And now, the starting point guard for your Los Angeles Lakers is, Steve Nash. The 2-time MVP winner has to adjust his role in an entirely different way. As Laker fans, we hoped for title runs for a player who is deserving of one. Now, he’s not the go-to-guy in the playoffs that he was in Phoenix. He’s not the facilitator that he would have been if Dwight Howard chose to stay. He’s now a basketball architect, designing what the offense looks like, how it should be executed, and ensuring that the flow of the offense is ran elegantly.
The pick and roll offense caters more to Steve Nash’s game. Known as a player with high hoop IQ, he can make decisions on the fly and completely control the offensive side of the floor. What is more critical to this season than prior seasons is getting quality shots early in the shotclock. During the triangle offense years, offensive execution and utilizing the clock was of utmost importance. Not only did it force opposing teams to play defense and keep up with the ball and player movement, it also allowed the Lakers to run a defensive stance through their offense. There were always two players back to limit transition opportunities. The Lakers of the championship years didn’t have the best team speed in the league. It was always led by Kobe Bryant and Trevor Ariza, not guys like A.C. Green, Ron Harper, Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher, and Shaq. The triangle offense punished teams with inside play, post plays from multiple angles, and a fair share of pick and roll as well.
Now, with shots taken earlier in the shotclock, the players have to be opportunistic about what shots to take. Nash will simply cater to who gets those shots while the defense is still retreating. Midrange jumpshots in semi-transition are high percentage shots. They also induce a faster tempo being ran by both teams on made and missed shots. Chances are, shots taken early on the shotclock won’t have all five Laker players passing halfcourt. That’s one form of defensive balance, even if there are limited offensive rebounding opportunities. Pick and roll plays are not as directly ran as they used to be. Center-oriented dribble hand-off plays are commonplace. There is some deception with the integration of the pick and roll as a 2nd or 3rd option within the offensive set, a testament to Mike D’Antoni’s offensive genius and greater efficiency in implementing the play, as well as its effectiveness.
Fortunately, Mitch Kupchak added speed and midrange shooting to the team. Jordan Farmar is a point guard that loves to pull-up in semi-transition. Nick Young thrives on his midrange shot to open up the rest of his game. Both Gasol and Chris Kaman are bigs that can pass from the high-post, but set up for the midrange shot with solid effectiveness. Surprise player Xavier Henry altered his set-shot, and is far more consistent from range than he has been in prior years. This is all well within Nash’s comfort zone, as his Phoenix Suns teams were full of catch-and-shoot players; Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Raja Bell, Channing Frye, Jared Dudley, and countless others. While they had varying degrees of individual field goal percentage success, the overall team field goal percentage was through the roof, continuously amongst the league leaders.
Nash’s biggest challenge this season is finding his identity within this team. He hasn’t looked for his own shot as often and he needs to get his legs under him for the regular season. A tender ankle that requires some rest after a preseason game isn’t reassuring, but there’s no doubt that Nash’s hoop IQ, skill set, and intangibles will make him effective. His entire career was never based on speed, quickness, or ability to dunk. It was always how he could pick apart a defense with simple plays or through a surprise attack running a seven seconds or less offense. His skill set is needed now more than ever, with or without Bryant on the floor.