How does Steve Nash fit in with Lakers’ offense, style?


Back in 2008, when the Suns acquired Shaquille O’Neal, Steve Nash’s transition to running a more traditional offense was described by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz as “a hummingbird trapped in a sandwich bag”. Forced to play a more slow down style to accommodate a plodding big man that clogged the paint, the visual of that phrase has stuck with me to this day.

The point was clear. Steve Nash needs a certain amount of freedom and space to be at his absolute best.

Now that Nash is a Laker and playing with two big men that love to operate in the paint, a shooting guard that has played on the ball for the majority of his career and in the Princeton offense, will he get it?

Before we go too far down this path, let’s get something out of the way. Steve Nash can fit into any offense. His shooting alone gives him value to any team and makes him a threat in any system. Add his creativity off the dribble, his floor vision, and his ability to control the tempo of the game as a floor general and he’s a point guard in the truest sense. Give him any playbook and time to learn it and he’ll orchestrate the offense very well.

Carrying that logic forward to the Lakers, Nash will be fine running the Princeton offense under head coach Mike Brown and assistant Eddie Jordan. Nash is smart enough to find spots on and off the ball where he can do damage and is skilled enough to execute once the opportunity presents itself. He’s Steve Nash.

That said, when you zoom in, there are things to look for that can be seen as potential roadblocks that will need to be overcome. First, Nash will be giving up the ball early in possessions for the first time since his days as a Maverick. In the Princeton offense Nash will pass to a teammate and either screen for someone or cut through to the weak side. Nash will need to re-acclimate to playing off the ball in this manner. He’s used to coming back and getting the ball when an action breaks down, not spotting up and working off his teammates. This will take time to adjust to.

Second, Nash will need to get used to playing with players who have the versatility to play all over the floor. In Phoenix Nash played with a bunch of specialists. He played with three point shooters and slashers on the wing and big men that thrived on setting screens and diving to the rim. With the Lakers, he’ll be in a lineup with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace and none of them are, by definition, specialists.

Instead, all three of them will operate on the wing and in the post. All of them can (and will) play at the elbow or the baseline. All are used to creating for themselves in isolation and can work well as cutters off the ball. This versatility has helped define their careers as offensive threats (especially Kobe and Pau who, to be fair, are a level above MWP at this stage in their respective careers). Nash will need to adjust to them, where they like to operate on the floor and how they like to operate on offense. Again, this will take time.

Ultimately, though, Nash has a few things going for him that will make this transition easier.

First, he will start nearly every possession with the ball in his hands and will quarterback the Lakers’ offense. He can decide how Lakers’ possessions begin and how they evolve simply by being the trigger man. If Nash wants to run a pick and roll to start a Lakers’ set, he can. If he wants to work an action where Kobe will get the ball early and be the primary option, he can do that too. If it’s time to get Gasol or Howard a touch in the post, Nash can make that happen simply by organizing his teammates and dictating how the play unfolds. Nash has that power and it has been bestowed on him by his head coach.

Second is that Mike Brown wants his team playing at a faster tempo than they showed last season. In Brown’s introductory press conference a year ago, one of his key offensive principles was to push the ball up the floor. The only problem was that the Lakers didn’t really have the personnel to do that (I’m looking at you, Andrew Bynum). This season, some of the more slow footed players are gone and that will allow Nash to increase the speed at which the Lakers play. He’ll get more early offense opportunities and can create more plays in transition.

Third, the Lakers have the yang to Nash’s yin in Dwight Howard. Simply put, Nash is one of the very best pick and roll guards and the Lakers have themselves the most devastating pick and roll finisher in Howard. Nash, if you listen to Mike Brown, will have the opportunity to run pick and rolls to start every possession if that’s what he chooses. Whenever Howard and Nash share the floor, they’ll be able to go away from the Princeton and instead unleash the play that’s been the bread and butter action for both of them for years. The ability to fall back on this should a play break down really can’t be overvalued.

In the end, what Nash’s success will really come down to is 1). time to gain a comfort level on this new team and everything that comes with that and 2). developing a balance in how he wants to play within the styles of offense that are presented each trip down the floor. There will be some restrictions based off the structure of the Princeton. But there will also be freedoms in the form of decision making and (particularly with Howard and Pau) partners he can work with to run the types of actions he’s had most of his success with over the years.

There will be hiccups along the way and challenges that will need to be overcome. But don’t mistake that for not fitting. After all, he’s Steve Nash. He fits into any offense you want to run.

Malik Beasley stumbles, bumbles, fumbles during turnover (video)

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Malik Beasley isn’t a point guard, but he was playing the position for the Nuggets in garbage time of their win over the Bulls last night. And Torrey Craig‘s pass was low and behind Beasley, which is why Craig was assigned the turnover.

With those caveats acknowledged, Beasley’s contortions as he tries to corral the ball are something to behold.

Five NBA Draft prospects/teams to watch in the Sweet 16

Associated Press
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Just like me and everyone else, your bracket is busted. That was not the only thing to go belly up in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament — so were a lot of the top-tier draft picks. Arizona’s Deandre Ayton didn’t see the second game of the weekend. Jaren Jackson and Miles Bridges of Michigan State join the long list of players and teams stymied by Syracuse’s zone. Mohamed Bamba. Out. Michael Porter Jr.? Out. Trae Young? Out.

That doesn’t mean there are not guys NBA fans should be watching the round of 16 starting Thursday night. There are likely lottery picks playing, not to mention guys down the board who will be playing in the NBA next season.

Here are five things for NBA fans to watch in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

1) Battle of the zone defenses and lottery prospects: Duke vs. Syracuse. The Blue Devils are the most loaded team left in the tournament… forget that, they were the most loaded team in the tournament, period. If you’re a fan of a team in the midst of the tankapaloza going on at the bottom of the NBA standings right now, this is your game.

Duke’s big man Marvin Bagley III is likely going to be taken between No. 3-5 come June, and he is worth keeping an eye on. He’s a phenomenal athlete who can get buckets — he had 22 points in each of the first two Tournament games and shot a combined 18-of-24, he is an incredible finisher around the rim — plus is a beast on the boards (16 in the two games). Scouts and teams that liked him all season at Duke saw more of the same in the first two rounds, he helped his stock (if that’s possible)

Next to Bagley on Duke’s dominant front like is the more polished Wendell Carter Jr. (a likely top 10 pick), who had 24 points on 15 shots through two games of the tournament. This is a game where against the Syracuse zone Carter’s passing — big-to-big to Bagley, or kicked out to guys like Grayson Allen — will both matter to the team and show something to scouts. Allen is a likely late-first/early second round pick who can help his cause by showing how he can shoot over the top of that zone.

For Syracuse, Tyus Battle needs to show he can make good decisions with the ball in his hands — he’s been inconsistent with that all season. He passes the eye test as a 6’6” NBA guard, but his decision making needs to be better and Duke will test that. Battle is a late first/early second kind of guy who needs to get a team to fall in love with him.

The fact both of these teams play so much zone will turn off NBA scouts — it’s the right basketball move for both Duke and Syracuse, but it masks the defensive flaws the top prospects on both teams have. And there are defensive questions about all three of those guys.

2) It’s the NCAA Tournament, of course you should be watching Kentucky. Two things are inevitable this time of year: John Calipari will find something to complain about so he can say everyone is against him; and Kentucky will be loaded with NBA prospects.

Kentucky’s guys to watch when they take on Kansas State starts with back-of-the-lottery/mid-teens pick Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, their smooth point guard. He was impressive with 46 points on 15-of-25 shooting in the first two tournament games (which is good, the consistency of his jumper was a question mark for scouts), although he did not show much of a stroke from three (2-of-2). His hesitation moves and smart game look like something that will translate to the NBA.

Then there’s Kevin Knox on the wing, who also should go in the lottery. He had 25 points on 16 shots in a strong game against Davidson in the first round, and what teams like are his defense and versatility. Combo forwards are in demand in the NBA.

Also keep on eye on Hamidou Diallo, a likely second-round pick.

3) Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, and Villanova will get a test from West Virginia. At this point in the season, scouts/GMs have opinions largely formed about players, but they want to watch them play one more time and want to see them tested. West Virginia should do that for the two Villanova prospects

Mikal Bridges is the kind of long, athletic defender that teams are looking for, plus he can knock down threes — he is 8-of-14 from deep so far in the tournament. He dropped 23 on a good Alabama team, and he looks like the kind of switchable wing role player at the NBA level a lot of teams are searching for.

The bigger test is for likely second-round pick Jalen Brunson — the guard struggled at points vs. Collin Sexton, and now goes up against a strong defender in Jevon Carter (a possible second-round pick himself). Brunson can help his cause with a good game here.

4) Hey Nuggets/Clippers/Lakers/Pistons fans, take the time to check out Texas A&M’s Robert Williams, he might be your late lottery guy. If anyone helped their cause in the NCAA’s first two rounds, it was A&M’s Williams, who played a key role in the Aggies upset of North Carolina with his 13 boards and strong play inside. The question never has been “does he have the talent?” but rather “will he bring it every night?” Williams showed everyone against North Carolina what he looks like when he can bring it, and you could see where he would be dangerous in the NBA where more skilled players around him will open up the floor and give him more space to operate. Think a poor man’s Clint Capela. Can he show he will bring it consistently on a big stage?

5) Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith had a strong first weekend, but he will get a test from Purdue’s Vincent Edwards and Carsen Edwards. Smith has plenty of talent and it showed against Florida in the first weekend — 18 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, and strong defense.

Smith may be in the mold of a guy where some will say “he needs another year in college to develop” but after 28 points on 21 shots through the first two rounds of the tournament, the potential second-half-of-the-first-round may well come out and get paid to develop. He will get another chance to show how much he has developed against a quality Purdue team.

Between his clutch FTs, LeBron James goes out of his way to high-five Raptors G Fred VanVleet (video)

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

High-fiving the opponent between his free throws is a wellestablished trick to break concentration.

LeBron James turned the tables in the Cavaliers’ win over the Raptors last night.

Toronto guard Fred VanVleet brushed hands with LeBron between a pair of late LeBron free throws. Unfazed, LeBron turned around and got a crisp high-five from VanVleet:

LeBron made both free throws.

No matter how much better the Raptors have been than Cleveland this season, LeBron wants the mental edge. He led the Cavs to playoff-series wins over Toronto the last two years, and this only increases perception he’s in complete control when these teams meet.

Three Things to Know: Nothing but takeaways from Cavaliers beating Raptors

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Today we’re doing things a little differently, despite some other interesting games — Dwight Howard dropping 30-and-30, the genuine concern about Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ankle, and the Pelicans beating the Pacers because Anthony Davis is ridiculous — we are going to focus on the likely Eastern Conference Finals matchup of Toronto at Cleveland, which the Cavaliers won 132-129.

What we are not taking away from this is a prediction of a playoff matchup between these two teams. Forget the fact that regular season meetings are crappy predictors of playoff series in general, here are three other issues: 1) Toronto was on the second night of a back-to-back and it was their fifth game in seven days, which factored into their poor defense and late fade; 2) Cleveland is going to be healthier and have different guys in the rotation come the playoffs; 3) If Dwane Casey or Larry Drew/Tyronn Lue have a tactic they think could be a great weapon against the other side, no chance they break it out for long in a late-season game — they will save it for the playoffs. Sort of like to NFL teams playing each other in week 16 when they know they could meet in the playoffs. We didn’t see the best of either side.

That said, let’s get on to the real three things.

1) The biggest factor in the Eastern Conference remains LeBron James and his level of play. There are questions about how well the new-look Raptors will carry over to the playoffs. There are more questions (at least in my mind) about how well this Cavaliers roster can defend, even when healthy. All that said, this game was a reminder of one simple fact:

LeBron James can lift a team to the NBA Finals almost by himself — he’s been to seven straight Finals for a reason. He is the force of nature, he’s still playing at an MVP-level (at age 33 in his 15th season), and he took over this game with 35 points, 17 assists, and zero turnovers.

LeBron shot 62 percent from three on the night, had 14 points and 5 assists in the fourth quarter alone, and was the difference in this game. OG Anunoby is the guy the Raptors will likely lean on in the playoffs to make LeBron work for his buckets, but he looked like a guys still working his way back from injury (and like a rookie with tired legs late in the season), it was Pascal Siakam who did the best of any Raptor (LeBron was 4-of-10 with Siakam guarding him on the night). That’s something we would see in the postseason, but nobody really had an impact, and the Raptors need to figure out how to make LeBron work harder for his buckets.

Put simply, the Eastern Conference is all about LeBron James. Still. And it will remain so until further notice.

2) Which one of these teams will defend better come the playoffs? The Cleveland Cavaliers gave up 79 first-half points and allowed the Raptors a 135.8 offensive rating on the night (points per 100 possessions). Kyle Lowry put it this way after the game, “Disgraceful display of defense by us. We’ve got to be better than that.” The Cavaliers had an offensive rating of 140.4 (stats via Cleaning the Glass).

Neither team defended well. If this was an Eastern Conference playoff preview, the team that improves their defense the most between now and then will come out on top.

Toronto has defended better all season — they are fifth in the NBA in defensive rating — but it didn’t show Wednesday. Maybe it was the back-to-back, fifth-game-in-seven-days that took their legs out from under them, particularly for the older Serge Ibaka who had an off night on both ends. (Tired legs also would explain the lack of transition points by the Raptors on the night, they needed those easy buckets). Maybe it’s the fact nobody has a good answer for LeBron. Maybe a lot of things, but the Raptors need to do better defensively in a playoff series or the outcome will be the same.

The Cavaliers lack cohesion on defense, and while they will get better defenders back from injury — Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr. — that is not going to speed up the team getting used to each other on that end. Cleveland has to have better energy, they need to close out on shooters better (the Raptors got open looks late on kickouts, they missed injured C.J. Miles), and they just need more efforts like veteran Jose Calderon gave (it was a good night for him). Cleveland has time to get its defenders on the same page, but not a lot of it.

3) Is Toronto’s bench going to matter as much in the playoffs? Toronto’s bench unit has been key to their success all season — the Raptors took a double-digit lead in the second quarter thanks to their bench (who has done that to teams all season long). The Raptors lineup of Jakab Poeltl, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright was +6 in 10 minutes Wednesday. The Lowry plus bench unit has killed teams all season long.

Will it matter in the playoffs?

Right now coaches are going nine or 10 deep in their rotations, and the Raptors depth matters in that situation — their bench can beat your bench. It happened against the Cavaliers. However, come the playoffs the minutes that went to guys nine and 10 in the rotation go to guys one and two — the bench tightens way up, and the best players get more minutes. A deep bench doesn’t have the same impact.

What that bench will provide Casey in the playoffs is options — if Anunoby is struggling against LeBron bring in Siakam — but it’s not the same as the regular season. I love that in big games recently against the Thunder and Cavaliers Casey is still playing around with his lineups for stretches — now is the time to experiment. Now is the time to get guys used to playing with each other. That way, come the playoffs, Casey can throw the combination out there that he thinks works and there will be familiarity.

But the Raptors will need more from their starters in the playoffs because the bench will not have the same impact.