Lakers can overcome Steve Nash’s defensive deficiencies

The Lakers appear to be only a few quick dribbles away from Showtime after acquiring Steve Nash.

The team’s championship fortunes substantially improved after turning the point guard position into one of its biggest weaknesses to one of its biggest strengths.

The excitement stemming from last week’s sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns will continue at noon Wednesday when Nash is officially introduced as a Laker before a news conference at the team’s practice facility in El Segundo.

But underneath the glitz and the glamour regarding Nash’s arrival, an unsettling reality still holds true: The Lakers can’t defend quick point guards. Nash used to play for the Phoenix Suns, which adopted the famed “seven seconds or less” brand of basketball. He ranks 147th overall in total defense, which isn’t much better than Derek Fisher (166th).


The Lakers can overcome that, though.

They acquired Nash so that the NBA’s fifth-best all-time assists leader could better organize their offense. After all, name the last point guard who successfully stopped Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook or San Antonio’s Tony Parker from scoring. And there are plenty of ways the Lakers can overcome Nash’s defensive deficiencies.

The main thing is to tap into Nash’s strength as a playmaker. Anytime the Lakers played disciplined defense last year, it usually came in the same game where there the offense thrived on fluid ball movement. Players felt more engaged with the offense so they appeared more inclined to try on defense. The Lakers yielded better shot selection, which both boosted their scoring and minimized the need to trudge back on transition defense. Such fluidity also helped the Lakers maintain their methodical pace to minimize their opponent from competing in a track meet with them.

The responsibility falls on specific players too.

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have a chance to prove they’re not just consumed with scoring and could become dependable options in showing out on pick-and-rolls. This heightens the need for Metta World Peace to arrive in training camp in shape so he can defend the opponent’s top scorer. With how much energy Kobe Bryant will save in delegating ball-handling duties, perhaps he can then concentrate more on defense beyond playing the roaming centerfield position. And, yes, Nash could mitigate his poor defense by at least communicating so he receives necessary help.

It’d also help if the Lakers make further changes to their roster. Back issues aside, Dwight Howard remains a more consistent defensive presence than Bynum. Absorbing Jason Richardson’s contract may not just be a necessary evil to land Howard. It could also bolster the team’s three-point shooting, further minimizing the Lakers’ concerns on transition defense. Signing free-agent forward Grant Hill would give the Lakers a solid defensive wing player.

Whether all these ingredients will cement the Lakers’ defense into a position of strength remains to be seen. Relative to last season, however, the Lakers appear in a much better position to mitigate such shortcomings. It may not be enough to secure an NBA title as the Lakers continuously expect. But it will take them pretty close.


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