Finding the Right Balance May Mean Separating Kobe and Nash

Darius Soriano —  February 1, 2013

Is Steve Nash becoming marginalized?

Over the past several games, Kobe Bryant has found out what every other chief perimeter player in Mike D’Antoni’s system has figured out: being the chief playmaker is how you lead the team. So, Kobe has moved off the ball to on it. He’s now calling for the ball earlier in possessions and actively seeking out a playmaking role. This is allowing him to dictate the terms of how this team will play from an active position, rather than a passive one. Furthermore, Kobe has also seemed to conclude that his individual game needed more balance, saying that he was looking to be a finisher too much and that he needed to help lighten the load on Steve (Nash) as the lone perimeter playmaker. Kobe is stepping up to help diversify the Lakers’ offense. And, so far, it’s working.

But where does that leave Nash? Lately, seeking his own balance as Kobe has slid in and taken some of his role for his own. Kevin Ding explains this nicely in his most recent column:

So Nash’s search will go on. He has the sweetest attitude of anyone, but Nash must find something for himself. Whether it’s making five 3-pointers every night or seizing a pick-and-roll time with Gasol early each game to play his old way, the guy who has made so many role players look so good in his career needs to find a role of his own. Nash’s mind doesn’t work like Bryant’s — always looking for something for himself, and thus indirectly the team — but it needs to start. Assuming Nash’s body is ready, he needs to go get something for himself and show everyone he’s not just the good guy willing to help his team, he can still be the bad boy crushing opponents’ hopes.

How Nash, and the team, find this balance will be key to how this season evolves and how successful the Lakers are. The formula they have now is a nice template, but as I’ve said since the start of the season, the goal is to get the most out of all the players in a way that maximizes both the individual and team’s production. Optimizing roles will mean getting them to perform great within the context of their singular roles while also finding a way for that role to fit into the team structure.

But, how do you do that for Nash while Kobe is evolving his game in ways that obviously help the team? I have one suggestion. Play Nash with Kobe a bit less.

This season Nash has played 733 minutes. Of those 733, Nash has been on the floor with Kobe for 706 of them. I don’t know about you, but I find that amazing. Don’t get me wrong, there are obvious benefits to playing Nash and Kobe together. They do a great job of creating shots for each other and providing spacing for each other. The perimeter offense flows much more smoothly when on either side of the floor you have a hall of fame player who can make defenses pay if the ball is swung in that direction. During the Lakers’ recent stretch of good play we’ve seen this in action as Kobe has held the ball on one wing only to pass the ball out, watch the ball find Nash, and then see him break down the defense and create an easy basket.

That said, getting the most out of Nash is more than simply having him and Kobe interact on the floor. Getting the most out of Nash has to be him creating offense for the teammates who can’t create offense for themselves. When D’Antoni was hired, what we envisioned was Nash operating high in the P&R and attacking the defense in a way that generated great shots for himself or a teammate. And while we’ve seen plenty of that since he returned, we’re seeing less of it now that Kobe has taken such a prominent role as an offensive facilitator. For Nash, though, the proper balance in his game means that he needs some of those possessions back. And not just for Nash, but for the rest of the Laker offense to really thrive.

The Lakers are slowly building towards their ideal output. In the past few weeks we’ve seen D’Antoni make some pretty daring moves to try and get the most out of his players. He’s moved Earl Clark to the starting lineup to better complement Dwight. He’s moved Pau to the bench to better maximize the Spaniard’s offensive skill set. Kobe has become more of a distributor to take advantage of his ability to manipulate defenses. The only player left to help find a smoother role for is Nash.

And, oddly enough, it may mean a similar fate for him that it has for Gasol. Not a move to the bench — that would be too drastic — but a separation from his backcourt partner. Because just as Howard and Pau can play together to good success but have found that less minutes together gives them their best output, Nash and Kobe seem to be headed in that same direction. It wouldn’t have to be for long stretches, but for short bursts where Nash is once again given the reins, and allowed to be Steve Nash. We may find it’s not just best for Nash, but best for the team.

Darius Soriano

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to Finding the Right Balance May Mean Separating Kobe and Nash

  1. Make this reason #1,003 as to why Mike D’Antoni should not have been hired to coach this Laker team in the first place. I kinda feel bad for Lakers fans…


  2. Agreed with the staggering of minutes for the Kobe-Nash backcourt. It seems to make the most sense as Nash can be a creator/ orchestrator for the second unit. Also with Steve Blaker back, he will be better suited for the Dfish role of spot up shooter alongside KB24 than someone like Duhon.


  3. Unfortunately our Lakers are showing the world that fantasy ball & real ball have absolutely nothing in common. Yes Lakers have a group which includes four future Hall of Famers, but they don’t have a team. Parts just don’t fit. 🙁


  4. Nice post Darius (& K.Ding´s article´s good as well); i´d like to know how, in your opinion (or of the posters too of course), DH´s injury and Pau´s lack of a solid defensive presence would affect this `staggering of minutes´ for Mamba and Gatsby – if at all..
    Let´s get one in Minnesota tonight!


  5. Excellent post and I know some others have suggested similar ideas. The thing is that if Nash can’t be Nash, and if he is just a spot up 2 in an offence that is mostly about getting the ball to the bigs, then he goes from an MVP type to a very average point guard, because he is not helping you much in the other aspects of the game (either with great athleticism or fantastic defence, and creating a bunch of steals and/or turnovers to get the ball going in the other direction as so many of this new breed of point guards is capable of providing).

    I think the real problem for the lakers has been just what you have said, finding roles for everybody that maximizes everyone’s skill set. Every one of the big 4 have thrived in the past at pretty high levels, but all have had whole teams constructed around there own particular skill set. Nash and Howard seemed like a natural fit as they were both from “1 and 4” type of systems, but there aren’t nearly enough great outside shooters with balanced two way games on this team for either of them (meeks and Jamison are either too inconsistent as shooters and have either defensive liabilities or other holes in their games). And for Pau and Kobe they have thrived with either a brilliant post up guy (Kobe with Shaq) but as we saw with Pau and Kobe, where Pau wasn’t quite as dominant in the post and other pieces were missing, they needed a brilliant stretch four and excellent defender in Lamar to round that out, and fully compliment their skill set.

    For Nash, if this is a team about getting guys going in the low (or even mid) post, then the lakers have wasted a lot of money and cap space on Nash, and really have another problem of trying to get value of out someone who does not fit the system.

    One other thing that I would really like to see Dantoni stick with, and something that I worry he will not recognize and implement, was a line up using the twin towers with no Kobe or Nash (and some combo of Meeks/jamison/clark/MWP plus some smalls). I think this unit was on at the beginning of the 2nd and 4th quarter, in the recent 3 game winning streak, and were quite effective, and would seem to be a really good way to balance the skill set even further, with those guys running a real high/low post type of offence without the distraction of trying to feed Nash and or Kobe, and with a younger group around them, that is likely to be a really strong defensive unit.

    Overall, I think the key for this team is to really have a lot of different ways to beat you, and almost different sets and systems depending on who is on the floor. I think the reality of this, plus all the injuries is why it has taken so long for this team to gel, and I just hope that there will not be too much impatience in allowing all of this to fully come to fruition.


  6. What a mess. Wasn’t Nash supposed to solve all the Laker’s problems? Antoni kept saying that for like two months. So what’s the problem now? Is Nash still playing injured or is this the Nash that we have for the next 3 years?

    If you are saying that we have four future hall of famers that can’t play effectively together that has to be an indictment of either the coach or the front office that hired the wrong coach or signed the wrong players.


  7. Yogi,
    They play fine together. I’ll talk about that in today’s game preview. The point is to maximize the entire roster over the course of the entire game.

    Right now, the Lakers best 5 players (Nash, Kobe, Ron, Pau, Dwight) play around 9-12 minutes a night together. That leaves around 36 minutes for different lineups to be used. Right now, for the remaining 20 minutes that Nash plays (of those 36) all of them are still likely to be with Kobe (and different combinations of other guys). My point is, that doesn’t have to be the case. Maybe 10 or 12 of those minutes are with Kobe. But I think there can be 8-10 minutes a game where Nash plays with Meeks (and likely Clark and Jamison and Howard) to form a lineup where the ball is mostly in Nash’s hands as a P&R operator w/ Howard.


  8. So by this afternoon the unselfish-Kobe-reinvents-himself-as-facilitator story will begin a new spin into the Machiavellian-Kobe-hogs-ball-to-keep-Nash-from-taking-over-team-leadership conspiracy theory? Lakers drama, baby!


  9. This should have been obvious from the beginning. Start all 4 together but after 6 minutes start splitting up the big 4. Play at least one of Kobe/Nash and one of Pau/Dwight at all times. It makes no sense to have 4 great players then trot out a lineup of Duhon, Blake, Jamison, Clark, and Gasol/Howard.

    The main thing here is that while each player is on the court they will feel involved, yet over time this limits their playing time. When necessary, at the end of the game they can all be on the court together, knowing that it makes Kobe/Nash a slightly marginalized (but still above average) 3rd option but at least each will have had their chances running the show that night and they can just go by matchups.


  10. darius: it’s both interesting and good timing that both you and kevin ding point to kobe’s recent ball handling; ie.,for lack of a better term, ball handling antics. which in reality takes away steve nash’s natural ability to create in chaos. which in turn negates coach d’s ability to implement his helter skelter steve nash style of offensive basketball.

    it’s got to be a fine line to juggle that concept and somehow figure out a way to get the ball back in the hands of steve nash now that he appears to be fully healthy (considering his age). kobes’ a smart guy, he’ll figure it out.

    i’m of the notion that the lakers need to make it to the playoffs, helter skelter or no helter skelter. why? just to prove that they can. who cares if they get bumped in the first round?? just the intrigue alone would have laker following salivating at the possibilities. like moths to a flame, we gather, wide eyed, hopeful and burned is what we sometimes get. we expect that too and yet childlike of mention of the word, playoffs.

    tonite, another winnable game despite recent ailments. when the going gets tough…..

    Go Lakers


  11. “recent stretch of good play we’ve seen this in action as Kobe has held the ball on one wing only to pass the ball out, watch the ball find Nash, and then see him break down the defense and create an easy basket.”

    When have you seen Nash break down a defense this season? Nash can barely break off his own man off the picks. When Kobe has the rock and goes to work and dishes to anyone, the defense is already broken down. That’s why offense looks smooth when Kobe initiates it. Nash can be guarded one on one, no breaking down of D’s there. When Kobe starts the offense, Meeks, Metta, clark, Howard and Gasol get open looks. When Nash starts the offense, Meek’s and Metta’s game suffer and and only Howard (usually a strip) and Gasol (usually a jumper top of the key) get looks or Kobe with the end shot clock bail out look.
    We are in desperate need of a non star, young agressive PG.


  12. Spot on with the article. I like the current starting lineup. I think D’Antoni can sub out Nash by the 6- 8 mins mark in the 1st and then bring him when there’s a couple mins left so Nash can help the 2nd unit. The biggest issue is Kobe’s playing soo many mins it’s going to be hard to separate the two.

    I do like the idea of getting Nash 7 – 10 mins a game without Kobe so he can do some damage as well (again it has to be at a time when Dwight isn’t crying for the ball down low).


  13. Neil–For some of us Ron will always be Ron—just like people probably DID call KAJ “Lew” for awhile after the name change–it’s just that you weren’t around for it…


  14. Manny I totally agree with your take and break down of the Lakers. I wish they had of retained Sessions who never really got a fair chance. Kobe should pair up with Blake along with Howard. Nash with Gasol and Worldpeace. Start game with big 4 and end game with big 4.


  15. The two-star platoon system, with a Nash/Howard unit and a Kobe/Pau unit, is one my hobby horses, going back to before training camp.