The list of players required to make adjustments so that this Lakers season might work is extensive. Pau Gasol doesn”t get to the post nearly as much as he”d like. Dwight Howard has been asked to commit to the pick-and-roll game in ways he never was before. Kobe Bryant has gone from scorer to facilitator. I”m sure Robert Sacre and Darius Morris are doing something different, too.
But nobody on the roster has been asked to change quite like Steve Nash. Last year, according to Synergy, 60 percent of Nash”s possessions came as the ball handler in pick-and-roll sets. Another 7.7 came in isolation. The year before, it was 52.4 percent handling the P”n”R, and another 16.5 percent in iso sets. Both years, you”re talking nearly 70 percent of his possessions.
This season, those figures are down under 60 percent (51.1 percent pick-and-roll ball handler, 7.2 isolation), and even considering time missed because of injury the raw number of opportunities are down, too. After spending nearly eight seasons in Phoenix directing most possessions while he was on the floor, it”s quite a contrast.
Following Friday”s win over Toronto, he was asked about the most significant adjustments he”s had to make. Nash pointed to the smaller role in the offense, but said it wasn”t the biggest thing he”s had to get used to.
“For me, obviously comfort and rhythm when you don”t get the reps is one thing, but for me I”ve had to really transition to catching and shooting. I never really got many catch-and-shoot opportunities in Phoenix the last eight years, so I”ve had to kind of train myself to get a rhythm for that. It sounds easier, catch-and-shoot, but for me it”s been kind of the opposite because I”m so used to shooting off the dribble. But I”m getting to the point where I”m getting better and better at it, feeling more and more comfortable,” he said Friday after the Lakers edged out the Raptors.
The increase in catch-and-shoot opportunities certainly isn”t a figment of Nash”s imagination. Via Synergy, 22.6 percent of his shots with the Lakers this season are of that ilk, versus 10.4 percent last year, and only 8.9 percent in 2010-11.
Friday, Nash reiterated his willingness to do what is asked of him.
“It”s a big adjustment for me, but I am trying to embrace it. Just do what I can to help the team. It”s not something I”m accustomed to. It”s been a difficult transition in some ways, but at the same time I love being here, and really want to help the team the best I can,” he said. ”Coming to this team, we”re all going to have to sacrifice something. It”s not going to be the same where the ball is in my hands (and I”m going to run) a bunch of pick and rolls all night, and really get comfortable. I have to fill the gaps and be aggressive when I can and I might go stretches where I don”t get a lot of opportunities, and that”s ok.”
The good news: If Nash isn”t fully comfortable as a catch-and-shoot guy, you wouldn”t know it. Nash has produced 1.506 points per possession in 77 opportunities, says Synergy. Technically speaking, that puts Nash third in the league, but he”s first among any player with more than 20 such possessions. After the Lakers beat Chicago, I told Nash where he ranks, curious if he knew.
“Oh!” he said, clearly surprised (though certainly not unhappy). ”I want to be efficient, and I pay attention in practice to be diligent with it and be efficient when I play, but I didn”t know in this grand scheme where I stack up, no.”
“It”s uncomfortable because it”s new,” he continued. “I still, although like you said I”m very successful catching and shooting, it”s still not quite super comfortable for me yet. But it”s coming, and I feel confident, and I know I can make “em. But it”s not my favorite shot, yet. It”ll get there.”
“Well, I hope I helped you out,” I said.
“Yeah, thanks!” he replied, with an appreciative pat on the shoulder.
Just doing my best to keep the team”s momentum going.