Steve Nash's Return Will Help Lakers Reach Full Potential Under Mike D'Antoni

Matt DagostinoContributor IDecember 27, 2012

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 26:  Steve Nash #10 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers talks as they face the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on December 26, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Lakers 126-114. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Lakers have needed Nash's leadership and creativity to help right the offensive ship for Los Angeles.  A veteran of Mike D'Antoni's system after playing for him in Phoenix, Nash knows the ins and outs and has the ability to put people in the right places to make winning plays.

Three games.  Averages of 14.3 points and 9.3 assists.

Those are the statistical numbers Steve Nash has posted since he returned to the floor for the Los Angeles Lakers after missing 24 games with a small fracture in his left leg.

But for those that have paid any attention to Nash's career, they know that he provides much more than stats in a box score.

Labeled as one of the headiest point guards in the game, Nash returned to a Lakers team reeling at 12-14 on the season.  With critics mandating the team break up its talent, management insisted it would not make any changes until it could see what it had with Nash running D'Antoni's system again.

 

A lot of D'Antoni's system is predicated on pick-and-roll play.  With Pau Gasol, the Lakers have one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the game because of his skill level, size and ability to knock down a jumper.  Dwight Howard is athletic enough to play the pick-and-roll game and go get lobs at the rim from Nash.  The two-man game is key to success under D'Antoni's philosophy.

As an extension of D'Antoni on the floor, Nash can also dictate the uptempo style the system likes to create.  Even at 38 years old, the Canadian can still get up and down to push the tempo and create easy baskets in transition.

Nash does not always have to be the playmaker, though.  With Kobe Bryant, Gasol and Howard all on the floor together, the Lakers do not lack guys who can create for themselves and others.

It has been said by Nash's teammates since his return (and throughout his career) that there is a comfort level when he is running the show, knowing that he will put guys in the right positions to make plays.  Kobe said as much once Nash returned from his injury.

Even further, though, it does not have to be Nash making the plays.  He can set up the other stars to be the playmaker, giving Nash credit for the proverbial hockey assist as the guy who made the pass before the pass.

And yet Nash is still a guy who can knock down shots on his own, too.  A four-time member of the 50-40-90 club (50-percent field-goal percentage, 40-percent three-point percentage and 90-percent free throw percentage in the same season), Nash can still fill the bucket, whether it is creatively done off the bounce or knocking down open shots in the clutch.

In the case of Nash and the Lakers, patience is a virtue.  The Lakers were right to avoid panic and wait until their floor general returned before assessing what they have. 

Yes, it is tough for any coach to balance so much talent where you have three or four guys used to being "the man" on their team.  Now, everybody must sacrifice a little bit to make the whole better than the sum of its parts.

Nash is the conductor of that symphony for the Lakers, especially given the partnership he and D'Antoni have already shared once before.  It is fair and right to let him get back in the picture and put his mark on this Laker team before deciding what (if any) tweaks need to be made to the roster. 

After all, you would not have assessed the true potential of a Chicago Bulls team in the 90s when Michael Jordan was hurt.  It was inconceivable to think of an episode of The Sopranos without Tony Soprano in it.  And nobody would think it fair to judge the New England Patriots without Tom Brady.

Such is how it is for the Lakers.  Nash is to the Lakers as Brady is to the Patriots.  He may not be the name at the top of the marquee.  But he is the straw that stirs the drink in D'Antoni's offensive scheme.