Great Scott, Gatsby’s Back?

Jonathan Cha

Jonathan Cha writes about the Lakers thanks to the way Chick Hearn spoke on it. A fan since Magic first dumped it down low to Kareem for a swing left, shoot right skyhook in San Diego, he also contributes his thoughts on USC football to LA Sports Hub. Tweet him about it @chawonshik.

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A bevy of Laker fans broke out in a chorus of O’, Canada when word came from sources, reporters, and Lakerholicz that Stephen John Nash would be suiting up for the Lakers against the Golden State Warriors on Saturday.

Thank, Christmas.

The narrative regarding the impact of Nash on the D’Antoni offense, the Lakers psyche, and driving patterns on the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles have been analyzed and discussed ad nauseum. However, a pedestrian examination of his stats over the years tells a wonderfully simple story.

He’s a good point guard.

The best the Lakers have had in a while, and if he only works at partial efficiency for the rest of the season and into the playoffs, then the Lakers should be poised to make a run, sitting only 2.5 games back from 6th in the Western Conference. Yes, it is okay to start musing about better playoff position, and even, gasp, home court advantage. Remember about how far away 4th place in the conference seemed after Cleveland? An 11-game losing streak makes Charlotte a dangerous team, but the Lakers winning vibe can’t help but build on the Nash news. The next three games, the Knicks, Nuggets, and Blazers, represent an excellent test for the fun and gun. Even though Christmas in LA hasn’t provided the most holiday cheer in recent years, this one is against New York, and, judging by Thursday’s effort, payback might be in order. Just don’t expect any foam fingers. The Nuggets in Denver will at least help Nash find his second wind, especially at that level of oxygen, as well as test the new found depth at point. You can bet that Nash would love to post his breakout game against Damian Lillard and the foot that might have Steve pair a shin guard with his #10 jersey.

But, hey, let’s not get too ahead of the now. He might not explode immediately into the 100-yard dash of offensive expectations from the off-season.

He needs time.

When Nash became a regular starter for the Dallas Mavericks, he commenced a meteoric rise from little known Santa Clara point guard, save those loyal to the Arizona Wildcat’s, to eventual two-time MVP. In the ’01-02 season, when Steve started 70 of 70 games, he posted career highs of almost 18 points and 7.7 assists. The Mavs featured Dirk and Michael Finley, rounding out their version of the Big Three, and made a run to the Western Conference Semis before losing to the Spurs. His years in Dallas represent a solid beginning for an after thought at point with the Suns his first time around.

His return to the Suns in 2004 marked the launching point for his pairing with Mike D and a .707 winning percentage. During his years in the Valley of the Suns, Nash distributed wide-open shots, layups, and dunks to a variety of players in double-digits every year except one, 9.7 assists in the ’08-09 season. He also kept his scoring around 15 to 16 points, his lowest contribution came last year at 12.5 points per game.

Let’s say Nash brought 12 points and 8 assists per game. The Lakers would instantly benefit from easier looks for Kobe, Dwight, and Pau, when he returns, as well as lengthen their bench play at the point position. A point guard will finally thread the needle to Dwight rolling to the cup in between collapsing defenses. Teams will have to choose to double either Nash or Dwight, attention the current points haven’t commanded. Yet, Morris and Duhon have benefited from ample early season experience. They can build on their court work and concentrate on spot work, filling in when needed, and focus their energies on providing a momentary spark instead of consistent minutes.

And they are going to be way more open. Wide open even.

Think about the point differences in some of the Lakers losses without Gatsby. Look at the stat lines and consider what could have been if Dwight had a few more looks in the paint for dunks and layups. Would more free throws fall? What if Kobe didn’t have to shoot that 28th or 29th shot after breaking down the defense all on his own for most of the game? Nash already in his brief Laker career established a knack for finding Metta along the baseline for layups, so stay tuned on that hook up. How about Antawn’s recent struggles? Nash could easily spend some of those dimes finding Jamison for his flip shot, as opposed to launching 1-6 or 1-8 from three. Finally, Pau, the much maligned enigma, used to playing with pass first and pass well point guards will certainly find solace in another player with an equal penchant for sharing. Worst-case scenario, if the Lakers front office really wants to free up cap space for a better Dwight deal and a shot at LeBron, Nash will help Pau regain his form and make him a better piece to deal. Let’s hope that isn’t the case, but, unfortunately, Jeanie doesn’t run the team, so who knows what the other Buss’ might come up with.

Smile, Lakerholicz, this is fabulous Forum news. A Gatsby party is about to begin. It’s almost Showtime 2.

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