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For Lakers' Steve Nash, it's now a game of less give, more take

In a bizarre role reversal, Nash, an all-time great point guard, has become Lakers' shooting guard, and Kobe Bryant, an all-time great scorer, is new playmaker.

January 29, 2013|By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times
  • Steve Nash, an all-time great point guard, has become Lakers' shooting guard, and Kobe Bryant, an all-time great scorer, is new playmaker.
Steve Nash, an all-time great point guard, has become Lakers' shooting… (Harry How / Getty Images )

Curators at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame should watch Steve Nash closely in the coming weeks.

If recent trends persist, they may have to make the following addendum to his biographical blurb:

Switched to shooting guard halfway through the 2012-13 season to help save one of the most disappointing teams in NBA history.

In this most surreal Lakers season, the top point guard of his generation suddenly deferring ballhandling duties to Kobe Bryant has been the oddest twist.

"The roles are all kind of upside down," Bryant said Monday.

Nash was unrecognizable even to Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni, who had watched him win a pair of most-valuable-player awards in Phoenix, after the 17-year veteran scored 17 points to go with only five assists Sunday against Oklahoma City.

"What he just did," D'Antoni said, "he's not."

Well, he's certainly headed in that direction.

Over the Lakers' last two games, Nash combined for more than three times as many shots (22) as assists (seven) while averaging 16 points per game. Meanwhile, Bryant averaged 14 assists and only 11 shots, including zero three-point attempts, in those games.

The only figure that mattered to Nash was 2-0, his team's record in that span.

"I want to do whatever I can to help this team," he said, painfully aware that the Lakers (19-25) still have plenty of room for improvement.

That means the days of double-digit assists could be numbered for a player who has led the league in that category six times in the last eight seasons.

Not that Nash necessarily has to choose between pick-and-rolls and picking apart defenses with his shooting. He can do both.

"He's just going to play basketball," said former New York and Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy, who worked the Lakers-Thunder game as an analyst for ABC. "He's going to shoot if he's open and pass if he's covered and try to make the right play. Nash has a unique perspective. I think he's willing to do anything it takes to try to help them win."

Some might wonder why Nash didn't take a shoot-first approach earlier this season considering his career accuracy of 49.1%, including 42.8% from beyond the three-point line.

"He's one of the greatest shooters of all time," Bryant said. "He's a no-leave guy. If they do leave him, God bless them."

The Lakers convened for training camp in October with what appeared to be clearly defined roles for their superstar guards. Bryant would be the primary scorer and Nash the top facilitator.

It has taken a few months and more than a few losses for them to realize that those job descriptions required some tweaking.

"It's not going to be the same as it was in Phoenix for me," said Nash, who turns 39 next week. "It's going to be different and I've got to accept and embrace that and try to help any way I can."

Bryant can relate to old ways being gone with the recent wins. The league's onetime leading scorer has dipped to No. 3 in points per game (28.7) behind Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant (29.6) and New York's Carmelo Anthony (29.4) while his assists have soared.

"I was probably born a scorer, but I was made a winner, so I figure it out," said Bryant, the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history. "Whatever works, whatever wins championships, whatever wins games, that's what I do."

Bryant's favorite target Sunday was the guy who usually gets him the ball. Five of the six shots Nash made were the result of Bryant assists, including a pair of three-pointers, a finger-roll layup and two running jumpers.

Six Lakers scored in double figures against the Thunder. Perhaps not coincidentally, the same number of Lakers scored off passes from Bryant.

Nash said he needed a refresher in the art of catch and shoot now that he has shifted somewhat into scoring mode. He is averaging 11.5 points and 8.1 assists for the season, the latter statistic representing his lowest output in a decade.

It could drop even further.

D'Antoni said he intended to keep using Bryant as a primary facilitator, though Nash will also remain in the mix.

"Some nights it will be Steve, some nights it will be Kobe," D'Antoni said. "But that ball's moving and finding people and the recipients are getting wide-open shots."

Nash is taking a large chunk of those shots, surprising the Lakers and their opponents alike.

"We're just flipping roles, man," Bryant said. "It's pretty insane when you look at it."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

twitter.com/latbbolch

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