- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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The Los Angeles Lakers have five former All-Stars in their starting lineup this season, meaning some, if not all, of them will have to make sacrifices in their individual offensive games for the betterment of the unit as a whole.
The question is, who will be the one willing to take a back seat?
Kobe Bryant is the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history and was second in the league in scoring average just last season. Dwight Howard is in the prime of his career and was brought over from the Orlando Magic to become the next face of the franchise. Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace are coming off seasons during which they averaged career lows and seemed poised for bounce-back campaigns.
Looks like man with the hipster hairdo is the person in line to have his scoring get a trim.
Steve Nash averaged just 5.8 points per game during the preseason while taking a mere 4.9 shot attempts per contest. While Nash shot an efficient 48.7 percent from the field, he hardly looked for his offense personally. He scored in double digits just once (13 points against the Portland Trail Blazers) while never reaching double-digit shot attempts (nine field goals attempted in that same game against the Blazers).
There was certainly a list of factors contributing to his low exhibition scoring totals, including:
1. He played just 22.1 minutes per game.
2. He was learning the Lakers' new, Princeton-style offense for himself as a scorer.
3. He also was learning the Lakers' new, Princeton-style offense for himself as a point guard, looking to set up his teammates.
But could the preseason have been an indicator the 38-year-old Nash's numbers are set to take a dip this year? Is it possible that with all the talent around him, his points per game average could drop to single digits for the first time since 1999-2000, when he was only a part-time starter with the Dallas Mavericks?
"It would surprise me a little bit if he averaged single-digit points," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "Is it a bad thing if he did? No. He’s just such a good shooter and playmaker that, with all the other guys we have on the floor, if he’s just out there with them, he should get six to eight points alone by somebody getting double-teamed or somebody over-helping on somebody else and now the ball gets kicked to him. ... And then he can go get his shot three to four times a game, and that should put him right at that 10- to 12-point range with a few free throws here or there."
Nash averaged 12.5 points per game for the Phoenix Suns last year, his 16th season, while playing 31.6 minutes per game. Brown has indicated that he'd like Nash's minutes to stay around that level this season, so court time shouldn't be a problem. But what about opportunities?
Nash averaged 8.9 shots last season, partly because the ball was always flowing through his hands on offense. So looks just happen that way ... and partly because the Suns had inferior talent than the Lakers do this year and Nash was needed to score a lot of time to keep the Phoenix in the game.
Nash said he is still feeling his way out there.
"I don’t know what’s going to happen yet," Nash said. "But I think, if anything, I was a little less aggressive in the preseason just because I was trying to figure out the offense and trying to be in the right spot and take responsibility for getting everyone in their right positions."
While everyone in the Lakers organization would choose Nash's assists per game staying in double-digits over his scoring (last season Nash was second in the league to Boston's Rajon Rondo with 10.7 assists per game), it's too early to write Nash off as a scoring threat.
"He’s trying to figure out where his holes and stuff like that are going to be within the offense," Brown said. "And so, as a point guard you’re not just figuring out only where your stuff is, but you got to figure out where everybody else’s stuff is going to lay, too. How is Dwight going to get his touches? How is Kobe going to get his touches? How is Metta going to get his touches? How is Pau going to get his touches?
"So," said the coach, "it was a lot more thought process going into that point guard spot than what Kobe has to think about or Dwight or anything like that because, for the most part, they don’t have to really worry about anybody else’s spot. They just go ahead and execute the offense, and when they get their opportunity within the offense, go ahead and look to score. Whereas Nash has got to kind of keep everybody happy, and then, on top of it, look for his. So, I think in time he’ll figure out where he can be more aggressive."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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