Will Nash thrive in the LA offense?

The Lakers will likely win 65-70 games next year, and will have a great chance of winning the championship the next two years.

But there is no guarantee that Steve Nash will thrive in an offense that features Dwight Howard at center, even though Dwight is flanked by silky smooth Pau Gasol at power forward. Take this from a Suns fan who watched nearly every minute that Nash played in the last 8 years. Nash can make any big man look stellar on offense, as long as he's got the ball in his hands at all times.

Yet the Lakers have already announced that they will play the Princeton offense (everyone passes and moves without the ball) and now boast a huge center that lives in the paint and has no shooting touch outside 10 feet. In fact, Howard averages less than 1 shot per game outside 10 feet, vs. 13+ inside 10 feet.

Sure there's multitalented Pau Gasol in the front court as well, but there are parallels with the 2008-2009 Suns team under Terry Porter - also known as the worst, and ugliest, three months Nash spent in a Suns uniform.

Terry Porter (Mike Brown) decided to go away from 95% dribbling/passing/pick-and-roll from Nash and instead focused the offense on Shaquille O'Neal (Dwight Howard). Nash spent three months that season awkwardly feeding the ball into the post to O'Neal. And this was even with Amare Stoudemire (Pau Gasol) on the floor with them, ready to roll to the basket or take a 15-footer. And Porter didn't even have to contend with the best shooting guard since Michael Jordan screaming for the ball on the wing the whole time.

Of course, the Lakers will play nice. They will each "sacrifice their game" a little bit next year, just like the Miami Heat players sacrificed theirs the past two seasons.

But that doesn't change the fact that Dwight Howard will spend 100% of his time standing in the paint on offense, which is the last place Nash and Gasol ideally want him to be.

You can't move Dwight Howard out of the paint unless you're deciding to take him completely out of the offense.

He is not going to step out of the 3-point line. He is not going to make a 15-footer. And he's not going to dive to the basket in Steve Nash's pick-and-roll because (a) he can't adjust to a defender at full speed and (b) when he's inevitably fouled on is way to barreling through to the basket, he can't make the free throws. Howard gets fouled when he gets the ball 3 feet from the basket. He will certainly get fouled every time he gets it on the move 10 feet from the basket.

I know Howard ran pick-and-roll a lot in Orlando. I get that. But Jameer Nelson's brand of pick-and-roll is not Steve Nash's. Steve needs a guy who can catch, juke and dive to the basket. Howard can do the third of those skills.

So, either the Lakers turn Nash into a post-feeder, they completely change what the term pick-and-roll means to Steve Nash, or Howard becomes an afterthought on offense.

How was Nash as a post-feeder in 2008-09?

Nash-2008-2009_medium

November, December and January were months in which Terry Porter made the offense "feed to Shaq in the post". These months were miserable for Nash, and for the Suns' offense. They went from the most exciting team in the league to one of the most boring (according to outgoing Boris Diaw).

Then Porter got fired, only 3 months into a 3-year guaranteed contract. It. Was. Bad.

February, March and April were months in which Gentry took over and made the Suns "7 seconds or Shaq", where Nash was back in his comfort zone (ie. doing whatever he wanted with the ball) and Shaq was the second resort.

Mike Brown, the Lakers coach, is more like Terry Porter than Alvin Gentry. Sure, it's possible that Mike Brown will just turn to Steve Nash in training camp and say "do your thing", but I highly doubt it. Not with his stated intent to install the Princeton offense where everyone passes to everyone. And not with Kobe Bryant on the team. And not with Dwight Howard on the team. And not with Nash approaching 40 years old.

So, maybe the Lakers "finally allow Nash to just be a catch and shoot guy, because he's such a great shooter". Well, I can count on one hand how many times Nash actually did a "catch and shoot" (in one motion) and fewer than half those times he made the shot. Nash shoots off the dribble, specifically off the pick-and-roll after his man is screened.

Again, we're back to the pick-and-roll. This is Nash's bread and butter. And not Dwight's.

Amare Stoudemire is successful in the pick-and-roll game because he can adjust on the fly to avoid the defender enough to take and make the shot.

Marcin Gortat is successful in the pick-and-roll game for much the same reason, just on a lower level than Stoudemire's high-flying act.

Pau Gasol will likely be a dream matchup with Nash as well.

Except that Dwight Howard is in their way, just as Shaq was in the way in 2008-09. We Suns fans know all about spacing. And that you can't really have a big man in the paint the whole time if you want the pick-and-roll to succeed.

Pau Gasol struggled last year, in part because Mike Brown focused the offense on Andrew Bynum in the paint (hmmmm...). Gasol didn't get the touches near the basket that he'd gotten in previous years. His stats were steady but he really wasn't the same impact player.

They could try to make Dwight a pick-and-roll partner with Nash. But Dwight cannot avoid getting fouled - hard - every time he gets the ball. He does not have great feet to adjust on the fly, and he has terrible shooting touch to still make the shot when he's fouled on the move. So he will live at the free throw line, and he can't make free throws.

Of course, the Lakers will still win 65-70 games out of 82 next year.

And they may still win the championship even if their offense still comes down to Kobe's isos and Dwight's post-ups and his version of "pick annnndddd rooolllllll", while Nash becomes a better version of Steve Blake.

But Steve Nash may have a tough season, statistically. And so might Pau Gasol. And the Lakers might take a few months to get their offense flowing smoothly.

Just sayin'.


Mar 21, 2012; Orlando, FL, USA; Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash (13) drives around Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

Wow.

I am waiting for the Orlando Magic to say "SIKE!"

I mean really. The currently-reported trade - awaiting a call to finalize with the league office tomorrow morning - has the Orlando Magic taking back two middling contracts (Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington), two middling-talent youngsters (Nikola Vucevic and Moe Harkless) and 3-4 future middling picks (lottery-protected first-rounders).

NOT ONE high-end talent back to Orlando?

On the dark side (for the Suns), the Lakers are stacked. Of course, they'd be even more stacked if this was 2008 or 2009, but still. Gasol, Bryant, World Peace, Nash and Howard in their starting lineup? Good lord.

Also on the dark side (for the Suns), Denver swapped Afflalo and Harrington for Andre Iguodala.

But on the bright side, it appears that Robert Sarver's plan to acquire a star for middling talent and low draft picks is alive and well! All we need is a team like Orlando to look at the Suns next time. But rest assured, it's now been proven as a quality rebuilding plan. *smh*

What is Orlando thinking here? With this trade, they won't have cap room until 2014. TWO YEARS! They've purposely strapped themselves with contracts for two years just to rid themselves of Dwight Howard, a top-3 player in the NBA? And to top it off, they didn't add a single high-end talent.

Come on, Orlando. Call "SIKE!"


If there’s one team that won’t be afraid of Team USA, it’s Luis Scola and the Argentinean men’s national team. After all, the core of the current Argentina squad knocked the...

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Much internet angst has been spilt on the myopic squandering of draft picks during the D’Antoni era, but that isn’t the only evaporation of talent that plagues the current Phoenix Suns.

In the past few years, the Suns’ biggest names and most marketable players (Shaquille O’Neal, Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash) have left the organization for salary dumps (in the form of Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic), second round draft picks, or nothing at all.

While that may help balance the books, it did little on the talent ledger, leaving the price wars of free agency the expensive and main avenue of attracting talent. Winner’s curse anyone?

Some managers like Sarver seem to have a love for free agency, where "the market" decides a player’s value. However, free agency, compared to the draft, trading or re-signing players, is likely the worst way to attempt to accumulate talent for anything other than max contract players. For one’s own players, there’s always some desperate or wealthy team willing to overpay. For players a team would like to get, overpaying is the only way to win a player in free agency. It’s called the winner’s curse for a reason.

Alternatively, perhaps management realizes that free agency is no panacea, but failed to pull off trades when they were possible?

Much internet angst has been spilt on the myopic squandering of draft picks during the D’Antoni era, but that isn’t the only evaporation of talent that plagues the current Phoenix Suns.

In the past few years, the Suns’ biggest names and most marketable players (Shaquille O’Neal, Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash) have left the organization for salary dumps (in the form of Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic), second round draft picks, or nothing at all.

While that may help balance the books, it did little on the talent ledger, leaving the price wars of free agency the expensive and main avenue of attracting talent. Winner’s curse anyone?

Some managers like Sarver seem to have a love for free agency, where "the market" decides a player’s value. However, free agency, compared to the draft, trading or re-signing players, is likely the worst way to attempt to accumulate talent for anything other than max contract players. For one’s own players, there’s always some desperate or wealthy team willing to overpay. For players a team would like to get, overpaying is the only way to win a player in free agency. It’s called the winner’s curse for a reason.

Alternatively, perhaps management realizes that free agency is no panacea, but failed to pull off trades when they were possible?

Wheeling and Dealing Talent

One of the distinctive features of the current management, compared to that of the bygone Colangelo years, is their reluctance to trade valuable players more aggressively. The lone exception, of course, being Steve Kerr’s gambit bringing Shaquille O’Neal to the desert at the price of Shawn Marion. We know how that went, yes. Still, could Shaquille O’Neal have been traded for talent and prospects rather than a salary dump, a deadweight loss on the talent books?

Jerry Colangelo traded Larry Nance, Jeff Hornacek, Dan Majerle, Charles Barkley, Jason Kidd and Stephon Marbury. Those trades were made when players had trade value and were not always made in easy trade environments. Not all of those trades were great trades (Dan Majerle for John "Hot Rod" Williams, Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury), but they were either well-motivated or a fair bet on the talent ledger.

The 1995 Dan Majerle trade was similar to the 2008 Shawn Marion trade. In both cases, the Suns sacrificed a strong, defensive wing player for the lure of an illusory big man. Just a day before the Majerle trade, Charles Barkley had criticized the front office for failing to trade for dominant inside presence. Charles Barkley threatened to retire, or walk, but was traded to the Houston Rockets for decent talent prospects in Sam Cassell, Robert Horry, Mark Bryant and Chucky Brown. One Rockets fan summarized:

"we traded 4 of our younger guys to get an fat out of shape old one that ended up retiring 3 years after the trade".

For declining and disgruntled talent in Charles Barkley, the Suns got great talent. Cassell was later traded for Jason Kidd and Horry for Cedric Ceballos, because the Suns didn’t sit on Charles Barkley after a 41-41 season with him in 1996.

Even the Jason Kidd – Stephon Marbury trade, motivated by the desire to remove Jason Kidd’s domestic violence embarrassment from Phoenix, wasn’t a bad trade on paper. Stephon Marbury at 24 was younger than Jason Kidd (28) and seemed to emulate Kevin Johnson’s ability to penetrate defenses.

"Marbury averaged a career-high 23.9 points last season, 10th highest in the league, and 7.6 assists; he was named an All-Star for the first time in his five-year career. Kidd averaged 16.9 points a game and a league-high 9.8 assists." NYTimes.com

Stephon Marbury with a max contract was himself traded with a broken down Penny Hardaway as soon as his talents were suspect. The Suns got back Antonio McDyess, Howard Eisley, Charlie Ward, Maciej Lampe, the rights to Milos Vujanic, two first-round draft picks and cash.

The only notable exception to the rule was Antonio McDyess in his first stint as a Sun in 1997. As a free agent, he had a verbal agreement with the Denver Nuggets but was reconsidering the Suns and invited Jason Kidd, Rex Chapman and George McCloud to an Avalanche hockey game at McNichols Arena. Dan Issel never let the Suns players into the building, and McDyess became a Nugget. Again, cruel free agency.

In summary, some of the trades were good and some were awful. But most of those trades retained talent or acquired prospective talent. No one walked.

Except for Antonio McDyess. Twice, in fact.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I’m sure that it may look like sour grapes that now the talent has walked, that I write a post wishing that the front office had pulled the trigger on trading players when they had market value. We enjoyed their play for as long as we could hold on to them, after all. I fully admit that. I want my cake and eat it too. Welcome to fanposts, yo.

Still, I wonder about the current management’s style of letting talent walk for nothing.

With the brightsiders that talk so much about trading Marcin Gortat while he has value, I wonder what readers think about letting other talent age past their use-by dates on the roster and letting talent walk for cash considerations, only to take that cash back to the free agency market, where other teams are just as desperate to land a star.

Thoughts?


This is either a picture of one of the biggest +/- differentials or one of the best point guard rotations in the NBA, depending on which month you're talking about.

It has taken most of the offseason, but we are nearing the end of the MySynergySports.com review of the 2011-12 Phoneix Suns. Only one position group remains, and it is the position that has defined the Suns for the last eight years: point guards. First up is offense.

Center: Offense - Defense

Power Forward: Offense - Defense

Small Forward: Offense - Defense

Shooting Guard: Offense - Defense


In my last installment, I included a poll asking whether I should take a look at our old (pun intended) starting point guard or our new one. Goran Dragic was the overwhelming winner of the poll, but the comments were more balanced. However, after a conversation with NashMV3 I was reminded that this is a series reviewing the 2011-12 Phoenix Suns. Steve Nash was on that team, while Goran Dragic was not. For those that wish to make a clean break from the Nash era and have no interest in being reminded about him, feel free to skip over that part of this story. For those that are excited about Dragic, stay tuned to the Bright Side.

First, allow me to explain in more detail the numbers I looked at. Here's a key for the terms Synergy uses:

Synergy Stat Definitions


PPP – Points Per Play. A "Play" is always ended with a shot attempt, turnover or getting to the free throw line. PPP is the player’s total points, excluding technical free throws, divided by their total plays.

Rank – This is where a player or team’s PPP ranks amongst their league peers. A player must have at least 25 plays for a given category in order to qualify for a league ranking.

%SF - Percent Shooting Foul. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team drew a shooting foul.

%TO – Percent Turnover. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team turns the ball over.

%Score – Percent Score. This is the percentage of plays where the player or team scores at least 1 point, including any resulting free throws.

So these numbers track the raw results. They don't factor in everything, which is where the interpretation begins and where watching the games live helps.

The offensive categories are Isolation, Pick-and-Roll Ball Handler, Post-Up, Pick-and-Roll Roll Man, Spot-Up, Off Screen, Hand-Off, Cut, Offensive Rebound, Transition, All Other Plays and Overall. On defense, the categories are the same minus the Cut, Offensive Rebound, Transition and All Other Plays categories as there aren't really any individual defenders assigned on these plays.

With that out of the way, let's dive into the numbers.

Steve Nash

Everybody knows Steve Nash is a pick-and-roll point guard. That is who he is and that is what he does best. So it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that 60.9% of Nash's possessions were pick-and-rolls. As a pick-and-roll ball-handler, Nash shot 53.6 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from 3-point range. He did turn the ball over on 23.8 percent of those plays, but he still finished at 0.92 PPP and was ranked 28th overall. Keep in mind this was only his scoring and does not factor in his assists at all, which is the best part of Nash's game.

No other play type is even close, as second on the list is isolation at only 64 total plays all year. He showcased his typical selective shooting and trademark efficiency with or without a pick, as he shot 51.1 percent from the field and scored 0.89 PPP (rank 33). He can't do it as often as he used to, but the old man still has some moves.

Third is transition at 60 total plays. Nash wasn't so good as a scorer on the break with a 33.3 turnover percentage and a 0.93 PPP. That was ranked 252nd overall. He still shot pretty well, but the fact that he turned it over so much and was usually the guy starting the break rather than finishing it hurt his PPP.

When Hedo Turkoglu was brought in, the plan was to put the ball in his hands some to let Nash, one of the greatest shooters of all time, act more as a spot-up shooter. Based on Nash's numbers, that might have been a good idea on paper. He spotted up on 49 plays and scored 1.27 PPP, which was ranked 11th overall. However, as the 60.9% percent pick-and-roll number suggests, that's not how Nash plays. He wants the ball.

Nash's sharpshooting was also evident in his 63 plays running off screens or taking hand-offs, as he converted 30 of his 51 shot attempts.

Overall, Nash scored 0.92 PPP and was ranked 164th. He shot over 50 percent from the field and was just shy of 40 percent from 3-point range, but he also turned the ball over on 26.2 percent of his possessions. Nash drew a shooting foul on only 1.6 percent of his plays, though, which means he didn't get to use his 90 percent free throw accuracy too often. Too many turnovers, too few free throws and a relatively low number of 3-point makes are the reason for his fairly average overall offensive ranking.

Also interesting to note is that the decline in Nash's game is pretty evident by looking at his last three seasons. His fouls drawn, field goal attempts an 3-point field goal attempts all have been decreasing while his turnovers have gone up. He's also became far more reliant on the pick-and-roll to get his shot off as his percentage of plays as the pick-and-roll ball-handler have shot up and all his other play type percentages (most notably his isolation numbers) have gone down. We all saw this happening on the court, so this shouldn't be a surprise. He's getting old (well, older).

Sebastian Telfair

Like the man he backed up, Sebastian Telfair was primarily a pick-and-roll point guard with 43.2 percent of his plays coming as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. He wasn't quite the master Nash was, as either a scorer or passer, but he still found a way to be effective despite low shooting percentages. Telfair used screens mainly to create space to pull-up for a jump shot, a shot he missed a ton early and hit a lot in April. That explains his low field goal percentage at least somewhat. Telfair only shot 39.2 percent from the field and 31.1 percent from beyond the arc, but he did hit 14 3-pointers and his shoot-first mentality meant he kept his turnovers relatively low at 11.8 percent. Telfair scored 0.80 PPP, which ranked him 67th overall.

Isolation is second at 16 percent, and just like with the pick-and-roll, his shooting percentages are terrible but he still manages to be effective. He shot 38.8 percent, but did a good job of drawing fouls at 11.6 percent of his possessions (which is only 8 trips to the line, but still a good percentage). His PPP was 0.81 which was ranked 78th overall.

Oddly enough, Telfair actually shot much better in transition (14.2 percent of his possessions), yet only scored 0.97 PPP and was ranked 239th. Telfair shot nearly 50 percent, while most other decent players shot well above 50 percent. Telfair took a lot of jumpers on the break and missed a lot of tough layups. Even though he said he loved to play fast, he was actually more effective in the half-court, at least compared to his peers.

Bassy did pretty well as a spot-up shooter, which was only on 39 plays all year. He scored 1.08 PPP and was ranked 51st. However, I would beware a small sample size here as he didn't shoot a particularly high percentage and drew two shooting fouls to affect his final number.

Even though most of Telfair's rankings look pretty decent, his overall performance was less than impressive at 0.85 PPP and a rank of 285. Telfair did well as a pick-an-roll ball-handler and in isolation, but both of those aren't very efficient play types and because they made up the majority of his attempts it hurts his final ranking.

Another thing to keep in mind is the disparity between the way he played at the start of the season and at the end of it. It is difficult looking at his season and judging it as a whole, especially because we don't know which one is the real Bassy Telfair right now.

Ronnie Price

Just kidding! Ronnie Price sucks on offense. 0.73 PPP, rank 418th, 37.7 field goal percentage, 23.5 %TO.


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