This is the third in a series grading the Lakers’ efforts on their 2012-13 season.
Player: Steve Nash, Lakers guard
How he performed: 12.7 points on 49.7 percent shooting and 6.7 assists through 50 games
The Good: When he was actually healthy, Nash showed plenty of remnants that makes him one of the best NBA point guards of his generation. His season averages (12.7 points on 49.7 percent shooting and 43.8 percent from three-point range, a 92.2 percent clip from the free throw line and 6.7 assists) are fairly similar to his last year in Phoenix where he averaged 12.5 points and 10.7 assists while shooting 53.2, 39 and 89.4 percent, respectively. Nash also decreases his turnovers with the Lakers (2.5) compared to his last season with the Suns (3.7). Add all those numbers up, and Nash managed to become the fifth player in NBA history to collect at least 10,000 assists.
The Lakers may have gone 5-11 in his 16 games sine his return from a fractured leg that kept him out of 24 games. But that had more to do with the team’s issues on defense than Nash, who posted 9.2 assists per game in that stretch. More importantly, Nash showed willingly adapted to any role, something that Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol showed more reluctance to do in Mike D’Antoni’s system. When the Lakers had an air-it-out meeting Jan. 23 prior to the their loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Nash immediately embraced becoming an off-ball shooter in favor of Kobe Bryant playing the a facilitating role. That resulted in Nash posting double-digits in scoring in 27 of the next 31 contests.
The Bad: To think, the only challenges many believed Nash would encounter would involve shaky defense and perhaps some minor back issues. In what Nash described as his “most frustrating” season in his 16-year career, persistent injuries hardly allowed him to have the presence the Lakers envisioned after acquiring him last offseason. His 24-game absence after colliding Oct. 31 with Portland guard Damian Lillard hurt the Lakers’ fortunes in learning Mike Brown’s Princeton-based offense as well as adapting to Mike D’Antoni’s more up-tempo system.
Nash’s right hip injury caused even more problems after sidelining him for the last eight regular season games. Persistent discomfort in his nerves prompted Nash to receive a couple of epidural shots in his back and a cortisone shot in his right hip. But it hardly helped Nash overcome his injuries. Nash averaged 12.5 points on 43.5 percent shooting and 4.5 assists in the Lakers’ first two playoff losses against the Spurs, showing discomfort in both his rhythm and finding his shooting stroke. Increased discomfort in his hamstring then kept him out of the Lakers’ losses in Games 3 and 4 against San Antonio.
“I’m disappointed for him,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said in his exit interview. “I’ve never seen a player struggle and be as involved in the rehabbing of an injury and to be as frustrated as he was.”
Yet, some of Nash’s issues went beyond injuries.
All accounts have described Nash as the consummate team player. But that left him in a dicey position where he tried accommodating to everyone’s concerns, ranging from following D’Antoni’s offense and finding enough shots for Bryant, Howard and Gasol. Nash’s team mindset helped reduce the self-interest that already plagued the Lakers. But his tentativeness also didn’t provide enough clarity on offense. During his eight-game absence to close out the season, the Lakers actually looked more comfortable on offense. Bryant put a more concerted effort in finding Gasol inside. Steve Blake showed also showed a better balance in mixing up pick-and-roll and post-up coverages.
Injuries severely impacted Nash’s effectiveness. It also didn’t help that D’Antoni mistakenly believed Nash’s return would solve all of the Lakers chemistry issues, an unfair proposition considering the team had deeply rooted problems in playing at a fast paced and staying organized on defense. It seems uncertain whether Nash can fully overcome these injury issues. But no one can fault his attitude and intentions. On a team filled with competing agendas, Nash consistently showed interest in simply helping the team in any way he could.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org