The Breakdown: Steve Nash Setting Screens

Phillip Barnett —  December 27, 2012

Since the return of Steve Nash, we’ve seen some immediate improvements to the Lakers’ offense. The ball is moving a lot more, there has been a considerable improvement in off ball movement and things just feel different when he’s on the floor. The Lakers are 2-1 in Nash’s return, and in those games he’s recorded a .773 true shooting percentage and a .714 effective field goal percentage. On top of that he’s averaging 9.3 dimes in those three games. What has stood out to me most in Nash’s return is how varied the Lakers offensive sets have become.

The number of 1-5 pick and rolls between him and Howard have been countless. He’s also run the P&R with Pau a considerable amount of times and with Kobe a few times. We’ve also seen Nash and Kobe run a two man game a few times with Nash on the wing and Kobe in the post. Horns has returned at a higher rate, and they’ve seen a lot of success through these sets — and a lot of that success has nothing to do with Steve Nash handling or passing the ball. Mike D’Antoni has utilized Nash setting screens off the ball to free wings for easy buckets. Let’s take a look at how the Lakers have found success with Nash screening off the ball.


In this first frame, the Lakers have set up in their Horns set. Nash has already dumped the ball into Pau in the pinch and UCLA cuts off of him to go find Kobe. As Nash starts to cut through, Kobe is pushing his man (Jason Kidd) up the sideline allowing Nash to come in right behind him to set a back screen. It’s important that we keep an eye on the spacing here.


As Nash sets the screen, Kobe cuts back door and Pau throws a perfect pass on Kobe’s release. With Kobe pushing Kidd up the line, Raymond Felton doesn’t jump between Nash and the basket hoping to deny a pass to a Kobe who he thinks is going to pop out. Kurt Thomas is the first help defender on the weak side, but given the Howard assignment, he doesn’t want to give him any space to prevent any subsequent lobs. And on the far side, Melo is playing a good eight-to-10 feet off Darius Morris, but either didn’t have the foot speed or the effort to get between Kobe and the basket as the pass came. The result is Kobe being freed for one of the easiest baskets he’s going to see in any given game. Let’s check the play out in real time.


Here we have another horns set with Ron on the floor instead of Morris, otherwise, everything else is the same. Nash brings the ball up the floor and enters to Pau in the pinch. On this set, however, Nash cuts off of Pau’s inside shoulder through the paint to go find Ron’s man (Kidd again).


After Nash sets his screen, Ron heads toward Dwight, who sets a second screen on Kidd. This time around, the spacing is a bit different, but it’s the same concept. Nash stays near the block with Felton fighting to stay between him and the basket. Tyson Chandler is between Dwight and the basket. Instead of trying to keep defenders along the perimeter to clear space for Kobe, the Lakers have gotten all of the defenders on the strong side away from the 3-point line.


The result is a wide open 3-pointer for Ron, which he knocks down. The Lakers actually ran this exact same set for Ron just a couple of possessions earlier and the outcome was the same (Ron wasn’t missing much in the 2nd quarter of the Knicks game). They have also run a similar set for Jodie Meeks which cleared him up for a wide open three-pointer. Check the play in real time.

I find it fascinating that one of the best point guards in the league has been able to get his teammates wide open shots by not passing the ball. We still haven’t seen the full value of Nash’s impact on this Lakers team, but what we do know is that Nash gives this offense a lot more to work with. D’Antoni has been able to run so many different kinds of sets throughout the game just because of the ability of Nash to create when, seemingly, nothing is there. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what else D’Antoni has in store with Nash running things.

Phillip Barnett


to The Breakdown: Steve Nash Setting Screens

  1. Steve Nash is back, and we can finally start to get a true assessment of this team. 29 games in, w/ 53 games to go, Lakers are a game under .500. With the Clips, Thunder, & Spurs playing at .700+, and the Grizz flirting with that same rate, plus the Warriors @ .600+, the big question becomes “can the Lakers win a 1st round playoff series w/o home court advantage?”

    And if they can’t or don’t, then what direction will the team with this season’s highest payroll take?


  2. Really solid breakdown Phillip, love seeing Steve Nash work off-ball. Absolutely instrumental in the offense.


  3. @bigcity – thats actually a pretty easy question – Pau is gone after this season as his expiring contract will be valuable to a lot of teams (19 million with which to work with) and the Lakers can immediately get some youth/talent on the wings for him – thats pretty much the plan as I see it.

    They can’t afford to mumble thru another season such as this – even with all the injuries taken into account. They don’t necessarily have to get big names or long term deals – but some youth to play d and upgrade the athleticism would fit in w Kobe, healthy Dwight, and Nash (w ron possibly) – would be enough to take another legit shot at a championship.

    The Lakers still have their amnesty clause as well which would allow them to release Metta or Blake outright and take the cap hit off. though that may be for mostly financial reasons as the more punitive luxury tax measures do start to kick in next year. Most likely we’ll see a Pau trade + possibly Ron amenestied plus one of duhon/blake bought out/traded (they could be amnestied but it would be a waste on them – prob is they duplicate each other a fair bit so don’t need both) though Ron is making a case that they need to keep him around

    Meeks, Jamison, Sacre, Morris, Odom johnson, Ebanks, Clark all exprire this year freeing up a lot of roster space to take back multiple young players from Pau deal. The Lakers actually have a lot of options once Pau is moved – plus they have the financial resources to remain a luxury payer – they just need to make some smart deals getting younger/athletic.

    Nash is here till 2015 so thats their current window to bring in a legit backup point that can take over in the future – Howard should still be here after signing a long term deal next summer. Kobe may or may not be done after next year but thats 30 million in cap space that becomes free for a run at any of Miami’s big 3 or whoever else is out there. Future looks relatively bright for the Lakers – its the present thats at issue. Dwight needs to start bringing it every night. For better or worse this team needs his defense to succceed.


  4. What worries me is that rhose horns sets are the ones where we’re being more effective despite having Dwight and Pau on the floor. I agree with having such play and using it to some extent, but Ican’t understand why we don’t have more low post options when Pau is on court. That’s the adjustment MDA must do sooner rather than later, specially when Dwight is taking a rest.

    On Dwight, if he doesn’t dominate defensively, then this trade brought us no improvement. Sure, Dwight is playing and Bynum is not, but this standard of play isn’t worth 19mil. Plus, if the plan is to win now with MDA, maybe we should’ve traded for a wingman (think Iguodala, because we saw that he was available), slide Pau to the low post, give Hill and Jamison more burn and let MWP play SF or PF, depending on the matchup. Just really disappointed wiht Dwight so far…


  5. Jerke,
    Actually, the plan is to let Pau, Kobe, Ron, and Blake’s contracts expire and build around (a hopefully re-signed) Dwight Howard. In the summer of 2014 the Lakers will have have cap room to sign one max level player & another high salaried one while still staying under the luxury tax. Remember, any trade that threatens the Lakers’ ability to get under the tax line to avoid the repeater tax is essentially a non-starter.

    This is why a Pau deal is complicated. He makes too much money to trade him straight up for a single player and any deal that involves multiple players means the Lakers must also send out other players in order to avoid waiving players with guaranteed contracts. Furthermore, any players who come back that have contracts beyond the summer of 2014 sit on the team’s cap in the season they must be under the luxury tax. There’s a reason every player on the roster (besides Nash) has a contract that ends that summer.


  6. @Darius – I don’t disagree with that – im just not sure that the fanbase or the team would go thru one more year as irregular as this possibly wasting Kobe’s final year. I’m not saying they need to hit a homerun getting players back for Pau – but if they got a couple young players back that they could either keep or parcel off if they don’t fit may be better than than trying to wait for a big score in the summer of 2014. Just saying if this season looks lost by the trade deadline – if the Lakers can make a trade for some youth that has potential but short term deals that expire in one or two years etc… where there is still the possibility of clearing space for 2014 (snagging a couple guys on rookie contracts etc…) – that might be preferable to suffering thru a declining season next year while Kobe and Nash waste a year getting older.


  7. Darius’ summary of “the plan” is 100% correct, and as he states, makes it difficult to make deals. We were supposed to go for titles for 2 years with this group, and then re-load after 14. The current 2 year portion of the plan has gone a little off, so far : ) The post 2014 portion of the plan has a wildcard and that is KB. He probably does not want to retire. So what to do? One quick suggestion: Raise the frequency of the bi-annual Kobe-Jim meetings.


  8. @Robert: Obviously, don’t sign Kobe to another deal like his current deal ($30M!!). If he really wants to continue and the Laker organization wants him, I’d say no more than $15M per year for 3 more years. Or ask him to take less money but with a % of the Laker organization profits.

    The importance is the future of the franchise, to build (or rebuild) for multiple titles.


  9. Not sure why my post was heavily edited?


  10. Pau possibly out for Fri’s game w Plantar facitis in his right foot.


  11. 35000 fine for Dwight Howard – Dwadee gets 1 game for kicking Ramon Sessions in the junk


  12. Curious punishment for D12. IMHO, he shouldn’t be suspended.

    About time Wade got punished for something he did. Dirtiest player in the league.


  13. D12 was about right – it wasn’t so flgrant w intention to hurt as much as it was just a lazy play. Wade is getting a little dirtier as he gets older though for sure


  14. Darius: “Actually, the plan is to let Pau, Kobe, Ron, and Blake’s contracts expire and build around (a hopefully re-signed) Dwight Howard.”

    This scenario results in a gigantic lux tax payment, which is unlikely to be the plan. The more likely plan is to trade Pau by the deadline this year for a package including one or more contracts that expire this year. Ideally, Blake would be included in the deal, but if not, he will be cut via the amnesty provision.


  15. Wade is a total PUNK. Haven’t had the opportunity to say that on this board for a while and I was overdue.
    Albert: I like the way your thinking. Anything to do with a deal involving profits, ownership, etc. will – like I said – involve more than a once every two year meeting between KB and JB. KB is not worth $29 million currently (nobody is), but he is worth in the high teens. The extra $10 million is currently irrelevant in “basketball” terms, because we are so far over. It is very relevant for tax purposes.


  16. The Lakers 2014 plan might get tweaked if the team continues to struggle. Hard to see the Buss family watch a $100 million + payroll produce an on-court product that is as horrible as what we’ve seen year to date. To sit through this past January 15th, and then all of next year merely to “preserve cap space” for 2014 does not sound very Laker-like to me….


  17. tviper,
    Yes, the tax payment next season goes up substantially. However — and while it’s not my money and I’m never one to try and spend the Buss’ cash — the Lakers can afford to take a single season hit next year as long as they avoid the repeater tax the following two seasons. The Lakers’ TV contract is large enough to accommodate the hit next year. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to shave salary next for next season, but it would seem to be a strange strategy to go into this season preaching they want a full year with this core 4 together to make a run only to turn around and make a deal at the deadline to shave salary this year. Again, nothing would surprise me, but this roster was assembled to make a run over the next two years. Factors could change the minds of the front office I’m sure, but the moves they’ve made thus far (firing Mike Brown, for example) point to them wanting to turn things around this year for a title chasing run.


  18. what if we trade howard? seriously….


  19. January will be tough. They have games at Staples against the Clippers and Heat. They have Memphis and San Antonio on the road. They play Denver again as well. But the icing on the cake is two games against OKC. They have a total of 16 games in 30 days.

    If Gasol is out for several games and Howard continues having his issues, then the team could be in a real hole at the start of February. An 8-8 record is a reasonable expectation considering the competition. But an 8-8 outing for January could be a playoff death sentence. This team is literally playing for its playoff life. I really hope they can pull things together.


  20. If they move Pau, I don’t think it will be to cut salary–it will be because his skillset doesn’t fit with this system. Also, as many of us have pointed out, there are legit questions about how good Pau is at this point so moving him would not be easy.


  21. nice breakdown, that shows the importance of Nash, his IQ was far impressive, he fits with this team totally… but the news about PAu, his MRI, what will be the effect on the LakeShow, the front court personnel will be thin…


  22. Robert….

    It’s not surprising that Brooklyn would make a run at Phil now that they have fired Johnson. Their owner has a lot at stake with the new arena and a huge investment in player salaries. A guaranteed offer of $25M or so for 2 years will definitely get PJ’s attention and is not out of the realm of possibility.


  23. Darius: ” the Lakers can afford to take a single season hit next year as long as they avoid the repeater tax the following two seasons.”

    Maybe my calculations are off, but I show a $72M+ tax for next season under the status quo scenario. Perhaps if the fit was perfect and the Lakers were a top 2 or 3 seed, the FO would be willing to pay this, but I watch the games and Pau is not a fit and the Lakers are not winning at a high enough %. Yes, Nash just got back, but the main issue is D and Pau is not compatible on the defensive end with DH12. Perhaps you mover DH12 instead to get a bigger return, but one of them has to go if something doesn’t change dramatically by All-Star break IMO.


  24. I admire Nash’s grit and basketball IQ, but I just don’t think that having your aging point guard setting screens against much bigger players is a great strategy. Especially when he is just coming back from injury. There’s just too much contact involved with those plays.

    I’m glad that Dwight wasn’t suspended. He can afford the fine. Pau’s condition is concerning. He just seems to be breaking down quickly. Too many years of non-stop NBA/international ball, perhaps?

    @T. Rogers….

    Good breakdown of the January schedule and its implications. As much as I would like to be optimistic, the reality is that without quality depth, the Lakers are in a very tough situation.


  25. Great breakdown. Shows nash can have a positive impact off ball. Also dirk and nash sat out extended time with leg injuries. Dirk plays 26 mins in a close game vs okc tonight in ot, nash played 41 vs warriors 1st game back. Both teams have questionable secondary players but one coach seems to trust his more than the other. Could be the expectations of both teams driving the “ride them hard” mentality of d’antoni and carlisle bringing dirk along slowly. But i’m willing to bet dirk has a monster april because of the minute limit he’s under now. We should expect our stars to slow based on last season if the minutes stay high.


  26. “The plan” has been for the Lakers, as constituted, to win two NBA championships. That’s D’Antini’s job right now–and he seems to have accepted the challenge.

    It’s not clear that D’Antoni has been given the green light to change the script. Trading Pau Gasol means that the plan has been abandoned, and the FO is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic. I doubt that the FO is willing to do anything so radical this season, so watch for a much smaller trade sometime after Jan. 15.

    Pau Gasol might well outlast Mike D’Antoni.


  27. There is a huge difference in the mins Nash played in phoenix and the ones here in LA – for one thing he’s not having to be the focal point of every single play and work so bloody hard ala kobe earlier this season to create everything. Also a plus for later in the season – Nash just had a 23 game break for the first third of the season – that combined with the lighter workload on the court is going to mean a lot fresher Nash come April/May/June. And as far as mins go – it sucks but if Nash/Kobe need to play big mins to get this team into the playoffs after the way this year has started then so be it – its not like MDA hasn’t tried every guy off the bench – we know what he has on this team. This isn’t Mike Brown riding his stars because he doesn’t trust anyone – MDA is just dealing with the reality that the Lakers will go as far as Nash/Kobe/Howard take them this year and hopefully the other guys will step up and lighten the load as we go.

    @kennyt – normally I would agree with you that I wouldn’t want players running thru Nash on screens, but if you watch where he screens (and this is the beauty) he pins himself tight behind and to the side of the defender so he’s already closed any gap and the opposing player has no where to go but roll off of him. As long as Pau and Howard rub shoulders or close tightly w Nash on the screen, there is virtually zero chance of him having to deal with any force/mass in motion, making those screens very safe for him to set. All that being said – Nash has been at/near the top of the league over the years in taking legit charges (not flopping) and knows how to take and absorb contact better than anyone else. The plays that i worry about are when he’s defending up high and a screen gets set on him into his back while he’s in motion. I’m a pg w a back injury as well and those blind screens suck – thats where he might get spasms etc…


  28. Reading all the posts I ask this question?

    Is Dwight Howard the guy we fans went as our franchise player?

    So far he leads the NBA in:
    1-missed free throws
    2-Center Turnovers
    3-Offensive fouls on screens
    4-Goal tending calls
    5-calling out his teammates.

    The major difference from last year to this is, DH and we went from top 3 to are a 11 hoping to make rbe playoffs.

    The guy will ask for over $20 million next year. So he can blame his team on defense and yell at Hill, Nash and Kobe on the court. This is
    not what I want to watch or deserve for my 30 years of being a fan.

    If I owned the team I would call up NJ or NY and move the guy now
    for 2 or 3 young athletic guys who play hard 40 minutes and don’t throw their teammates under bus.

    I fully believe Dwight is the problem with this team and is as fundamentally poor as I can remember for many years. Why else are the Lakers 6 or so games worse after 25 then last year?


  29. Why else are the Lakers 6 or so games worse after 25 then last year?

    1. Pau has played worse than he did last year when he has played and has missed 10 games.
    2. Nash has missed 24 games.
    3. Barnes left and has not been replaced–the same mistake that they made with Shannon Brown last year.
    4. Duhon and Morris are actually worse than Blake, Fisher, and Sessions.

    Also, as I have pointed out a few times, last year’s team was fortunate in terms of injuries (Pau, Bynum, and Kobe missed almost no time last year) and had the point differential of a 36-30 team, not a 41-25 team. Attributing this team’s situation, or any team’s situation, to one cause is always a mistake. Some people do that with D’Antoni’s coaching, or with Pau’s decline, or with Kobe’s FGAs, or with Howard’s issues. In reality, it is a combination of things, with poor depth, and health and age issues compromising the stars, the roster and the defense being the main ones.

    That said, Howard is obviously not 100% physically and in terms of his attitude, has not, at any time since the season started, given the impression that he wants to be here and to play for this team.


  30. This much is clear, D12 was/is overrated. Please don’t tell me “he’s injured crap excuse” Kobe been playing injured the past years.

    Just to piggy back on Ko’s post, if I was Mitch, Kahnnnn would be my speed dial right now. Instead of trading for the popular trade bait Pau,I’d trade Dwight for the disgruntled UCLA alumnus Kevin Love and maybe Derrick Williams.

    I know I’m over reaching here and were not allowed to make fake trades here. But Kevin Love would fit perfectly as a stretch 4 in this system, Pau would slide to his natural position as a 5 and Williams would be our athletic wing that the team badly needs. If MDA is here to stay,might as well give him the roster that fits his system.


  31. Jayz….
    Why would Minny give up Love in a trade for Dwight when Howard can walk at the end of the season?

    Hope you are right about Nash. I guess if he’s back from injury, he can’t be babied. Time is tight.


  32. Pau Gasol can be traded, with contention in mind and with salary savings involved. There aren’t 500 scenarios for that but there are 4-5. Any of you that wonder how it can be done, here are some pointers:

    1. Pau Gasol will be packaged along with 2-3 contracts that are small enough to be absorbed by other teams (minimum exception) or heading to the same team that trades for Pau Gasol. Earl Clark, DJO, Antawn Jamison and Robert Sacre are candidates.

    2. Pau Gasol has a trade kicker in which only 3-4% of his contracts is applicable because it is a maximum contract already.

    3. Any team that trades for him should be lacking the post presence that we have in excess but aren’t using (or doesn’t fit our system). That said there are about 14 teams in the league that can utilize Pau Gasol properly, but only 3-4 that actually have the necessary salaries to complete it without help from other teams.

    4. Any deal for Pau SHOULD give us a return of 3-4 players in which no salaries exceed 2014 UNLESS the player is totally worth it.

    5. Steve Blake is a very likely candidate for amnesty next season, not Metta. He might not be traded for that purpose.

    6. Any form of Gasol trade involves downgrading, but the return should require 2 young and athletic guys that can shoot, and 2 forwards that are better fits on our system. IN this case the Wolves have the goods.

    7. We value expiring contracts, believe it or not. There are 2 guards that have expiring contracts that can help our cause, 1 of them is in Toronto and the other is in Utah.

    These are the scenarios. I wish we could talk about it more.


  33. With the contracts given out the past few years not many big men have earned their max deals outside of kg, pau and bosh. There are previous deals that would be cause for concern most notably j. O’neal and amare. Pau’s not bringing back anything of value with his age and a new injury every week. It’s not time but I would agree with the thinking of seriously considering trading dwight if he doesn’t show improvement by asb because there’s no guarantee he’ll ever be 100% again. There’s plenty expirings and another big in atlanta who’s pretty good on a good deal. That would be the first place i’d call.


  34. kevin, I agree. Give it another month and see if health/attitude improve. If not, seriously consider sending him back to home town. Granted this is classic fan over reaction, but there is clearly something missing for a max contract superstar. I really hope it is health.


  35. Kevin, despite the huge gap in athleticism from pre-injury, Dwight is still far superior than any other big man you tell me that’s not a “bowling big” right now. That guy you refer to, who’s on a good deal is also someone that’s proven to be injury-prone one way or another. Dwight, with all his misgivings and not being 100% yet, is FAR FAR SUPERIOR than anyone you refer to in this league.

    So to even think about trading Dwight is simply inconceivable for me.


  36. Good write up Darius…here’s a blog I tweeted to you a few days ago for more on Nash:


  37. Here is an alternate way of thinking about near term Laker trades, whether imagined or actually being seriously considered. It’s my view, and I may be wrong.

    I believe that the FO remains committed to THE PLAN: win two championships with Bryant, Howard, Gasol, Nash, and MWP–and relatively minor tweaking of supporting players on the roster. I also believe that D’Antoni as coach is required to stick with THE PLAN. There is conflicting evidence whether or not THE PLAN can work under D’Antoni. Many, probably most on this board, are expecting the Laker FO to trade Pau Gasol–mostly on the assumption that D’Antoni’s Sun style system will be in place at least for the next several years.

    That’s a dangerous assumption.

    I believe that the FO supports D’Antoni’s approach 100% only as long as he implements it in terms of THE PLAN–and I believe that D’Antoni is trying. A decision to trade Gasol opens up a whole new can of worms that could lead inexorably to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic. I don’t think anyone is prepared to speculate along those lines quite yet.

    None of the bigs (Howard, Gasol, Hill) are happy with D’Antoni’s implementation so far, not just Gasol. Trading Gasol could actually exacerbate the unhappiness of the other two–and Howard, so far, is no more than an expensive rental.


  38. Guys the bigger issue is defense – which Dwight has been calling out guys for and the coach because we are not focusing on it – we wouldnt be giving up 40pt quarters every game if we were and i dont blame Dwight for calling out the team because someone needs to and at least he is being realistic about what this team needs.

    Dwights right that we need to actually practice defense instead of just talking about it and this is the same – repeat same – problem that Dantoni has had in both pheonix and new york – of course dwight is pissed – he was the 3X defensive player of the year before he got here and now our team is allowing 100+ pts per game

    Dantoni was the wrong choice and we will not see this team rise above the pack until we again change coaches

    and fully agree with RRs statement that we made a mistake in not replacing a key bench player that left 1st with shannon brown and 2nd with Barnes – barnes was hurt both years in the playoffs but was easily our best bench player the past 2 years.

    Mitch does need to do some work for the tail end of out bench


  39. As soon as Dwight got his back chopped into it was a good possibility it would take a long time to get 100% if ever. Dwight has always seemed a bit duplicitous so it should be no surprise that he’s half-assing at times and throwing people under the bus. He sees plays in front of him that (pre-injury) would be able to make but cannot presently. That helps fuel his duplicitous side instead of him just shutting up and figuring out how to maximize what the team has. He and the team have to make the adjustment to stay at home on the interior more until he can cover ground like he used to do.

    The front office took the chance that he’d be great in a two-three year window. Hopefully, he’ll surprise us all and ramp his play and desire. However, I’ve never trusted his personality nor his game that is based on being a dominate physical presence when time is always going to win a one point. What we’re seeing now is what Dwight would look like in 4 to 5 years even without the injury. How will that look on a max contract?

    Nash’s defense has been a lot better than I expected. He’ll never be Alvin Robertson but Duhon is truly painful to watch play. The Laker need to get a youngster willing to absorb everything Nash is doing. You can’t clone Nash but someone should be able to lift some of his tendencies and reasoning.


  40. It is amazing that we champion Bynum for 16 and 10 yet throw Howard under the bus for 18 and 12 with better defensive presence.