The Lakers have too many issues for one man to solve, especially when that one man is a 38-year-old point guard who's well past his prime and dealing with a host of nagging injuries. In fact, there isn't a phrase in the Lakers' lexicon more dangerous than "when Nash gets back". It's been a crutch and a poor excuse for why this team's played the way they have at 12-14 and 7.5 games back of the division lead.
The Lakers are a mess, and it doesn't take a savvy basketball fan to understand that. Too often, Nash has been touted as the hero lying in wait for this team in despair. Head coach Mike D'Antoni's gone on record saying as much on numerous occasions. But the Lakers acquired Nash for a reason, and there are several things he can do to help right away.
He's not a cure-all, but he will make the Lakers better. Here's how:
1. Get the ball out of Kobe's hands
Kobe Bryant has had to work harder than ever this season because of his ball-handling responsibilities within the framework of the Lakers' new offense. He's had to create his own shots, often because the play on the floor breaks down and he has to improvise.
Incredibly, he's managed to put together one of his best statistical seasons to date, averaging 29.5 points through 26 games. Things will only get easier upon Nash's return, and Bryant will be free to focus on doing what he does best by scoring without the need to facilitate. Nash will bring the ball up and plays won't break down as often.
2. Mastery of the offense
Nash and D'Antoni understand one another. They each had their best seasons together when Nash won back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards back in 2005 and 2006 with the Phoenix Suns. In each of those seasons the Suns advanced to the Western Conference finals but fell short. The offense they ran hasn't changed, and the high-paced, high-octane style of play is going to return with the former All-Star -- in theory.
Nash is now older and certainly not what he was in his heyday, but he understands D'Antoni's system better than anyone on the planet. He'll help get players in the right spots and make everyone around him better. What the Lakers need right now is more cohesiveness. They might see it with Nash as the floor general.
3. Allow Pau Gasol to play his natural position
Pau Gasol has been lost in the new offense. He's getting the ball in spots where he's not as comfortable, namely at the elbow at the high post. That doesn't suit the Spaniard well, because he's traditionally made great reads from the low post and it's where he thrives.
His numbers have reflected his struggles -- in 18 games, he's averaged a career-low 12.4 points per game.
A thorough report from Lakers reporter Mike Trudell lays out what the rotation could look like when Nash returns. The takeaway for Gasol is that he will be able to play more center when the Lakers alternate personnel. He and Howard will still start alongside one another, but they'll likely find themselves in the game at different times more often, allowing him to get back on the block where he belongs.
4. Maximize the effectiveness of Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard hasn't looked as athletically dominant as he has in years' past, still recovering from a back injury. But Howard at 70-80 percent is still more athletic than almost any other big man in the league. That's why he should have some success running the pick-and-roll with Nash, who will be able to find him in the paint.
If he gets more touches, his confidence will skyrocket and he'll be more satisfied with his role on the team. Remember -- Howard is a free agent after the season and the Lakers need to make sure that he stays engaged. Getting him easy looks around the rim is a win-win.
5. Limit bad turnovers
The Achilles heel of the Lakers this season has been their tendency to turn the ball over. In fact, L.A. is 27th out of 30 teams when it comes to ball security, averaging 15.9 turnovers through 26 games. Bryant and Howard have been the two biggest culprits in this area averaging 3.8 and 3.4 turnovers. That's largely due to the fact that Bryant's had to facilitate and Howard has had to put the ball on the floor more than he's used to.
That will change when Nash returns. He'll take the ball out of Bryant's hands and get Howard looks closer to the basket.
Nash has turned the ball over an average of 2.9 times per game over the course of his career. His ability to secure the ball and make smart reads within this offense will cut down the Lakers' numbers in that regard and will give them more possessions, much to the delight of D'Antoni and all Lakers fans.
There are still a lot of questions with this team, but come Nash's return, there should be at least some resolution.
Michael C. Jones covers the the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA. He contributes regularly to SB Nation and Examiner.com. He is also the Editor of Sports Out West.
You can follow him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets.
- Sports & Recreation
- Steve Nash
- Los Angeles Lakers