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Steve Nash and the Lakers: A match made in hoops heaven?

What seemed initially to be an unlikely marriage could turn out to be a perfect career coda for Nash, seeking first NBA title, and Kobe Bryant, seeking his sixth.

October 06, 2012|By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times
  • Steve Nash could win a ring with a team that was a rival for so many years.
Steve Nash could win a ring with a team that was a rival for so many years. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

The strange pairing of Steve Nash and the Lakers after so many years as rivals could be a marriage of convenience.

If things work out, rings will be exchanged in June.

That would entail Nash getting his new teammates the ball where they want it and the Lakers delivering the NBA title Nash has long coveted, allowing everyone to be happy for eternity . . . or until Nash retires, whichever comes first.

As the honeymoon starts Sunday night in Fresno with an exhibition game against Golden State, there's something old (Nash, 38), something new (Kobe Bryant as an ally), something borrowed (the Princeton offense) and something blue (Phoenix Suns fans).

Nash left the Suns feeling jilted after 10 seasons and two stints together that included a quick breakup and a heartfelt reconciliation. They never fulfilled their vow to deliver a championship, making it as far as the Western Conference finals.

Then, in early July, the Lakers caught Nash's eye with a roster that included Bryant and Pau Gasol.

And that was before they added the league's best center in Dwight Howard.

"I've been on some very good teams," said Nash, who agreed to sign with the Lakers for three years and about $27 million, "but to have a front line like this and have Kobe Bryant on the roster as well is phenomenal. This is probably the best chance I've ever had" at a title.

No offense to Derek Fisher or Smush Parker, but Nash is undoubtedly the best point guard the Lakers have had since, oh, Magic Johnson during the Showtime era.

Trying to decide what's most remarkable about the two-time most valuable player is like determining how to best defend his trademark pick and roll. Good luck.

There's his unguardable dribble. There's his ability to make deft passes in congested areas with either hand. There's his incomparable shooting accuracy, which has allowed him to make at least 50% of his shots, 40% of his three-point attempts and 90% of his free throws in a season four times, while no other NBA player has done it more than twice.

The list goes on.

"He's an incredible ballhandler, an incredible passer and by the way he's probably the best shooter in NBA history and that's not even the focal point of his game," said TNT analyst Steve Kerr, who was general manager of the Suns from 2007-10. "Statistically, it's easy to make the argument that he's the best shooter in the history of the league."

You won't get any argument from Bryant, who spoke up quickly when Lakers Coach Mike Brown asked his players whom they wanted to take a series of three free throws at the end of their first practice. Players would be forced to run if any of the shots missed.

"I said, 'Nash, Nash, Nash,'" Bryant recalled. "I'll take that 92% free-throw shooting any day."

Nash is actually a 90.4% career shooter from the free throw-line, but Bryant made a good pick. Nash stepped to the line and, predictably, made all three shots.

He will take some pressure off Bryant once the season starts, serving as the dynamic facilitator that Bryant has long lacked by his side. Nash will initiate the Lakers' offense, which is expected to be a blend of pick and rolls, backdoor cuts and more traditional plays.

"The beauty of this team is that we have a lot of guys that can make the defense pay if we play together and we space the floor and read and react," Nash said.

Nash's mastery of the pick and roll has cost opponents plenty. At its core, the play involves one of Nash's teammates setting a screen and then quickly "rolling" toward the basket, allowing Nash several options that include passing to that teammate for an easy basket, pulling up for an open jumper or finding another teammate who has found a gap in the defense.

"His ability in the pick-and-roll game to shoot the three, make unorthodox finishes in the lane and pass with both hands and the ability to also keep his dribble alive and keep probing the defense until he finds an opening makes him unparalleled," said Jeff Van Gundy, the former New York Knicks and Houston Rockets coach who is now an analyst for ABC and TNT.

Nash's top pick-and-roll partners with the Lakers will probably be Howard, Gasol and Bryant.

Not that there aren't some potential snags.

Kerr said having the 7-foot Gasol and the 6-11 Howard on the floor at the same time could create spacing issues for a point guard who is used to having his teammates mostly spread on the perimeter.

"I think you'll see Steve become more of a spot-up shooter than we've seen in the past," Kerr said. "They're going to play some inside-out stuff where he's spotting up, so that's a big adjustment for him but one he's obviously capable of making."

Nash called having two big men "a luxury" that increases the team's versatility.

"I'm going to stand my butt out there outside the three-point line and give them space to operate," he said.

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