*This is the first part of two in which I talk about the roles I would like Steve Nash to play in next season.
Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers this past summer was like a really old toy that used to be one of the best around, and you just happened to find it at a garage sale. The toy used to be top notch and you had wanted it for a really long time, but you just couldn’t afford it. You’ve been stuck with crappy knockoff brands that have been decent, but don’t completely satisfy you.
You see, the garage sale was the Suns who wanted to clear house and try and rebuild, the really old toy that used to be awesome was Steve Nash who was one of the top point guards in the league, and LA was the kid who really wanted the toy. Okay, that probably wasn’t the best analogy since I had to explain it, but do I at least get credit for trying? No? Alright, let’s just get into this thing then.
Many things come to mind when I think of Steve Nash: Passer, Canadian, shooter, Suns. Nash is widely known as one of the best passing point guards of all-time. He’s also seen as one of, if not the best, shooter ever. Those are the two reasons the Lakers acquired him this past summer. They hadn’t had a good point guard since…Nick Van Exel? Not really sure; I’m too young to even remember when he played with the Lakers. Actually, I was two when he left the Lakers, so I don’t know anything about him, really. But his stats were good, so I’m going to say he was their last decent point guard. (No, I don’t think Derek Fisher is very good)
The Los Angeles Lakers created chaos in July of last year when they successfully acquired Steve Nash from the Phoenix Suns. In return for Nash, the Suns received picks in 2013 and 2015 to go along with second round picks in 2013 and 2014. The money worked because the Lakers were able to use a trade exception of $8.9 million. The exception allowed the Lakers to absorb Nash’s contract, basically.
I know this is about the role Nash is going to play next season, but I want to talk about this past season a little bit first. It wasn’t a pleasant season; filled with injuries and dysfunction lead to Nash’s worst season since 1999-2000. His assists went from 10.7 last season to 6.7 this season. I know Kobe handled the ball a lot, but that’s still a big drop-off, especially considering his usage percentage only dropped form 19.6 percent to 17.8 percent.
Here’s some more “advanced stats” for you: Nash’s assist percentage (percent of baskets he assisted on when he was on the court) went from 53.1 percent last year to 32.8 percent this year — insane. When Nash was on the court, the Lakers offense was only .5 points better according to 82games.com (all of the previous stats were from basketball-reference.com). When he was off the court, the Lakers defense was better by 1.6 points. So, the Lakers were better with Nash off the court by 1.1 points — I’m pretty sure that’s the opposite of what the Lakers were hoping for when they traded for him.
Enough about this season, lets look ahead to next year. I don’t believe it is in Kobe’s best interest to come back at the start of the season, so I’m going to assume he’s going to play sometime later in the year. With Kobe out, Nash is going to be the primary ball-handler (This may, or may not, be what the second part is going to be about), so that should help him statistically; the team most likely won’t be as good, especially if Dwight Howard leaves, but Nash will be better, hopefully.
However, when Kobe gets back, I want to see Nash in a whole different role. If Nash isn’t going to be the ball-handler as much, I would love to see him be a spot-up shooter — a role I don’t think he was used enough in this past season. According to Synergy, Steve Nash was used in the spot-up role 17.8 percent of the time he was on the court. In that time, Nash’s PPP (Points Per Possession) was an outstanding 1.31. To put that in perspective, only eight other players were better spot-up shooters. Lets take a look at some of his shot charts. Besides the great PPP, he shot 50.5 percent from the field, and 47 percent from three — that’s pretty dang good.
This excellent shot chart comes from the geniuses over at hotshotcharts.com. It’s pretty easy to understand: The bigger the dot, the more attempts from that spot Nash has. Also, the blue means he doesn’t make those shots, yellow means he is about average, and red means he is above average. As you can see, Nash was great from behind the arc this season; his three point percentage was 43.8 percent — I’d say that’s pretty good.
This shot chart comes the awesome people over at NBA.com. The shot chart is pretty basic in that it just shows you how Nash was from a certain spot; however, it’s great because it also tells you what he shot from a certain area. You can read the chart for yourself, but Nash’s percentages from the middle and right side of the three point line is incredible. Setting some off-the-ball screens for Nash into those zones could be a huge weapon for the Lakers. Here’s a couple examples (thanks to @jmaloney9) of what I’m talking about:
This first video comes from Nash’s fifth game of the season. Kobe’s handling the ball at the top of the screen, Metta World Peace is in the middle, behind the three point line, Dwight Howard is at the free throw line, Jordan Hill is in the left corner behind the three point line, and Nash is in that yellow zone from the shot chart above where he shot 36.67 percent for the season. As Kobe starts dribbling towards the middle of the court, Howard sets a flare screen for Nash. As Kobe throws the skip pass, Nash is able to get enough space from the screen to hit the open three.
This second video comes from Steve’s second to last game of the regular season. Howard starts with the ball at the top of the key, Earl Clark is on his right at the top of the screen, Steve Blake is on his left at the bottom of the screen, and Nash cuts down the right side of the lane and goes behind Antawn Jamison who is in the middle right side of the paint. Howard and Clark do a little weave action, and Clark swings the ball to Steve Blake. As Clark is passing the ball, a double screen is set by Nash and Jamison for Dwight, who ends up on the left block. Blake eventually gets the ball to Howard. As Howard drives towards the hoop, he goes up for what looks like a hook shot, but then passes to Nash, who gets a flare screen from Clark that leaves him wide open to drain the three.
These are the kind of off-ball screens I am talking about. I would also love to see some double screens and staggered screens, as well as more flare screens for Nash. With Kobe being more ball-dominant, those might be the best ways to use Nash’s shooting abilities.
Nash may not be that shiny new toy the Lakers wanted, but with a little refurbishing, he can still be a very useful toy. He’s no longer that run-n-gun point guard he used to be in Mike D’Antoni’s system, which is exactly why the Lakers need to use him in more effortless plays; we don’t want Nash running around all over the place and being dead by the end of the season. This is why flare screens are the perfect play for him — he can just stand behind the arc while someone sets a screen for him. All he needs to do is make the shot.
It will be interesting to see what the Lakers look like next season. I don’t know if Dwight Howard will be back. I don’t know how healthy Kobe will be. What I do know is this: The Lakers are going to try to build a team that can win, and Steve Nash is most definitely going to be a key to whatever the Lakers do, whether it be his shooting, his passing, or his leadership. It should be fun to watch an all-timer go to work.