Five things Steve Nash needs for a successful season
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This is the third post in a series focusing on five things each Lakers player must do to have a successful 2012-13 season.
1. Have a healthy back. The Lakers have eased the collective anxiety among the organization and fans this off-season by making two blockbuster deals. On July 4, the Lakers set off their own fireworks by acquiring Steve Nash. Just over a month later, the Lakers hit another home run by landing Dwight Howard. But those two critical pieces prompt an additional set of questions regarding their respective backs. Howard has spent his entire summer in Los Angeles rehabbing his back, and he admitted uncertainty about whether he’ll play in the season opener Oct. 30 against the Dallas Mavericks. Meanwhile, Nash said in his introductory press conference that his “back feels great.”
Still, it’s something the 38-year-old will need to monitor since it’s plagued him in recent seasons. Nash has credited Phoenix’s training staff for keeping it healthy. The Lakers’ training staff has a good reputation, led by Gary Vitti. But Nash, who often lies on his back when he’s on the sideline, will have to ensure he and the Lakers’ training staff immediately find ways to keep it strong.
2. Ensure the offense runs smoothly. Even at 38 years old, Nash has stayed as one of the NBA’s elite point guards. He elevates his teammates’ play. Nash slices through defenders off a pick-and-roll with a pinpoint pass or by gliding into the lane. He makes defenses pay by shooting a career 42% from three-point range. Still, Nash will encounter different circumstances now that he’s in L.A. In Phoenix, Nash played with glorified role players. On the Lakers, Nash will play with three likely Hall of Famers --, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol -- who have a thirst to score.
Nash must establish authority in figuring out the right balance in making the Lakers more a well-oiled offensive machine and less an all-star laden starting lineup fighting over one ball. The Lakers’ experience, tight championship window and collective basketball intelligence will meld this into an overwhelming positive. But Nash has the smarts and ability to minimize any transition period. By assuming the primary ball-handling duties, Nash can largely dictate to what degree the Lakers’ offense thrives via constant ball movement, cutting and passing.
3. Provide leadership. Because of Nash’s talent and experience, he should have the credibility and clout to complement Bryant’s large locker-room presence. Whether that means Nash will share co-captain duties remains to be seen. Gasol, after all, had that title last season after the Lakers traded Derek Fisher. But Nash has a similar personality in Fisher that would make him a formidable locker room leader.
Nash said his laid-back personality and tendency to provide reinforcement should complement Bryant’s bad-cop persona. His ability to maximize his play after 16 NBA seasons sets a good example for everyone else. Nash’s quirky sense of humor and frequent superhero spoofs could leave teammates clamoring to make a cameo with him (I’m thinking Metta World Peace would be a perfect candidate).
4. Hit outside shots. The Lakers gushed about Nash’s arrival because it would make it easier for his teammates to find open looks. But Nash still needs to stay an offensive threat, both to keep defenses honest and because it would fill one of the Lakers’ biggest needs. After shooting a collective 39.5% last season from three-point range, the Lakers need Nash to replicate his strong outside shooting touch. Nash will have to look for his own shot while running the offense. His teammates also should look for Nash even after he passes the ball.
How Nash handles this partly hinges on how the Lakers run their offense as a whole. But because defenses will likely prioritize limiting the Howard-Gasol duo inside and Bryant on the wing, Nash will need to be available to hit those open daggers.
5. Play fewer minutes. Even with a limited supporting cast, Suns Coach Alvin Gentry limited Nash’s playing time to 31.6 minutes per game. Gentry even sat out Nash a few games to keep his legs fresh. It remains to be seen whether Lakers Coach Mike Brown would take the same approach. Some of that will hinder on whether Steve Blake and Chris Duhon can play well enough to warrant it. But Brown will need to take a big-picture approach in recognizing that limiting Nash even at the expense of a few wins will prove to be a long-term investment for the Lakers’ playoff fortunes.
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