Breaking Down How Steve Nash's New Role Has Transformed LA Lakers Offense

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 9, 2013

Feb 25, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash (10) drives to the basket during the second half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.  The Nuggets won 119-108.  Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

If you've noticed that the Los Angeles Lakers offense, and Steve Nash's role in it, have looked a little bit different over the past couple of months, you're not imagining things.

According to Arash Markazi of ESPN, Nash has undergone something of an unusual offensive transformation since the Lakers held a team meeting on Jan. 23. What everyone remembers happening in the aftermath of that get-together was Kobe Bryant's sudden shift into the role of primary facilitator.

But Nash's adjustment has been important, too.


The Numbers

Breaking down the numbers reveals a subtle, but significant change in the way Nash has played offensively.

Before that fateful Jan. 23 meeting, Nash averaged 8.4 field-goal attempts per game. He had made 52 percent of those shots, including 39 percent of his threes. Aside from his shooting numbers, Nash was playing very much like a point guard, posting 8.6 assists per game.

But after Bryant assumed the ball-handling duties, and Nash shifted off of the ball, things changed. Nash has since averaged 9.7 shots per game, and though his overall percentage in games since Jan. 23 has dipped to a still-excellent 49.5 percent, he has upped his three-point percentage to 47 percent. Most notably, his assists-per-game average has dipped to just 5.5.

Clearly, there has been a statistically measurable difference in the way Nash is playing. But why has the change had such a positive effect on the Lakers' win-loss record, which has been an impressive 15-6 since Nash moved away from the ball?


The Benefits

Turning Nash into a shooting guard has had a number of benefits for the Lakers offense. For starters, it allows for much better spacing. Defenses essentially cannot leave Nash unattended on the perimeter. Ignoring the guy who may very well go down in NBA history as the greatest shooter to ever play isn't exactly a recipe for defensive success.

The secondary result of Nash's floor spacing is that defenses can't cheat off of him toward Kobe Bryant as much as they probably need to. Similarly, Dwight Howard gets a bit more time to operate in the post. And make no mistake, time is something his mechanical offensive repertoire requires.

Perhaps most importantly, Nash is invaluable as a secondary ball-handler on the weak side. Over the past three or four years, NBA defenses—led by Tom Thibodeau's Chicago Bulls—have made a point to force offensive players toward the sidelines on pick-and-rolls and isolation drives.

In many ways, a successful defensive possession these days occurs when the offense gets stuck on the sideline and has to reverse the ball to the weak side with a long skip pass.

Which is where a secondary ball-handler becomes so critical. As the defense shifts to the new strong side (because the ball is there), it helps to have a guy like Nash who can basically initiate offense for himself or set up others against a shifting defense. For a prime example of how well this works, just watch Jeremy Lin and James Harden with the Houston Rockets.


Can't Argue with Results

Overall, Bryant probably deserves the most credit for adding ball-handling duties to his game, but it's hard to ignore Nash's willingness to adopt a new style.

There aren't a lot of two-time MVPs who would relinquish the ball in the interest of the team, but Nash has done just that. Fortunately for everyone involved, the change has been a very good one.