The Los Angeles Lakers struggled without Steve Nash in the lineup. While the star point guard was out, the Lakers dug themselves five games below the .500 mark as they struggled to find some sort of rhythm in the new offense. The finger-pointing, the frustration and the profanity-filled interviews followed soon after.
With Nash returning and with the Lakers seemingly getting things straightened out now, the question has to be asked: How valuable is Steve Nash to this team?
It's quite clear that Mike D'Antoni's offense is dependent on a true point guard. We obviously saw that in Phoenix, and we witnessed glimpses of that in New York during the "Linsanity" craze. As history has shown, without a true point guard, D'Antoni's system fails. But when the right player comes along, he fills nearly every missing gap of the system (except the defense).
With Nash's return, the Lakers ran more often, they got easier looks at the basket, and they got much-needed clutch jumpers. Just about all of the missing puzzle pieces were there. And that's where the intrigue lies.
Nash is essentially the key that the Lakers have searched for since they hired Mike D'Antoni. That's a kind of value that not even Kobe Bryant provided for his team in the first quarter of the season.
Despite the fact that Bryant is leading the league in scoring and is having his best statistical year since his own MVP season in 2008, the fact of the matter is that the wins never showed up during Nash's absence.
With Nash, there's a lot more potential to earn victories since he addresses most of the issues the Lakers are having.
For instance, with Nash in the lineup, the offense runs more smoothly: no more stagnant plays and insecure decision making by the players. Secondly, with Nash, the Lakers have the best free-throw shooter in the league, which clearly helps when you're a team that ranks next to last in free-throw percentage.
And in terms of playmaking, the Lakers rank 23rd. There is no question Nash will bring that statistic up. Just consider Nash's first game back. The Lakers had 33 assists in that game.
Statistically speaking, he's the answer the Lakers need. It remains to be seen, however, if that will translate into more wins. But if the Lakers do run the table from this point on, Nash's return will likely be considered the turning point for this team.
That's where some voters will probably consider him for the MVP award come April.
And it's not like Nash is a stranger to MVP awards under D'Antoni. If he wins it again, it would mark his third as part of this player-coach combo.
If Nash does manage to win the MVP somehow, what will this mean for Kobe Bryant? After all, Kobe is still the captain of this team and is still arguably the most skilled player in the league. What would happen if one of Kobe's teammates gets honored with the MVP trophy instead of him? Would we have a repeat of the Kobe-Shaq feud in LA?
Well, with a character like Nash, that's not likely. But it would make one heck of a chapter in this intriguing Lakers story.
Whether or not the Lakers win more games under Nash remains to be seen. But one thing remains clear: From this point on, all eyes will be on someone other than Kobe for a change.
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