Archives For Steve Nash

Steve Nash couldn’t finish Sunday’s game against the Timberwolves after experiencing pain in his back. When the 2nd half started, Nash remained in the locker room and after the game he said he would see a back specialist to get more information.

Well, the news is back and it doesn’t sound promising:

As Dave McMenamin mentions, Nash treated his back issues with an epidural during last year’s playoffs and it really didn’t help. It relieved his pain in the short term, but did not allow him to get on the floor to play in the games.

The fact that Nash is still experiencing issues with his back is a major concern. The fact that it’s nerve “irritation” is even more concerning since the timeline given comes along with the caveat of “a minimum of” and “will be reevaluated in 10 days” rather than a standard timetable of “out X days/weeks” and that’s that. The fact is the Lakers went through a similar issue with Nash last season when he broke his leg only to have nerve irritation throw his recovery timeline into a permanent fog.

If you recall, after Nash broke his leg, he was listed as being out for roughly two weeks, then was listed as day to day, only to have that regress to out indefinitely as the nerve problems kept bothering him. When Nash finally was cleared to play he clearly was not 100% and seemed to only come back to try and help the team when they were making their push for the playoffs.

That strategy did little for his long term health, however, as the rest of his body started to cause him problems as he (likely) had to overcompensate for his bad leg. Hip and hamstring issues developed and ultimately that caused his back to flare up. Back issues that, apparently, remain today even after a summer of rest and then training to build up his strength.

At this point, I wouldn’t bet on Nash being back in two weeks. Kevin Ding tweeted that these nerve irritation issues can last up to two months and considering Nash’s age and the fact that these issues have been persisting for some time doesn’t make for an ideal healing situation. And while I don’t want to speculate, it wouldn’t surprise me if Nash is out for a long time or that he ends up coming back on a timeline that’s relatively short (say 2-4 weeks) only to end up having more issues that put him on the injured list later in the season for the same reason.

In any event, the Lakers must now move on without Nash and that will mean more time for Steve Blake at point guard, more time for Jodie Meeks at shooting guard, and more time for Jordan Farmar since he’ll move to the primary back up for Blake as the lead guard. In a normal year this would be seen as a disaster as Nash would be considered the best of those four players. This year, however, Nash has been the least productive of the foursome and his absence should allow the Lakers to find more stability in their backcourt while also putting the team’s most productive guards on the floor for longer stretches.

As an aside, typing that paragraph is probably one of the saddest things I’ve ever written. The Lakers traded for Nash two summers ago and saw him as a player who could elevate the point guard position while helping the team contend for a title. After all, Nash was (is, actually) a hall of fame player who was still putting up very good numbers in Phoenix. What’s transpired, though, is Nash dealing with injury after injury and falling to a level that is unrecognizable for any fan who’s watched his career to this point. You always want players to age gracefully and to be able to go out on their own terms. Instead, Nash seems to be falling apart before our eyes. And, really, there’s nothing sadder than that.

The Other Star Guard

Darius Soriano —  May 27, 2013

So much of the Lakers’ off-season has focused on unknowns.

What will Dwight Howard decide? When will Kobe return and, when he does, what type of player will he be? Will Pau Gasol still be on the team? If so, how will his role change? If not, what will he net in a trade?

Due to their importance as centerpiece players on the Lakers’ roster, these are natural questions. However, one player whose name hasn’t much come up when talking about the transition to next season is Steve Nash.

Nash was added nearly a year ago, seemingly out of nowhere. At the time, there were questions about how Nash would fit next to Kobe, how much he had left as a player, and how the team would compensate for him defensively. But even with those questions, his signing was almost universally hailed as a win for the Lakers.

What transpired wasn’t the win that many imagined it would be. In the 2nd game of the year Nash broke his leg, ultimately starting a season of regretful injuries and lost chemistry that served as the dark cloud over his inaugural campaign as a Laker. Further, when he was healthy enough to suit up, he had to adjust to a shifting role that took him off the ball more, becoming more of a spot up shooter when Kobe handled the ball and a diligent screener when Pau facilitated from the elbow.

When he did have the ball in his hands, Nash showed more and more of his 39 years, lacking that extra burst to shake free from defenders or turn the corner out of his favored pick and roll set. This made it harder to escape hard traps defenses threw at him and harder for him to create the separation that he typically uses to do damage in isolation.

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I’ve long struggled with the idea of “crunch time”. At times I’ve felt the definition used to describe this part of the game — the last 5 minutes of a game with a margin of 5 points or fewer — is a bit arbitrary. This feeling is compounded by the fact that I’m a firm believer that all parts of the game are important. A contest can be lost in the first quarter by surrendering a big lead through sloppy defense and turnover prone offense as much as it can be lost at the end of the game through the same type of poor play.

That said, it can not be ignored that the end of a close game feels different and, thus, creates a different environment in which the players compete. Defense tightens up and offensive players have a more difficult time scoring in general. The seconds seem to tick down slower and every possession takes on a greater importance. This often leads to the types of pressure packed plays that either build or destroy legends. Bring up the words “clutch” “Michael Jordan” and “Nick Anderson” in the same sentence and someone will surely say the word “choke” within a fraction of a second.

As fans we too take this part of the game more seriously and tend to heap praises on the heroes who can summon the skill needed to thrive at this time of the game. Forget analysis in the closing seconds, we love a guy hitting the big shot and then screaming at the top of our lungs in celebration. These are the most memorable moments.

The problem is, though, is that it’s never smart to forget the analysis. It’s better to know what actually happened and how a team got to the point where it made (or missed) those final shots that we think decided the game. It’s better to know what trends to expect from a team or player at any part of the game, but especially one that’s close late. This makes us better fans, even if in the moment most of us — or at least those of us with rooting interests — only really care if the shot falls or not.

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The Lakers are 69 games into what’s been one of the wilder seasons in memory. Considering this is the Lakers we’re talking about, that’s saying something. I mean, remember Mike Brown? Him manning the reigns as Lakers’ head coach seems like years ago, not just earlier in this campaign. This season has aged in dog years and it seems crazy how much has happened to this roster in just the past 9 months.

If you go back to the start of this year, however, one of the key stories that still endures is how Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant would (and since have) play together. The question marks about mixing their playing styles, how their leadership qualities would mesh, and whether they would be able to co-exist in a way that maximizes both players’ talents.

Those answers seem almost fully formed, even as the players themselves evolve and continue to refine their on-court interactions. They have found ways to make it work, with Nash becoming more of an on ball threat and Kobe taking on more ball handling responsibilities, both making the types of shifts to their games that speak to their status as all-timers. They’ve found a sort of kinship in their longevity, their work ethic, their desire to win at any cost, and, yes, their ability adapt to what the team needs.

They’ve found a way to do it together and though this year has offered some very tough times, watching Kobe and Nash ply their craft and build towards something together has been one of the few rewards this campaign has offered to this point.

With all that said, I offer a couple of very good (though short) reads from around the web today. The first, is from Michael Pina at The Classical who talks about Nash’s shifting role this season and his ability to still be magical even as his age advances. He concludes with a statement about Nash being free to do more with Kobe off the floor (something that I agree with) and how maybe the team should do more of:

Is it possible to underrate a certain Hall of Famer? Nash isn’t what he used to be, but he’s still eighth in the league in three-point field goal percentage and 13th in true shooting percentage, and doing things as a playmaker that nobody not named John Stockton or Jason Kidd have done so late in their careers. Nash can still be a lead ball-handler on a very good team, and those shooting numbers can still coax a SMH from any skeptic. The Lakers are not better with Bryant on the sideline, of course. But Nash may well be, and will at the very least be free to do the things that he does better than just about everyone in the world. He isn’t who he was, naturally; none of us are. But it should be interesting—and could well be dazzling—to see what Steve Nash becomes as the season goes on.

Give the entire piece a read, it’s worth your time.

Second is a piece on Kobe, through the eyes of a teammate. Antawn Jamison had some choice words about his iconic teammate including insights into Kobe’s leadership style, the atmosphere he’s created for this team, and, of course, his work ethic:

“It’s great to be with him,” Jamison said. “I love a guy who expects so much from his teammates. He pushes his teammates. After games, we’re traveling, guys are on their laptops, their iPads, watching movies, listening to music, this guy is watching film. He’s breaking down situations. I’ll be watching a movie, he’ll tap me like, ‘Come here.’ He’ll dissect plays like, ‘This is what we got to do, me and you got to get this going.’ I mean, this guy eats, sleeps basketball and the only thing he wants to do is to win another championship and I’ve never seen anybody as focused, as dedicated as Kobe.”

I appreciated Jamison’s honesty about Kobe, a player we all make assumptions about but never truly know fully. Jamison was able to pull back the curtain somewhat, and show us that leadership is complex and that Kobe’s style is certainly unique.

Kobe and Nash — both 17 year veterans, both league MVP’s, both future hall of famers, both at a stage of their careers where even with all the accolades winning is all that matters. Teammates for the first time and sorting out their roles together, growing as teammates together, and, though late in the season, finally finding a way to get this team on track together.

In beating the Bulls, the Lakers really showed how they can manipulate very good defenses with screen actions designed to get their best players makable shots. This was especially true late in the game where the Lakers picked on Carlos Boozer on multiple consecutive possessions in order to close out the game.

Of all the plays the Lakers ran against the Bulls, two stood out to me, and not just because they were successful. Both had very good design, but both were also relative simple actions that preyed on the quick reacting Bulls’ scheme in a way that exposed their aggressive help actions.

First, was a great play the Lakers ran out of a timeout. The Lakers started the play with Nash up high with Kobe on the left side of the floor and Dwight near the top of the key:

Kobe Flare 1

Nash goes to his left hand to run a 1/2 pick and roll with Kobe. After Deng hedges on Nash, he actually gets bumped by his own man before starting to chase Kobe who has darted to the right side of the floor. Only, when Deng starts his chase, he’s met by a nice screen from Dwight Howard:

Kobe Flare 2

Dwight gets Deng in a severe trail position with his pick and Kobe is wide open by the time the ball lands in his hands. By the time he raises up to shoot, look how far Deng is away from him:

Kobe Flare 3

The Lakers haven’t run this type of flare screen action a lot this year so it’s not like it was an easy play to scout. Coming out of a timeout, D’Antoni drew up the perfect play and Kobe came through by hitting the shot, resulting in a 15 point lead that really put stress on the Bulls’ offense. Here’s the play in real time:

The second play was another screen action, this time starting out of a Nash/Dwight pick and roll. We start with a similar set up as in the play before, with Nash high, Dwight in position to set a screen for him, and Kobe on the left wing:

Dwight Screen

After coming off a Dwight screen, Nash goes hard to his left to initiate a dribble pitch/hand off with Kobe who is circling back towards him. Notice as well that Dwight is trailing Nash rather than rolling hard to hoop as he would in a normal P&R:

Nash hand off

After giving the ball to Kobe, Nash sets a screen on Deng. And, after having to navigate that screen, Deng has to fight over the top of a second screen from Dwight. That double screen action gives Kobe a lot of daylight to operate, with Joakim Noah having to step up to ensure that Kobe doesn’t get into the paint:

Double screen

This is where Kobe’s smarts come into play. When seeing Noah, Kobe flattens out his dribble and occupies the big man in order to draw him up and away from his original assignment (Dwight). With Nash keeping his spacing high on the floor, Meeks and Ron spacing on the right side, and Dwight beginning a roll to the rim, Kobe patiently accepts Noah’s defense, waits for Deng to recover and has now created a situation where he’s double teamed but still able to make a play for a teammate:

Boozer watching

The purpose of this action isn’t just to make any pass, however. Dwight rolling hard to the rim after setting the screen is the primary target. And with Carlos Boozer still standing outside the right lane line, Kobe correctly picks out Dwight for an easy dunk:

This play really was the Lakers picking on Boozer, who should have helped off Ron and taken away Dwight’s dive by standing in the paint. With Meeks and Nash the other two players on the wing, Boozer’s guarding the non-shooter on the floor and it’s his responsibility to duck in.

But the beauty of the play design is that Boozer really is stuck in no man’s land. If he does slide over to help on Dwight, he leaves a shooter open for the most efficient three point shot there is in the game. And even though he’s guarding a non-threat, the Bulls defensive scheme is one that emphasizes not giving up that corner shot. So while Boozer is at fault here, I think the play design really did a good job of opening up multiple options for a high efficient shot.

Moving forward, it looks like the Lakers really are starting to find more options on offense by adding wrinkles to their traditional actions in order to create good shots. Whether it’s a flare screen for Kobe or a staggered pick and roll action that opens up Dwight for a dunk, Coach D’Antoni is getting more creative. Furthermore, he’s doing so using his three best players and utilizing them in ways that maximize their abilities to be threats on the floor. Continuing to use these types of plays should only make the Lakers more dangerous and an even bigger pain to game plan for.