HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — Mike D’Antoni needs a point guard to run his offense. Kobe Bryant doesn’t want to play point guard anymore. Dwight Howard would surely love a few more easy baskets every night. Pau Gasol would like to know if he fits on this team or needs to be traded. And Lakers fans are hoping that their favorite team really doesn’t stink this badly but is just missing its most important piece.
They’re all waiting on Steve Nash. They might not be waiting much longer.
Nash suffered a fracture in his left leg on the second night of the season and has had his eventual return pushed back a few times as the Lakers have gone 12-12 without him. At 12-14 now, they stand in 12th place in the Western Conference. But Nash practiced on Thursday and could be ready to play when the Lakers host the Knicks on Christmas Day, as Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles writes…
Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash went through his first full-contact practice without any setbacks to his broken left leg on Thursday.
But Nash said “it’s more likely” he’ll return to the court on Christmas Day against the New York Knicks than Saturday against Golden State.
“There’s no plan. I just want to get through today, see how I feel in the morning,” Nash said. “If I’m able to practice (Friday), see how I feel Saturday, we’ll just see how it goes. But I think Christmas is probably the most realistic.”
In the deep and competitive West, the Lakers have some serious work to do just to make the playoffs. The good news is that Nash will take their offense to a new level.
Last week, we noted how the Thunder and Knicks rank among the top four offenses since the league started counting turnovers in 1977. Well, before this season, the top five offenses over the last 35 years all had the same point guard: Steve Nash. Whether Nash was playing with Dirk Nowitzki or playing for D’Antoni, he ran the most efficient offense in the league.
In fact, for nine straight seasons, Nash ran the most efficient offense in the league, a run that ended two seasons ago.
Team offensive efficiency with Nash as starting PG
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
*Rank = Among 938 teams from 1977-78 to 2011-12
The bad news is that the Lakers need a lot more help on the other end of the floor. L.A. currently ranks fifth in the league offensively and 15th defensively. In the month of December, they rank 26th defensively, allowing 108 points per 100 possessions over 10 games.
Nash and D’Antoni were together in Phoenix for four years and ranked no better than 13th defensively in that time, even with a great defender like Shawn Marion in the lineup. Similarly, the Lakers have Howard, but he hasn’t been able to make up for all the mistakes their perimeter defenders have been making.
As the Lakers anticipate getting Nash back, we have to wonder if a boost in offensive efficiency can make up for the porous defense. Typically, you have to be a top-10 team on both ends of the floor to be a true title contender. The Lakers will likely need to improve on both ends just to make the playoffs. Nash can’t get them to do that by himself.