What Impact Will Joining the Lakers Have on Steve Nash?

As reported all over the internet, Steve Nash has agreed to join the Lakers on a sign-and-trade deal worth approximately $27 million over three years. The Lakers gave up two first round and two second round draft picks and cash to get the 38-year old PG.

The Lakers’ play to pry Ramon Sessions away from the Cavs last season seemed like a good one at the time (especially since he appeared to be a big upgrade over Derek Fisher). But Sessions wilted in the playoffs, averaging only 9.7 points and 3.6 assists per game on 38% shooting from the floor. So when Sessions opted out of his contract this offseason, the Lakers’ decision was easy – go get Steve Nash.

Fantasy Implications: Nash might not have father time on his side at this point, but he does give the Lakers a legitimate PG for the first time since… Gary Payton? Does that even count?

Last season, Nash quietly had a small, but significant drop in his numbers, averaging 12.5 points, 10.7 assists and 0.9 threes while playing 31.9 minutes a game. This was down from 14.7 points and 11.4 assists in 33.3 minutes a game the year prior. While Nash’s assists have remained strong even last season, his scoring numbers have eroded from a height of about 19 a game when he was in his early 30′s, down to 15-16 in his mid 30′s, to under 13 last season. Nash hasn’t quite entered Jason Kidd scoring territory yet, but he’s definitely heading in the direction of that neighborhood.

His slide was also evident in the fact that he ended the season ranked 76 on the GMTR fantasy basketball player rater, with a WARP of 0.32 (fantasy wins/week). This is a drop from 0.49 WARP in 2010-11 and 0.56 WARP in 2009-10 when he finished ranked around 45 on the player rater. It’s possible to blame away some of that decline on the lockout shortened season and the fact that he was playing hurt for a good part of the year, but the dude is approaching 40, so it’s likely that he’s going to be playing at various stages of hurt for the rest of his career.

The big question mark with this deal is how will ball-dominate Nash and Kobe interact on the floor? The big value of Nash at this point is that he assisted on an estimated 53% of his team’s baskets while he was on the court last season. For comparison, Sessions assisted on 33% of the Lakers’ baskets during his tenure with the team. While Kobe’s reputation as a ball hog is probably greater than the reality of it at this point in his career, he’s still a player that thrives on the court with the ball in his hand (a lot more than guys like Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley anyway).

We just don’t know at this point if Kobe is willing to take a step back and let Nash lead the Lakers’ offense. We can speculate that playing alongside a hall of fame PG, Kobe will be willing to have the team become more pick-and-roll focused with Nash and whatever big men are on the team instead of working so many isolations. But it’s unlikely that he’s ready to completely enter the Paul Pierce stage of his career, so the most interesting aspect of this trade is going to see the dynamic of Kobe and Nash work itself out on the court.

From a statistical perspective, it’s likely that Nash’s minutes are capped around the 32-33 a game he’s seen over the last few years. While the Lakers’ bench could be a disaster next season, they at least have a back-up PG in place in Steve Blake. The NBA regular season is a marathon and I’m sure the Lakers don’t want to hurt their shiny new toy before the playoffs.

So that means Nash’s scoring should either remain steady or take another small age-related decline, although that’s a fairly weak point in his game at this point. Nash attempted 9.0 shot attempts per game last season, which is almost identical to Sessions 9.2 with the team. So it’s unlikely that he loses shots to Kobe and the rest of the Lakers.

The assists are another issue for two reasons. First, it’s unlikely that Nash is going to be able to keep his assist percentage above 50% on this Lakers team unless Kobe is really going to take a backseat on offense. A drop even to 45% and Nash is looking around 9 assists a game, which seems like a reasonable target. Second, the Lakers currently lack an outside shooting threat to stretch the floor for Nash. Sure, those pick and rolls with Gasol will be nice, but who is there to knock down the three and keep defenses honest. Metta World Peace? The Suns certainly had their problems recently, but they did keep Nash surrounded by some decent shooters.

The rest of the Lakers should benefit from playing alongside a PG of Nash’s caliber, even at this stage of his career. Nash is unlikely to steal shots away from his teammates and will make the team’s offense more efficient by setting everyone up with better and more open looks. There probably won’t be one player in particular who sees a huge jump in scoring since the team does have a number of options. The only negative to Nash’s arrival could potentially be to Kobe’s assist numbers, which should decline from the 4.6 he averaged last season.

Bold prediction for Steve Nash: 12 points, 2.8 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 three and 0.5 steals with great percentages.

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