Archives For Steve Nash

Steve Nash is in an interesting position on this particular Laker team.

He is the team’s point guard and, simply due to his position, one of the de facto leaders. Furthermore, because he is one of the best players on the team he is positioned as someone who others will look to for guidance. So, even though Nash is a newcomer and someone who came to the Lakers as a secondary player (not only to Kobe, but, arguably to Pau as well) he is still one of the most important players. When the coaching change occurred and Mike D’Antoni was hired, Nash’s stature on the team only grew as the head coach singled him out as a difference maker.

At this point in the year, Nash has lived up to his reputation in a lot of ways. He has been a point guard in the truest sense. When the Lakers started out running the Princeton Offense, Nash was one of the players voicing his buy in the loudest. He spoke of process and his own willingness to step back in order to accomplish more as a team. On the floor, he has played as a man more interested in getting the most out of his mates rather than someone who is concerned about himself. He makes the extra pass, looks to set up a teammate who has a mismatch, and has willingly given the ball up in order to be a worker away from the action in order to spring someone else for a chance at a shot. The term “floor general” was created for a player who goes about his business this way.

However, in Nash’s pursuit to help make his teammates better, it seems he may be giving up too much of himself. It goes without saying that Nash is doing a lot to help the team play well (or, at least well within the context of what’s been an awful season to date), but it’s also arguable that what the Lakers need is for him to stop worrying about his teammates so much and to start calling his own number more.

Consider the following:

  • Per 36 minutes, Nash’s scoring is down from 14.2 points last year to 11.7 points this season. Two seasons ago, that number was 15.9; three seasons ago it was 18.0.
  • Per 36 minutes, Nash is shooting nearly one and a half fewer times per game and attempting a shade over one less foul shot per game.
  • This season, Nash’s usage rate is a paltry 15.0. That number is 4.6 points lower than last season and represents his lowest usage since the 1999-2000 season where he only played in 56 games (only starting in 27).

Taken individually, none of these numbers are too alarming (except the decline in usage, which we’ll get to).

It’s not some sort of big surprise that Nash might score less this season. Playing with scoring threats like Kobe and Howard automatically affect any players’ point totals. As Kobe mentioned the other day, he and Dwight are “finishers” and are going to be the players who end plays taking shots whenever they’re on the floor. With this being the case, it’s also not a surprise that Nash’s FGA’s and FTA’s are also down. As the Lakers’ offense has evolved (under both the Mikes), Nash has been playing off the ball more and that’s led to him spectating as Kobe, Dwight, and (to a lesser extent) Ron take the shots. It was always going to be the case that Nash, operating with more individual talent than he has in recent seasons, would see a decline in certain stats.

However, it’s fine line between surrendering some of your individual numbers for the betterment of the team and not doing more with the ball when given the opportunity to do so. This season (and especially lately with Pau and Dwight out injured), the latter describes Nash better than the former. This may not be the Lakers’ biggest problem this season (it’s not close, actually) but it’s a problem all the same.

It can get lost in the discussion of Nash being able to create for others so well, but he can also do a pretty good job of creating shots for himself. As one of the best shooters in the game (Nash is shooting 53% from the floor this year and has a TS% of 61.7%), he can take advantage of even the tiniest slivers of space with a quick flick of the wrist better than most other players in the league. We’ve seen it this season multiple times: Nash probes the defense, escape dribbles to either hand, fades and hits a jumper; Nash drives by a closing out defender and hits a scoop shot at the rim; Nash comes off a pick, keeps the defender on his hip and then hits a floater/hook shot before the secondary help comes; Nash pulls up in transition and buries a long jumper.

We just haven’t seen it as often as I think we’d all like to.

Constructing an offense can be a delicate balance. Few understand that better than the best point guards in the league. Ever listen to Magic Johnson talk? Or Chris Paul? Or John Stockton? They all understood the value of getting guys looks and how, as the point guard, it was their responsibility to make it happen. Keeping your teammates engaged offensively is one of the surer ways to keep them engaged in other facets of the game. Nash, like those other all-timers, is in that mold and I’ve heard him make similar comments over the course of his career.

However, one of the reasons the Lakers’ even pursued Nash is because they’ve had a hole at point guard for several years. Taking nothing away from Derek Fisher or even Ramon Sessions, but they were not able to control the reins of an offense and be critical scorers for their team at the same time. Nash, for all his pointgod-ly ways, has not had that problem in his career. As Lakers’ fans, we’ve had front row seats to Nash not only creating for others, but hitting countless big shots of his own and controlling the game with both his passing and his scoring.

This season, however, Nash has become a player too willing to let others finish. Usage rate is a measurement of how often a play ends with a shot, free throws, assist, or turnover when a player is on the floor. As mentioned earlier, Nash’s is 15.0 this season. For comparison’s sake, Darius Morris’ is 15.7, Jamison’s is 16.7, and Meeks’s 19.7 (last year, Sessions’ was 20.5). I understand that Nash is a playmaker and that he’s moving the ball on to the open man and that may not lead to anything more than another pass. My point is that Nash needs to take it upon himself to shoot more; to look to be a finisher more, even if he has to force the action a bit to do so.

When completely healthy and playing to their abilities, the Lakers are a team with four all-star level players at the top of their roster. For the Lakers to be at their best, they need all of those guys playing to their strengths. And while Nash’s primary strengths are that of a playmaker for others and a person who can organize the offense, he’s also one of the game’s best shooters whose scoring is key part of his skill set. The Lakers can only be their best if Nash is taking it upon himself to do a bit more with that latter skill.

If that comes at the expense of an additional shot from Kobe, Ron, or Meeks, I don’t think anyone will mind. I know I won’t. I also think it will help the team.

Records: Lakers 13-14 (11th in the West). Knicks 20-7 (2nd in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 106.3 (6th in NBA), Knicks 109.8 (2nd in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.2 (15th in NBA), Knicks 102.4 (16th in NBA)
Projected starting lineups: Lakers: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Devin Ebanks, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Knicks: Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler, Ronnie Brewer, Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (out); Knicks: Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, Rasheed Wallace (all out)

Who knew having Steve Nash at the point is beneficial to winnings basketball games?

Through 36 minutes on Saturday night, however, the Lakers, who fell behind by as many 14 points in the second half and trailed the Warriors by 13 heading into the fourth quarter, tried valiantly to sully Nash’s return by adding yet another brick to the cathedral of disappointment that is the early days of the 2012-13 season. Dwight Howard was whistled for a pair of fouls in the game’s opening five minutes and had seen the floor for all of 12 minutes before picking up his fifth 12 seconds into the fourth quarter.

Called upon by Necessity (the dude manning the PA system in his head – little known fact), Kobe Bryant fired up the chuck wagon, delivering a staggering 41 attempts (and a lone, unsuccessful free throw) in 44 minutes in the vicinity of the bucket. Of the smorgasbord of heaves, 16 found paydirt, and Kobe wound up with 34 points (plus 10 rebounds, five assists and a steal).

Before we move on, a morsel of perspective: on January 22, 2006, Kobe took the floor for 42 minutes and attempted 46 shots. That night, he scored 81 points.

Another perhaps? Prior to Saturday night, in the 16+ seasons since Bean entered the NBA, 14 times (eight of them his own) had an NBAer attempted at least 40 shots in a game. On none of these occasions did said player fail to score at least 40, with just three efforts falling short of 45. So, yeah…

HOWEVAH…

Despite it all, the largely-undeserved-until-it-was-in-their-grasp OT triumph over the Dubs is perhaps the ideal opening verse for this (at full strength) Laker squad. In addition to pulling the team to within a single victory of the comically elusive .500 mark, the Lakers’ most recent most significant victory of the season was accompanied by certain takeaways that augur well for the full-strength version of this team:

For a guy who has not played competitive ball since Halloween, Steve Nash was spectacular. Conditioning and reacclimation to the speed of the game are the primary focuses of many players’ returns to action following serious lower body injuries. Nash hit the hardwood running… and driving, probing and backpicking. 41 minutes, 12 points on eight shots, nine dimes, a pair of steals, a huge crunch time triple in the fourth quarter and a picture-perfect runner to ice the game in overtime.

And Kobe let him!

It’s been my contention since this team was assembled that from both a talent and personality perspective, Nash resides in the exclusive neighborhood of players in possession of Kobe’s unconditional respect. It was glorious to actually watch it unfold.

Metta. We joke about his idiosyncrasies – and he is certainly not without his flaws – MWP’s willingness to sacrifice for the good of the team with nary gripe nor lapse in effort is remarkable. And he’s only just begun to feel the Nash Effect. A monster inside and out on Saturday and the spark for the Lakers’ fourth quarter comeback, provided not only the effort that so personifies his game, but efficient productivity the Lakers have too often lacked. Whether the three threes and uber-efficient 20 make a cameo on Christmas Day remains to be seen, but his work rate and tenacity perfectly complement the style of the maestro now at the reins.

Speaking of which, let’s talk some Jesus’ birthday, huh?

At noon local time at Staples, in their latest attempt to claw back to break-even, the Lakers square off against the Eastern Conference powerhouse that has exceeded not only its own preseason expectations, but the Lakers’ lofty set as well. A third of their schedule in the books – and 12 days removed from a comfortable victory over a Nash-/Pau-less Laker team – the New York Knicks head west on a 60-win pace. Though their perimeter assault has been relegated to the slums of “top third in the league,” Carmelo and Company remain one of the revelations of this NBA season, with an Effective Field Goal Percentage ranking fifth in the league (51.8%; the Lakers rank sixth, at 50.9%) and an offense trailing only the Oklahoma City Thunder in terms of efficiency.

None of this, of course, is news to the Lakers, who on December 13 at MSG saw up close the swift and blinding manner in which the Knicks – namely, the aforementioned Mr. Anthony – are able to deploy their attack. That night, Carmelo buried a trio of triples inside of 150 seconds, and racked up 22 of the Knicks’ 41 first quarter points. The Knicks ultimately opened up a 26-point cushion and appeared to be cruising to a laugher until a left ankle injury brought Carmelo’s evening to untimely end, just five minutes into the second half, and opened the door for a Lakers comeback that trimmed the margin to just six points, though a combined 67 from Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith, Ray Felton and Steve Novak was enough to preserve a Knick victory.

For all of the frustration that has permeated this campaign for the Lakers, this was the outing in which rock bottom was achieved. I used “achieved” because at that point in time everyone associated with the Lakers – players, management, coaches, fans – needed to stare into the abyss of abject mediocrity (at the time, a generous assessment) before refusing to go quietly into that Manhattan night and ultimately looking to a brighter day ahead. The Lakers are unbeaten in four games since, with road wins against the Wizards and 76ers, a comeback victory at home over the Bobcats and the aforementioned W over the Dubs.

This afternoon, the Lakers look to truly right the ship. Their full complement of talent (ex-Steve Blake) finally in tow, some momentum built and an opportunity to even their record against a premier foe on their home floor, the opportunity lies before them to notch their greatest signature victory of the season. For the first time in a long time, they enter the game favored at both backcourt spots. What will prove vital is the ability of the wing defenders (primarily Metta and Devin Ebanks) to sap the efficiency from Carmelo Anthony’s offensive game, while making the Knicks’ talisman expend some energy defensively, and hopefully offsetting some of his inevitably significant production.

Finally, we arrive at the middle, where Tyson Chandler is in the midst of one of his most prolific seasons. Averaging 12.8 and nearly 10 rebounds per game and shooting a goofy 70% from the field (13.6, 11.4 and 66.7 over his last five), more than anyone not named Carmelo, Chandler will set the tone for the Knicks. The Lakers can simply ill-afford a repeat of Saturday night from Dwight Howard, and, in addition, will need quality minutes – not only as a defensive rebounder and high post passer, but as a rim protector – from Pau Gasol, with Jordan Hill, seemingly no longer “out of the rotation” adding to the Lakers’ dilemma in the middle.

Knicks blogs: Both Knickerblogger and Posting and Toasting do a fantastic job of covering the Knicks. Give both a read. Additionally, P&T’s Seth Rosenthal and I got together on the I Go Hard Now podcast last week, where we talked all things Laker and Knick.

Where you can watch: This is a noon Pacific tip. Watch the national telecast on ABC. You can also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

 

In closing, huge thanks to the gang here at FB&G for continuing to bang out some of the best Lakers coverage – and letting me do whatever it is that I do. Also, thanks to everyone swinging by to check out our analytical styling’s. Want to wish you all and your families a happy and healthy holiday. Everyone enjoy the game!

Sigh.

For a team that will need to be as healthy as possible to achieve what they want to this season, things aren’t off to that great a start on that front:

For a team that can’t afford to have any injuries to its top players, this is obviously a major blow. Add it to Kobe nursing an extremely sore foot and Dwight’s back still not 100% and the Lakers are in a position, early in the season, where things are not breaking their way (no pun intended).

We’ll have more on this over the next couple of days, for sure.

Welcome to the Strategy Session. In this space we’ll explore different aspects of the game from a strategy standpoint. It may mean looking at a coaching decision — like determining a rotation. Or a specific offensive play that we think will work. Or it could be an examination of a defensive scheme. Sometimes we’ll use video others we’ll just blab away for a while on the topic of the day. Hope you enjoy it.

With a lot of negatives to focus on after the Lakers’ first two games, I thought I’d instead look at something that has worked in the past and should be able to work again in the future.

Contrary to popular sentiment, the Lakers’ offense really isn’t the chief problem with this team right now. Of course there are issues — most notably Steve Nash still finding his balance between on/off ball effectiveness and a feel of clunkiness that persists to sets the team is still picking up on — but the team is shooting the ball pretty well and has shown glimpses of what they can be once they settle in and find their stride.

One such action that can aid them in moving forward in a positive direction (it proved to work in the preseason) and should continue to be a useful play for the Lakers is a strong side hand-off sequence. This action utilizes Nash, Kobe, and Dwight on the same side of the floor and puts the defense in a position to make tough choices. All three players are threats on the play and when run crisply it creates good looks.

This first example leads to the type of shot the Lakers want Kobe taking:

The play starts with Nash bringing the ball up the right sideline while Dwight waits at the elbow and Kobe sits on the wing. Nash enters the Howard and proceeds to set a screen for Kobe who curls off the pick towards Dwight. Kobe continues his cut, takes the hand-off from Dwight and then elevates for his jumper over DeMarcus Cousins who helped a split second too late. Kobe knocks down the 16 footer, a high percentage shot for him.

This play worked so well, the Lakers decided they were going to run the exact same action on their next possession. The only difference is that they run it on the other side of the floor:

Here, again, you see Nash bringing the ball up the floor (this time on the left side) with Kobe (on the wing) and Dwight (at the elbow) in the exact same positions. Nash makes his entry to Dwight, proceeds to set his screen for Kobe who then curls to take the hand off from Howard. Here’s where you see the difference, however. When Kobe gets the ball he again looks to elevate for his shot but he’s drawing more defensive attention with a quicker reaction as well. Kobe recognizes the defense is out of position and when Howard rolls to the hoop he leads him to the rim with a lob pass that is dunked home.

One play, two actions, same result.

There are even more actions that can be run off this single look. In both of the above plays, Steve Nash’s man sinks to the lane line to try and help on Howard’s dive to the rim. If Kobe is looking that way, he can hit him for an open jumper. On the play where Kobe threw the lob, you’ll notice that Ron’s man came over to help and left him open on the wing for a wide open jumper. Other options include Nash, instead of flaring to the wing, cutting back door after setting the screen or Kobe, rather than accepting Nash’s screen, cutting back door when Nash comes over to try and free him.

One of the key principles to the Princeton offense is setting up plays to look the same but then countering what the defense does through reading how they react to the action in front of them. The Lakers are trying to get to the point where all of these options are utilized; where the players working together can recognize what the defense is doing and then respond accordingly.

In some cases — like the plays above — they’ve made headway. In many others they’re not yet close. The result is flashes of brilliance mixed with bouts of frustration. The hope is that we see more progress soon. But the good thing is, that hope can be rooted in knowing that this stuff actually does work.

Conflict Resolution

Emile Avanessian —  September 26, 2012

Imagine watching your dad parking a brand new Corvette in the garage, knowing that it’s all yours, but having to wait six months to get your license.

With the strangest summer since… well, yet another strange summer in Lakerland in the rearview, the goings-on of recent months have begun to take root in reality. Learning – while watching fireworks rain down on the Hudson – that one of the game’s true maestros will conduct the Lakers’ offense this season (and the next couple to come) is enough to slap a perma-grin on the most cynical of mugs. That said, not until the deal was legally consummated and Steve Nash presented to our euphoric lot (and the crestfallen masses) did his arrival begin to feel “real.” Even so, not until we see a purple- or gold- (or, on Sundays, white-)clad #10 tightrope the baseline – as only he can – will the 50-40-90-laced dream otherwise known as “Steve Nash, Laker point guard” truly be an actuality.

In similar vein, not until we’ve watched one of the NBA’s most incisive penetrators attack the paint and revisit the strategic misstep that brought him eye-to-(I dunno, chin? Nose?) with the league’s most dominant interior defender, or until an errant attempt on offense is rerouted through the Lakers’ goal with devastating force will “Dwight Howard is our freaking center!” be cemented in reality.

Thing is, for reasons that I struggle to explain, the notion of Steve Nash manning the controls of the offense, while no more enthralling, has proven easier to accept than has that of Dwight Howard assuming  the role of Laker legend in the middle.

Simplistically, it may just be the passage of time. The Nash trade was announced on July 4, while Dwight was not Westward bound until August 10. Perhaps an extra five weeks of the Steve Nash Experience engendered a familiarity that’s not yet emerged in our relationship with Dwight Howard.

Eh. Unlikely.

Perhaps it’s preexisting familiarity. Born of eight years of divisional cohabitation and three playoff encounters – including 2006, in which the eighth-seeded Lakers squandered a commanding 3-1 series lead to the top-seeded Suns before succumbing in seven, and 2010, when an overachieving Suns squad took two from the eventual champion Lakers in the Western Conference Finals – Steve Nash has squared off against the Lakers 56 times in his 17-year career, 47 after rejoining the Phoenix Suns in 2004. For all the hype surrounding every Kobe-LeBron “duel,” and the compelling, evolving rivalry with the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s difficult to think of an opponent whose path has more often crossed that of the Lakers, or one that has left a more indelible mark in the collective mind of Laker Nation. I know what they say about familiarity and contempt, but under the right circumstances it’s also been known to breed respect and admiration.

Meanwhile, over the same eight-year period (since entering the NBA in 2004-05), due obviously to his Eastern locale, Dwight Howard faced the Lakers just 20 times. And while 16.9 points (56.8% from the field) and 12.8 rebounds (3.55 ORB) per game is hardly pedestrian, most fans (this one for sure) are likely hard pressed to recall even one truly memorable performance turned in by Dwight against the Lakers –  and that includes the five encounters in nine days comprising the competitive-but-hardly-epic 2009 Finals.

More than either of these, however, is the degree to which each man impacts the roster. While each represents a significant improvement over his predecessor(s) in the Laker lineup, Nash is the Holy Grail, an oasis amid the Smush Vujamarsessisher desert, while Howard “merely” kicks the center spot up from All-Star to All-World. Again, though, this smacks of oversimplification.

I mean, as good as Andrew Bynum was, is and may be going forward, Dwight Howard is, right now, Andrew Bynum actualized. Howard is the most physically imposing and dominant big man since Shaq, with a dedication to conditioning mocking that of his fellow Orlando defector. Prior to 2011-12, Howard had missed an average of one game per season over his first seven in the NBA. And last season, the most injury-plagued and distraction-laden of his career? The one in which he missed 12 of 66 regular season games and had his back cut on upon at season’s end? (NOTE: These playoff stats are from the spring of 2011. In putting together this section of the article, I went with my Basketball-Reference muscle memory and totally overlooked Dwight’s absence from last year’s playoffs. HORRIBLE snafu on my part.) He capped it off with a six-game playoff run in which he averaged 27 and 15.5, and made not only 63% of his field goals, but 68.2% of his free throws (60-of-88).

Additionally, the consistency with which he has handled his business on the court is nothing short of staggering. Over his past six seasons, Howard has averaged no worse than 17.6 points per game (20+ four times) or 12.3 rebounds per (14+ three times), and just once (56.9% last season) posted a True Shooting Percentage below 60%. Howard is not only (by far) the NBA’s best center, but an evolutionary Moses Malone. A certified superstar. Were he to retire tomorrow, Dwight Howard would be Hallward bound.

Why then – again, despite incredible happiness and renewed optimism – am I unable to fling myself head over heels for the player with the greatest potential to pen the next chapter in the Lakers’ glorious tome?

Because Dwight Howard is a frightening study in paradox.

Despite a granite frame, physical gifts the likes of which the position has rarely seen and the advantage of youth over his veteran backcourt mates, it is Dwight who’s most recently faced the most potentially debilitating injury.

He is the 26 year-old manchild who led Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson to the Finals, but has been accused (wrongly) of lacking the killer instinct of his top teammates – noted high-functioning sociopath Kobe Bryant and less-abrasive-but-equally-bloodthirsty Steve Nash – and… hey, cool elephant, dude… (Far more accurately) of holding hostage and tearing asunder the only NBA franchise for whom he’s (thus far) ever suited up.

Now in the role for which he was seemingly created. In the city, with the franchise that will deliver to him the ceaseless attention he seeks. He’s got a roster around him that’s not only prepared to win now, but consists of a trio of transcendent talents whose skills beautifully complement his own. Unfortunately, his contract offers the organization the least in terms of long term security and leverage, and his track record of accountability and, ahem, in just this scenario is, well… dicey at best.

Prior to the moderately coherent babbling above, my joy, optimism and trepidation over the Lakers’ acquisition of Dwight Howard has been available exclusively in 140-character increments. I could present semi-legitimate explanations involving travel, work schedule, evil corporate web filters and a comprehensive, gaming-inducing immersion into college football. And I wouldn’t be lying. Thing is, as much as any of these obstacles stood in the way of long-form pontification on D-12, the fact of the matter is I really was not sure what my thoughts were on the matter.

I’m still not entirely certain.

Dwight is obviously a monumental pickup and an upgrade over an already excellent center. I am prepared, eager, to welcome him into my sporting family. I look forward to the lane being off-limits to the opposition, to dominating the glass, to top-of-the-square catches on alley-oops, to five months of open spot-ups in the corner for Metta, to the ascent of the pick-and-roll to its highest elevation, to the two-man game with Pau Gasol, and to regular 20-20s. A healthy (thus far there is no reason to believe that he’ll be anything but) Dwight Howard, a generational superstar at the peak of his powers, will rank among the great acquisitions in NBA history. That said…

To ignore to manner in which he handled his business with the Magic, and the unseemly manner in which he orchestrated his exit from Orlando would be to willfully rejoice in the suffering of a fan base whose emotions and allegiances mirror our own (remember Kobe in 2007?). I have not one iota of blame for fans in central Florida whose anger over Dwight’s conduct – the false hope, the wishy-washiness, the contradictions, the insincere people-pleaser routine – does not subside for some time. That said…

While I did not initially celebrate the arrival of Dwight Howard with the childlike enthusiasm that came so easily for Steve Nash, I think I have arrived. I’m not sure the process leading up to Dwight’s departure from Orlando will ever not feel kinda gross. And yes, like anyone entering into a relationship with someone with checkered past, my guard may be up a bit higher than normal for a little while. But, as with Shaq, Kobe, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, I look forward to watching – with a clean slate – the growth and evolution of Dwight Howard, as he pens what are certain to be the defining chapters of his legendary career.

Dwight Howard is our freaking center.