash’s ability to either hit Pau on the pop, shoot the shot himself coming off the pick, or probe the lane for a shorter shot/dish to Bynum presents a slew of problems for the defense. Again, this just a single action but it’s derived right from the Lakers playbook this past season and proved it could be a devastating weapon without Nash on board. Add him to the mix and the possibilities expand.

Balance will be the key here. The Lakers should try to capitalize on Nash’s skills within offensive sets where he’s had a lot of success. Not giving him those same freedoms would be an issue. I see no viable argument where turning Nash into a glorified Derek Fisher is the right plan. But, by simply running sets the Lakers ran last season but replacing their previous PG’s with Nash changes the Lakers offense a great deal. Help schemes change, rotations change, and fantastic one on one players get to play more one on one basketball.

It will take time to strike this balance. And it will take adjustments from everyone involved (coaches and players). But, it can certainly happen and, with time, I fully expect it to.

Darius Soriano

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52 responses to Offensive Success Will Depend On Balance

  1. ‘Abbott argues that historically’

    Don’t you mean, “Abbott argues hysterically”?

  2. #1. Abbott’s not wrong. But my point is that even if he’s not brought in to run the SSOL offense, he can still aid the Lakers a great deal.

  3. John Q Public July 12, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    Seriously. How can anyone in the league defend:
    Nash/Pau PNR.
    Bynum cutting to hoop from weakside baseline
    Kobe/Shooter flashing to favorite spotups

    I really don’t think it’s possible outside of Miami.

  4. “Nash was literally the Sun that Phoenix’s offense revolved around; the decision maker in which the entire offense was built upon.”

    Literally?! Come on now, you’re better than that.

  5. Sorry to diverge from the thread topic of Nash & the Laker offense, but this story interested me:

    http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/nba/story/_/id/8162111/source-los-angeles-lakers-looking-antawn-jamison-elton-brand-jermaine-oneal

    Does the part where it says that Jordan Hill & the Lakers are still a distance apart (from Hill’s agent, so grain of salt there) mean that LA are NOT offering him the max that they are allowed (that $3.6m-ish)? If this is the case, I am wondering what is in the offing, and if the fact that apparently some teams are interested in McRoberts’s expiring deal means that there is definitely another deal in the works.

  6. Being an avid laker fanatic, being Nash in the purple and gold uniform is great..i am dreamin of another championship this season..But i have a dilemna, what offense will the lakers run? will it be the 4in-1out of mike brown?will the incorporate the SSOL of Suns? will they run the Princeton ala Kings? will they go back to triangle? or ala Showtime? or ala Lob City/Nugget sytle?

    If you will analyze the whole perspective of this dilemna, Nash gives u more solution to the problem solving…Artest will hide Nash on the defensive side, Kobe will save some energy for lockdown defense in the fourth, I will stick with the current lineup with Lakers have, add a stretch 4, add one to two sniper. The lakerscan achieve what fans expect them the most…The larry o brien trophy this coming season..Hopefully, they follow the formula used by the previous champion team of Lakers…a formula of in/out combo..the likes of West/Wilt, Magic/Worthy/Kareem, Kobe/Shaq…those formula are time and tested thru the years for the purple and gold….Whatever the decision we will respect it, as of this time, just relax, in Mitch(Kupchak) we trust…

  7. Great points. The title says it all. Balance will be the key. It’s also on the coaching staff to ensure the strategy maximizes the Lakers arsenal. Integrating an MVP point guard is a nice challenge to have. Without overanalyzing things, I think the chemistry will be there as Nash naturally commands respect and his IQ is unmatched. Add Nash to any team in the league and they are instantly elevated to the next tier… which in the Lakers case, is just what the doctor (Buss) ordered.

  8. any_one_mouse July 12, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    @exhelo:
    Howlarious:)

  9. Off topic, but any updates on Sessions signing with Bobcats? News updates say it will be S&T. If so, what will the Lakers get? (player? draft pick?) and why do a S&T since Sessions is an UFA? (bird rights? more money for Ramon?)

  10. Kswagger8: link?

    It will work. I don’t know how happy Kobe and Bynum will be with under 15 fga.

    It’ll be all about commitment.

  11. The Lakers will be happy to do a S&T for Sessions just for the trade exception. My guess is they must be giving (another!) draft pick or taking over a small contract that Bobcats find dispensable.

  12. “Pick and rolls – whether of the Nash/Kobe, Nash/Pau, or Nash/Bynum varieties – will create open shots for roll men and spot up shooters.”

    What are these “spot up shooters” you speak of, and where can I find some?

  13. Kswagger8: thanks. I’d be happy with a 2nd round pick. But Reggie Williams or Gerald Henderson would be better.

    1 yr with the Lakers or 2 yrs with Charlotte. Nice to see Ramon get a long term deal. He should fire his agent. Sad part about it is he’ll probably get traded to a contender the 2nd year.

  14. Perhaps all we are getting is a trade exception, which would allow us to pick up another guy and save the Mini Mle.

  15. Kevin: Any freakish athlete that can run with Nash, or a spot-up shooter at the 2 position to back up Kobe. Williams will be great and so will Byron Mullens (in case they don’t re-sign Jordan Hill). Gerald Henderson might be too much to ask. My best guess is a 2nd rd draft pick (early 2nd round) since they lost 4 picks to the Nash S&T

  16. If the Cats have the cap space to sign Sessions outright, why would they do a S&T sending us picks? (I’m assuming they have the space, I haven’t looked at their payroll). If there’s picks involved, they’re more likely going the other way, like Ashish said.

  17. Next season I wish these thing can happen, Bynum showing up on pick and roll defense, Gasol becoming an efficient 3pt shooter(yes Gasol), and Kobe letting Steve Nash handle the playmaking(most likely). We will pretty much fix all the problems we have last year, from 3pt shooting, stagnant offense, and poor pnr defense.

  18. Blake Griffin meniscus tear, poor guy can’t catch a break.

  19. Tough break for Griffin. Looks like he signed that extension at the right time…

  20. Great post by Darius. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. But personally, I dread the first time we see Kobe standing out 20 feet from the hoop glaring at Nash and calling for the ball as Nash tries to create. If this becomes normal, then we’ve got problems.

  21. Chris Paul and Drew have also had meniscus tears. We’ve seen the after effects neither are as explosive. Chris Paul now beats teams with smarts and angles. Bynum barely leaves the floor in traffic. Blake now has to find a way to limit the stress on his knees. More pick and pops fewer pick and rolls.

    MichaelH: Good idea. Save the mini mid level for when somebody gets bought out at trade deadline.

  22. Best of wish to him but one must wonder why he chose a team such as Charlotte instead of coming back to the Lakers.

  23. My understanding was Sessions wanted to start.

  24. Renato Afonso July 13, 2012 at 7:54 am

    24. Toli,

    Playing time.

  25. Kobe was so over confident in saying that ’12 Olympics contingent will beat the Dream Team ’92. This is an on going syndrome for centuries that the new generation is always better than the previous one.

    For him to prove what he said, Team ’12 has to achieve the following:

    1) Win the gold medal for USA in London Olympics;

    2) Win it with similar or larger margin than ’92 team has attained;

    3) Gained acceptance by opponents, sports historians, scribes and today’s social media that ’12 is a dream team and much better than ’92.

    The fact of the matter, the games have not started, they already suffered a casualty on Griffin’s injury.

    “Sometimes, it is difficult to absorb the ambitious brag of a son to an audience before the event .”

  26. Nash needs a SF who can hit 3`s from the wing(40%+) to max his ability to create. Don`t see that guy on the current roster. I`m sure he will shine during his 30min, how well the team does during the other 18min is still in question

  27. When I look at the proposed trade between Houston and Orlando (as outlined by ESPN) all I can say is Wow!

    I am really shocked at what Houston is willing to do in exchange for Howard: amnesty Scola, take on significant deadweight salaries, trade young talent and trade away multiple first round draft picks. Keep in mind no one knows if Howard is going to be healthy moving forward or if he is going to sign an extension to stay beyond this year.

    I realize that you have to take risks to be great. However, if Houston blows this they will be dead in the water.

    Knowing that Howard wants out, Orlando has to be thanking their lucky stars about this deal. They get everything they want: lots of cap room, young talent and numerous picks.

    All I can say is wow!

  28. Edwin:

    International teams are light years ahead of where they were in 1992. The 1992 team wouldn’t win by the same margin now by any stretch of the imagination. The games would be much closer. That’s part of the greatness of that ’92 team–it spurred the rest of the world to try to catch up.

  29. As far as I know, Lakers are still vying for Vet’s Min on the ff: Jamison, Brand and JO and participating in the derby with Tolliver.

    Can you add more if you know any other news out there?

    I wish they can S&T with reliable players like Carl Landry who has not signed yet with the Warriors; Courtney Lee and Louis Amundson.

    Here are the list of free agents:

    http://hoopshype.com/free_agency.htm

  30. darius: i agree w/kobe that the ’12 team is better than the ’92 team. they’re like 60 yrs old, right?

    just to keep the proverbial ball rolling, it’s about that time the laker organization make another announcement of an acquisition and/or trade so we can continue to mish mash w/nash so to speak.

    Get it done laker front office.

    enjoy the weekend Darius

    Go Lakers

  31. Morgan: Regarding the Houston proposal to Orlando, I agree the Rockets are giving up an awful lot. I guess they feel that they’re trapped in the NBA’s ‘no man’s land’. The only way out may be to roll the dice in a big way. If you’re Houston opportunities like this don’t come around but once in a blue moon.

    My advice would be not to do it. The new CBA rewards teams that can develop young talent over a 2 or 3 year window and make serious runs before second/max contracts begin to take hold (like OKC). It will be hard for Houston to acquire complementary pieces when Howard takes up 25% of your cap space and a majority of your near term draft picks have been traded away. Plus you have to consider Howards window – with his age/injury you may be looking at 5 years max (if healthy). A lot has to go right for this to work out right for the Rockets.

  32. Not sure if that’s the real offer on the table but only way Morey is that desperate is if he fears for his job. That’s giving up too much to still be the 3rd best team in Texas while fighting for a 7 or 8 seed again.

    Excited to see the guards in summer league. MAinly Morris and Johnson Odom.

  33. Morgan,I agree that Orlando would be nuts not to take the Houston deal. An added bonus, if Howard resigned with Houston, they would only have to face him on a limited basis.

  34. 27) Edwin,
    “Kobe was so over confident in saying that ’12 Olympics contingent will beat the Dream Team ’92. This is an on going syndrome for centuries that the new generation is always better than the previous one. ”

    It’s just as much an ongoing syndrome for the previous generation to think they are always better than the new generation. This year’s team is more athletic than the Dream Team; probably not as skilled, though, and due to the injuries to Howard, Griffin, etc. somewhat lacking in the “bigs”. But it’s not unreasonable for Kobe to make that claim.

  35. Exhelo, Larry Bird said he also believe that ’12 can beat them today since he himself has not played for the last 20 years.

    *Magic, MJ, Pipen, Clyde, Robinson, Sir Charles are not as athletic, I beg to disagree but we cannot bring back time to prove it.

  36. Point of clarification: kobe just said one game, not necessarily a seven game series. Even so, this is kobe. Do you expect him to concede apropos of nothing that the opposition is better? It’s part of what makes him great.

  37. NBA Best of 7 series, I’d go 92 team.

    NCAA one game winner take all game, 12 Team has a solid shot of winning.

    In the end it’s fun bar talk and I see no harm or rampant deluded egomania with the trash talking between Kobe and 92 team. He’s always been very respectful of basketball history but confident in his abilities too. Did anyone really expect him to say, 92 team was the best, no one could ever hope to beat that team.

  38. Kobe’s Dream Team comments are getting overblown. It irks me the way the 90’s stars try to lord over this generation of players. Russell, West, Wilt, Dr. J, Kareem, etc. didn’t do that to them. And that generation of players was greater than Jordan’s generation.

    Jordan, Barkley, Malone, etc. were great players. But they weren’t gods. How dare Kobe have enough pride in himself to take a shot at Mt. Olympus.

  39. toronto is trying to deal jose calderon, now that they have kyle lowry running the point. i wonder if they’ll have to buy him out.

  40. ’92 vs. ’12, based on what I saw last night in the exhibition, ’92 wins going away. They beat the Dominican Republic like a drum, but it was purely on superior athleticism, not any sort of team play. I think the current team has a big advantage in the backcourt and on the wing (even accounting for Jordan), and the ’92 team would eat the current guys alive down low.

    The ’92 bench is far superior too–park Mullin and Bird on the 3-point line, run Stockton/Malone PnRs, and score nearly every time down the floor.

    I think the 2012 team would give them a good run in a single-game one-off, but a series? No contest. ESPN ran 10000 AccuScore simulations, they said the ’92 team would win 53% of the time…by an average of one point.

    Verdict: Someone needs to invent a time machine.

  41. Kevin,
    I’d hate to bring facts into this… But a torn miniscus at worse can lease to early joint pain later in a players career. That’s mostly if the miniscus is torn in a place with less blood flow and the miniscus needs to be cut off. If the player (like Bynum) is lucky enough where it can be stitched back into place most likley the player will not get early on set arthritis. I should add under no cercumstances will it imidiatley alter a pkayers athletisism.

  42. I think Houston needs to also S/T the name “Rockets” to Orlando for “Magic”.

    If they are pretty much taking back the entire team, without the ability to amnesty any of those players, aren’t the new Houston Rockets the old Orlando Magic?

  43. As for Dream Team v/s Today’s team, if you replace Griffin,Chandler,Iguodala and Harden with Howard, KG, Duncan and Wade (current versions!), that would be close!

    On the wings – LBJ, Kobe,Durant v/s MJ, Magic,Pippen. I’m giving the nod to the ’12 squad, especially given the fact that Magic would have a hard time guarding any of these guys.

    In the post – Howard/KG v/s Barkley/Robinson – too close to call. 92 was better on O, but our D would be really good.

    As for bench – CP3 over Stockton, Melo over Bird, Wade over Drexler, Westbrook over Laettner,Williams over Mullin, Malone over Duncan, Ewing over Love.

    Too close to call.

  44. marc stein reporting scola has been amnestied. i doubt the rockets make this move without having a deal in place.

  45. I really hope Lakers get game 7 and April 2012 Ron and not all his other games as a Laker Ron.

  46. @ #10, Kevin: “I don’t know how happy Kobe and Bynum will be with under 15 fga.”

    For the record, Bynum averaged less than 15 fga’s (13.3 per game to be exact) last season, Kobe is the one who will have issues, he took 23 fga per w/ a fg% of .430, ouch. FYI, Bynum fg%: .588. Gasol’s was .501 while taking 14.1 fga per game.

    Nash should make EVERYBODY more efficient. Bynum & Gasol can easily avg 20+ points per (last season they avg’d 18.7 & 17.4 respectively). Kobe doesn’t need to be a top three scorer in the league, he can still be quite effective averaging 24-25ppg. And no, I didn’t forget Nash, last season he averaged 9.0 fga per (Sessions w/ Lakers: 9.2) & 12.5 ppg on .532 fg% (Sessions: 12.7 on .479). Plus Nash averaged 10.7 apg, while Session avg’d 6.2 w/ superior talent.

    Bottom line: On point article. Offensive balance is what it’s all about. So will Kobe buy in? If he’s interested in winning a 6th ring, he will.

    If he’s interested in trying to be the all-time scoring champ, he won’t.

  47. It almost unfair for Ron to be the Lakers 5th best player on the floor at times. With the attention that’s going to be paid to the big 4 he’ll have ample opportunity to make defenses pay.

  48. kobe already proved being scoring champion means nothing to him compared to winning a Larry Obrien nod. (please reference the last game of the year 2012).

  49. @ 49, Sir Issac: Time will tell. Let’s see if Kobe will be ok with less than 20 fga’s per game. Something he’s only done ONCE (03-04 season) in the last 12 years. (please reference the last 12 seasons).

  50. 49 Sir Isaac- I wanted Kobe to go for that scoring title so badly, as I knew that the team was not going anywhere due to the lethargic play of the starters and the anemic scoring capabilities from the bench.

    Durant probably would have won it anyway because he played after Kobe and his team mates would not have begrudged him the opportunity. Not like the Lakers whom have always had a problem with Kobe getting any accolades. 32 year old 16 year veteran Kobe vs. 23 year old 4 year scoring phenom Durant. At least it would have been an interesting footnote to the 2012′ scoring title.