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.