I've been waiting all season for someone to assume effective leadership of this roster. Not emotional leadership, not figurative leadership, but actual leadership. Mike Brown ultimately got fired because he didn't know how to lead. Dwight Howard got brought in, in part, because he was expected to learn how to lead the team in the future, but that's clearly going to be a work in progress. Kobe Bryant staked out the title during the preseason, but has failed to back it up with anything other than volume shooting. (Has Kobe ever looked more exposed as a player than he did last night, or than he has this season when other key players have gone down to injury?)
Last night, in the loss to San Antonio I think I saw the short-term leadership solution for the Lakers, and it's Steve Nash.
As you saw when SA finally had a technical called on them, Nash has already supplanted Kobe as the team's go-to free-throw shooter, and for damn good reason:
Yes, you read that right. Steve Nash is the all-time league leader in free-throw percentage in NBA history. The man is steady, gutty and clutch.Steve Nash (14 points, nine assists) went 2-for-2 from the foul line, inching him further past Mark Price for the best free throw percentage in league history at 2,946-of-3,259 (.90451). Nash surpassed Price (.90351) on Tuesday against Houston. Nash is now a perfect 15-for-15 on free throws this season.
But what the Lakers need more than anything is smart play. And in the fourth quarter yesterday we saw a prime example of how important that kind of cerebral approach to the game can be. On successive possessions in which Nash did and did not touch the ball the Lakers scored and whiffed respectively. And I'm guessing almost nobody can forgot the horrible shot that Metta and Kobe engineered in the baseline corner, which was bad about twenty different ways.
Defense is and will remain our most important problem. But even on that score I've been impressed with Nash's ability on defense. Relative to our younger players, he's as good or better. Against some of the best point guards in the league he's at least giving as good as he gets. And just as importantly, Nash's skills and leadership help support our defense indirectly by getting us better shots and limiting transition baskets for the other team.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Steve Nash has both a long-standing relationship with Mike D'Antoni and is respected by D'Antoni as well. If there's anyone who can communicate and negotiate with the coaching staff about what the team really needs, I think it's Steve Nash. And I think we would all agree that this team needs everyone to get on the same page pronto.
I'll be very interested to see how Nash plays on Friday, how the team responds to him, and whether or not the ball goes to him when it matters. Because I honestly don't think there's anybody on the team who should be making critical decisions for this roster. Taking critical shots is another matter all together, and there are plenty of players that I'd trust with a clean open look. But right now there's only one player I trust to find or manufacture that look.