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How does Steve Nash fit in with Lakers’ offense, style?

Oct 26, 2012, 12:00 PM EDT

Steve Nash

Back in 2008, when the Suns acquired Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Nash‘s transition to running a more traditional offense was described by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz as “a hummingbird trapped in a sandwich bag”. Forced to play a more slow down style to accommodate a plodding big man that clogged the paint, the visual of that phrase has stuck with me to this day.

The point was clear. Steve Nash needs a certain amount of freedom and space to be at his absolute best.

Now that Nash is a Laker and playing with two big men that love to operate in the paint, a shooting guard that has played on the ball for the majority of his career and in the Princeton offense, will he get it?

Before we go too far down this path, let’s get something out of the way. Steve Nash can fit into any offense. His shooting alone gives him value to any team and makes him a threat in any system. Add his creativity off the dribble, his floor vision, and his ability to control the tempo of the game as a floor general and he’s a point guard in the truest sense. Give him any playbook and time to learn it and he’ll orchestrate the offense very well.

Carrying that logic forward to the Lakers, Nash will be fine running the Princeton offense under head coach Mike Brown and assistant Eddie Jordan. Nash is smart enough to find spots on and off the ball where he can do damage and is skilled enough to execute once the opportunity presents itself. He’s Steve Nash.

That said, when you zoom in, there are things to look for that can be seen as potential roadblocks that will need to be overcome. First, Nash will be giving up the ball early in possessions for the first time since his days as a Maverick. In the Princeton offense Nash will pass to a teammate and either screen for someone or cut through to the weak side. Nash will need to re-acclimate to playing off the ball in this manner. He’s used to coming back and getting the ball when an action breaks down, not spotting up and working off his teammates. This will take time to adjust to.

Second, Nash will need to get used to playing with players who have the versatility to play all over the floor. In Phoenix Nash played with a bunch of specialists. He played with three point shooters and slashers on the wing and big men that thrived on setting screens and diving to the rim. With the Lakers, he’ll be in a lineup with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace and none of them are, by definition, specialists.

Instead, all three of them will operate on the wing and in the post. All of them can (and will) play at the elbow or the baseline. All are used to creating for themselves in isolation and can work well as cutters off the ball. This versatility has helped define their careers as offensive threats (especially Kobe and Pau who, to be fair, are a level above MWP at this stage in their respective careers). Nash will need to adjust to them, where they like to operate on the floor and how they like to operate on offense. Again, this will take time.

Ultimately, though, Nash has a few things going for him that will make this transition easier.

First, he will start nearly every possession with the ball in his hands and will quarterback the Lakers’ offense. He can decide how Lakers’ possessions begin and how they evolve simply by being the trigger man. If Nash wants to run a pick and roll to start a Lakers’ set, he can. If he wants to work an action where Kobe will get the ball early and be the primary option, he can do that too. If it’s time to get Gasol or Howard a touch in the post, Nash can make that happen simply by organizing his teammates and dictating how the play unfolds. Nash has that power and it has been bestowed on him by his head coach.

Second is that Mike Brown wants his team playing at a faster tempo than they showed last season. In Brown’s introductory press conference a year ago, one of his key offensive principles was to push the ball up the floor. The only problem was that the Lakers didn’t really have the personnel to do that (I’m looking at you, Andrew Bynum). This season, some of the more slow footed players are gone and that will allow Nash to increase the speed at which the Lakers play. He’ll get more early offense opportunities and can create more plays in transition.

Third, the Lakers have the yang to Nash’s yin in Dwight Howard. Simply put, Nash is one of the very best pick and roll guards and the Lakers have themselves the most devastating pick and roll finisher in Howard. Nash, if you listen to Mike Brown, will have the opportunity to run pick and rolls to start every possession if that’s what he chooses. Whenever Howard and Nash share the floor, they’ll be able to go away from the Princeton and instead unleash the play that’s been the bread and butter action for both of them for years. The ability to fall back on this should a play break down really can’t be overvalued.

In the end, what Nash’s success will really come down to is 1). time to gain a comfort level on this new team and everything that comes with that and 2). developing a balance in how he wants to play within the styles of offense that are presented each trip down the floor. There will be some restrictions based off the structure of the Princeton. But there will also be freedoms in the form of decision making and (particularly with Howard and Pau) partners he can work with to run the types of actions he’s had most of his success with over the years.

There will be hiccups along the way and challenges that will need to be overcome. But don’t mistake that for not fitting. After all, he’s Steve Nash. He fits into any offense you want to run.

  1. cosanostra71 - Oct 26, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    can the season start already?

    • money2long - Oct 26, 2012 at 6:47 PM

      amen

  2. jerdogthompson - Oct 26, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    I hope for the Lakers sake Nash plays a whole lot better than he has so far. The quicker/younger guards he has played against so far have given him fits. I think Eric Bledsoe picked his pocket 4-5 times the other night. He’s good but CP3 is better. Can’t wait to see this team at full strength and what they truly can offer because so far it’s been abysmal.

  3. passerby23 - Oct 26, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    I don’t think the Lakers have the personnel to go up and down the way Mike Brown wants. Run and gun with who? An aging Kobe? An ancient Artest? Howard has never shown that ability to sprint the floor. Jamison? This is going to be a half court team.

  4. spthegr8 - Oct 26, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    VERY good article. It is just going to take sometime, that’s all. Rome wasn’t built overnight. The GREAT thing about this team is, even through the growing pain’s. They are still gonna be one of the best team’s in the league. When they get it all together as a cohesive unit………… As Bernie Mac said”It’s Gonna Be TROUBLE…..TROUBLE”!!!!!!!!!! LAKESHOW ALLDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. BigBeachBall - Oct 27, 2012 at 1:08 AM

    How does everybody else fit in with Nash’s offense style?

    better question…

  6. kavika6 - Oct 27, 2012 at 3:10 AM

    “a hummingbird trapped in a sandwich bag”

    Perfect description.

    The Lakers remind me of last years Knicks.

  7. omniusprime - Oct 27, 2012 at 8:49 AM

    Steve Nash is intelligent enough to run the Princeton Offense and can figure out any offense. It’s his defense I’m worried about, hopefully not another old point guard like Derek Fisher getting run around silly by younger point guards. At least this year Clown Brown has decided to install an actual offense. I’m excited to see how this All Star team performs come the playoffs after they’ve had a full season to get theit act together for the playoffs. I smell another Laker’s championship next June. Go Nash!!! Go Kobe!!! Go Lakers!!!

    • tsi431 - Oct 30, 2012 at 7:14 AM

      You don’t bring Steve Nash in for his defense. Just as you don’t bring in Kobe, LeBron, Kevin Love, or the two guys on OKC (can’t remember their names).

      You bring in Dwight for his defense and MWP for his defense. Any offense they bring is a plus.

      • florida727 - Oct 30, 2012 at 5:05 PM

        Wasn’t sure why you had so many thumbs-downs until I realized you couldn’t remember Russell Westbrook’s and Kevin Durant’s names. Shame on you :)

        You’re right though about Dwight and Artest’s defense. They sure didn’t bring in Howard for his free throw shooting either. In that respect, he’s an end-game liability. If he’d have gone to Chicago, they’d have issued him a union card for all the bricks he’s laid.

      • mogogo1 - Oct 30, 2012 at 6:06 PM

        No, you don’t bring in Nash for his defense. But he still has to play it and if he’s too awful it will cause big problems for the Lakers. (And not sure what your Kobe reference was all about, given only Tim Duncan has been selected to the All Defensive team more than Kobe.)

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