The Breakdown: Steve Nash

Phillip Barnett —  October 15, 2012

Over the summer the Lakers signed point guard Steve Nash, and after a couple months of me yelling at myself “oh my God we have Steve Nash!” I could not wait to see how he’d play in the games. Through the Lakers first three preseason games I’ve realized that watching this rendition of the Los Angeles Lakers is unique to any team over the last 15 years. It is no secret that Steve Nash has been putting a lot of pressure on defenses, but watching the ways in which he goes about doing this has been different, but fun, to watch. The Lakers coaching staff has wanted this Lakers team to be a bit more up-tempo, and they have succeeded at playing faster, but have also been good at allowing Nash to put pressure on defenses in half-court sets.

What I’ve noticed in a lot of sets so far is that Steve Nash is either screening away or cutting through the middle after making his initial pass. He’s taking a defender with him away from where the action is, and going back to receive the ball if the action doesn’t quickly lead to a shot attempt. He’ll swing the ball to Kobe to see if he can get anything working on the wing or dump the ball into the pinch post to Sacre or Pau with a wing in the corner for a two man game — but if nothing seems to be developing, Nash goes back to get the ball and effectively gets into what he does best: probing around with the ball until a shot for someone opens up. For the most part, this has involved Nash slyly getting into the paint and either hoisting up a floater or finding one of the bigs for an easy basket.

Nash’s ability to penetrate at any given time has made his teammates more dangerous as well. In the first video, you saw three sets of eyes on Nash as he attacked the rim, leaving Sacre open underneath for a shot at an easy two. Throughout the course of the preseason, we’ve seen Nash hit Kobe on a skip pass for a wide open three, hit Pau at the elbow for a few 15-foot jump shots, gotten Ron the ball as he ran along the baseline and has gotten his own shot off like we saw in the second clip.

We’ve also seen a lot of Nash in P&R sets as expected. If you remember from last year, the Lakers would have a big, either Pau or Bynum, trailing on plays. What the Lakers would do then was have the guard swing the ball to the trailing big, and have that big either the dump it in to the other big or reverse the ball to the opposite side and get into the horns sets. This year the Lakers have had a trailing big, but instead of stopping above the three point line, that big is actually standing just inside the three-point line and setting a high the screen for Nash. For the most part the big has been Sacre with Pau heading to the low block on the opposite side.

And through these P&R sets, we’ve seen myriad outcomes. Again, Nash has found Kobe on the weak side for open jumpers, he has hit the cutter with accurate, pin point passes and has knocked down the open jumper off the screen. What I’ve liked the most, and what I hope we see more of as the season progresses is the 1-4 P&R with Gasol. Nash has this insane ability to place those tricky pocket passes right where they need to be, and Pau is one of the best in the business in the pick-and-pop game. In the following example, Pau misses the shot, but you can see how well these two already work together. Pau sets a screen on Nash’s right and slips out to his left side with Aldridge hedging and Nash slips a slick pass right between the two defenders giving Pau a wide open look.

I thought we might see some 1-2 P&R action between Kobe and Nash, however I can’t remember a time where this has happened in the first three games. An action that I did notice that they’ve run in conjunction is a double-down screen for Nash where Nash makes the initial guard-to-guard pass to Kobe and goes over to set an on ball screen for him. Instead of making contact, Nash slips the screen and took his man down to the strong side block with Sacre moving up the line to the elbow. Pau moved up to the right wing and received a pass from Kobe. Gasol made a hard dribble toward the top of the key while Sacre and Kobe both set down screens for Nash who came up the line to receive a pass from Pau. They actually ran this exact set two times before Nash actually caught the pass on the third attempt. (Kobe actually makes the pass on the 3rd attempt with Pau and Sacre setting the down screens as evidenced in the following clip). They’ve also ran a similar play where Nash curled off a Ron down screen that led to him assisting on Sacre bucket early in the third quarter against Utah. Kobe was wide open in the opposite corner.

A lot of talk there was a lot of talk about Nash playing off the ball this off season, but this really hasn’t been the case thus far. Naturally, playing on a team with four other guys who have made all-star appearances, it was hard to imagine any scenario where Nash would be handling the ball as much as he did as a member of the Suns, but any time Nash has been off the ball has been constructive. There hasn’t been a point where Nash has just stood in the corner and hoped for a pass to head his way like we saw with Sessions, Blake and Fisher in previous seasons. They’ve either run sets for Nash as described above (shown below) or he’s been off the ball for a Kobe isolation or a two man game with Kobe and Pau, who have more than enough developed chemistry to justify moving Nash to the weak side without the ball for a couple possessions per game.

Lastly, we’ve seen the Lakers push the ball more often and get into their sets much earlier than last season. I’ll let Zephid take it from here:

The big impression I got with Nash running the show is that the Lakers get into their sets a LOT earlier in the shot clock.  It seemed like the past couple of years, the Lakers wouldn’t get into their offense until 16-14 seconds were left on the shot clock, while in the two preseason games, they’ve been getting into their sets at about the 20 second mark.

I think the benefits of this are twofold.

1.) The Lakers are attacking more often in semi-transition, where the defense is back but maybe not completely set, and at times cross-matched.  All 5 of our starters are especially good at punishing mismatches, so the Lakers could see a lot of easy points just for Nash pushing the ball a little.

2.) When the Lakers don’t get anything easy, they have more time to make their reads and get a good shot.  Too many times last year the Lakers would get into their sets late, pound the ball, and then have Kobe or someone chuck up a terrible shot with the clock running down.  With more time on the clock, the Lakers should have more time to get off a higher percentage shot, or at least generate an imbalance in the defense to get offensive boards.

In recent years, I’ve found that the Lakers were the most frustrating team to watch in transition. A lot of this is probably rooted in me wanting them to succeed, but these concerns were also legitimized in the numbers. Last season, the Lakers were 29th in the league in fast-break points with only 9.3 per game, and were dead last on the road with an abysmal 6.9 fast-break points per game. So far this preseason, Nash has made scoring in transition seem effortless while he was on the floor. In the following clip, we’ll see Nash fly up the court with a 3 on 2 advantage and throw a no-look pass to Artest for an easy basket. What isn’t shown is that Nash hit Artest in transition on the previous possession who got fouled and knocked down both free throws.

We’re only three games into the preseason and the Princeton offense is still in its infancy with this team, but you can already see how Nash’s ability to constantly put pressure on the defense is going to make this a much more efficient offense this season — and we haven’t even seen Dwight Howard on the floor yet. As the season progresses, I think we’ll start seeing some 1-2 P&Rs considering they weren’t too shabby between Kobe and Sessions and some more Nash off ball action that will allow Pau and Howard to work together. One thing I didn’t point out in this post is how Nash is getting Ron involved. We’ve seen Ron score in just about every way that he can in these few games because of the pressure Nash has been able to take off of him just by getting him the ball in the right situations. This is going to help the Lakers leaps and bounds if Ron can continue to take the right shots and exploit mismatches when they’re available. In the next few games, I’m going to be paying special attention to how Pau is utilized and how they’re adjusting to the Princeton Offense.

Phillip Barnett

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31 responses to The Breakdown: Steve Nash

  1. Awesome read! Can’t wait to see Dwight on the court with Nash.

  2. Phillip: How do you see Pau being utilized so far? It seems to be more of the same high post area. Not many back to the basket catches where he abused the USA in the Olympics.

    I love the way it’s designed to run Nash off picks to get him in space before even taking a dribble and how he keeps a live dribble. The fast break to Ron is probably the easiest transition bucket we’ve seen in 2 years. Saw another clip where he spotted Kobe at the foul line for a easy jumper. And on the break he found Kobe at the 3 who then found Pau. Nash imprints are definitely already on full display.

  3. That’s a good observation about the shot clock too. Ten on the clock is when many of those shots went up last year it was a struggle to get to the first option with 10 seconds left. I’m just worried without Nash on the floor the offense will plummet.

  4. All of this dances around the REAL issue facing this team: Should Sacre be the starting center after Dwight gets back?

  5. @KevinDing: Metta on rookie guard Darius Johnson-Odom: “He can start on any team in this league.”

    I’m telling you… He needs to get a look at back up PG. This guy is rediculously athletic.

  6. Phillip doin’ work. Fantastic post. Watching these Nash clips makes me giddy, I’m sitting in the library just grinning maniacally at anyone who walks by. Over the last few years, I’ve slowly forgotten what dribble penetration looks like. And that wizardry (the simplicity!) in the open court.

    Like point #2 about the shot clock. Last year was so frustrating to watch us wind down the clock and end up with semi bail-out shots. Even though the offense is new, the smooth initiation and difference in purposeful movement is apparent.

  7. Having 5 top level starters will mask our bench deficiencies unlike the past even if our bench has not improved drastically.

    In the past seasons, you really didn’t have much talent past the top three – Kobe / Pau and either Ron/Odom depending on where their minds/bodies were at.

    Now that we have a focused Ron and a legit, very legit PG as a starter, it actually gives us 60 more quality minutes per game that we gave to bench-level players (basically forcing us to give minutes to players that aren’t even 2nd-string or grinding our starters to the ground).

    That’s a whopping 25% of the total 240 minutes; assuming 30 minutes per starter we probably had like 90 starter level minutes the past two years(60 from Kobe/Pau, 30 from Ron + Odom) – now we have 150. (30 each from Kobe/Pau/Dwight/Nash/Ron)

    So while I do share some of the bench concerns, I am not as worried. Our increased starter production will trickle down and actually mask a lot of our bench troubles if the rotations are crafted cleverly.

    Now, that clever crafting part… that’s one part I’ve had no reason to be optimistic about, but we’ll see what happens.

  8. Coming from the last post, Ramon Sessions really showed something in that quote. It’s not about the name on the BACK of the jersey! Glad his “priorities” are now on a team where they’re a better fit.

  9. “In recent years, I’ve found that the Lakers were the most frustrating team to watch in transition.”

    Please send me the video, because I must have missed this. I have been waiting for years to see them in transition. Ironic that we might finally get the good transition team with the oldest lineup ever.

  10. Thanks for the vids and post. I heard LO was looking a bit… un-conditioned.

  11. Nash is an offensive genius who can really run the show. The great thing about him on this team is that he can run P&R with any of the starters. The one-two pick and roll with him and Kobe is a great end of game option.

  12. Nice article Phillip. Enjoyed the breakdown.

  13. One thing I wish I see more of is Pau hitting those wide open mid range shot that make him a dangerous option, in the championship year most of those shots were automatic, not so much in recent year when we need it…

  14. Great observation Phillip.

    When playing against Nash, we have always the difficulty of covering the big guys that rolls to the basket.

    And that is what we have this year and the next 3 years.

    Hurray!!!

  15. Sessions would have made a great back up, too bad we signed Blake and he probably wants to start.

  16. Looking forward to yelling at Brown tomorrow about his rotations. Be behind bench with friend Rick Darnell President of Retired Players Assocation. He be the 7 foot one, me being the load obnoxious one.

    Need more Darrius Odom, much less Morris and Blake. We already know what they can’t do. Season could come down to back up guard spot. So far they gave been terrible.

  17. I think people are misinterpreting Session’s “back of the jersey” comment. I believe what he meant was he was happy to still be in the league, playing. I didn’t take it as a “get that money” remark.

  18. Kareem – You’re probably right. it just comes off sounding bad when you think of team sports being about the name on the front of the jersey. And he turned down a pretty good jersey!

    Although the way the offseason has played out since, I think we’re all pretty happy that he did.

  19. Agree with Kareem on Sessions; that read fits particularly well since he is on Charlotte.

  20. Don’t get more fringe. If there was relegation, Charlotte would be the first to go the last 3 years running.

  21. Are you the real KAJ, Kareem? Write just like him. :O

  22. Yeah this is a great post. I haven’t watched a lot so far but Nash with the ball in his hands is a great thing for The Lakers. The lakers getting into their sets earlier is also a great thing. I watched a replay of game 1 of the 2008 Finals and was amazed at how much faster the lakers were compared to last season. More movement is great.
    http://4hoopsheads.com/articles/laker-preview-2-will-the-laker-big-men-tower-over-the-nba–2

  23. Jesse,

    I’ll take that as a compliment. No, I’m no Hall of Fame center. Just an Arab-American overseas hoops-head named after the great (at least that’s what my dad tells me). But my go-to post move is a sky-hook.

    I once visited a home in Kauai that shared a lagoon and rope swing with KAJ’s enchanting estate. Lucky son-of-a-so-and-so.

  24. Harold,
    I think people are pretty content with Meeks, Ebanks and Jordan Hill. The issue is giving them a PG to play with in that unit who can create offense for them. The trend in today’s NBA is to run an entire second unit together like a line change.

    24)
    If the Lakers wanted Fisher they wouldn’t have traded him away. If anyone in the NBA wanted Fisher he wouldn’t be unemployed.

  25. Th problem is the backup PG who will play 1/3 of the game. This is the weakest position on the team; both sides of the ball. I think the starters are going to be forced into playing too many minutes again.

  26. I wonder if we’ll run larger units out there, something like Gasol or Howard/Jamison/MWP/Meeks/Kobe. That would take away some worry over the backup 3. But really, the problem is that people have crazy unrealistic expectations.

    We are starting Howard, Gasol, Kobe, Nash, and MWP. Have you ever seen Space Jam? That’s our starting 5. And people are trifling over one position, our backup PG? The backup? We talkin’ ’bout backups? I believe we will dominate teams regardless of the strength of our backup 1. The benefit of the Princeton offense is that the PG doesn’t really matter that much. If the “second unit” specializes in the motion sets while Nash sits, our offensive limitations at the 1 will be minimized.

  27. Fisher to the Lakers?

    I though we were going for the championship, nah?

  28. I think Fisher should be brought back, as a coach or organizational guy–but not as an active player.

  29. “Breakdown” is not a word I want attributed to Nash nor anyone else on the team. In seriousness, tremendous breakdown there, PB.