We’ll call it the “Steve Nash Boost.”
This phenomenon, regardless of what you choose to call it, is no myth.
Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, Boris Diaw and Marcin Gortat are just a few of the names who have played to an All-Star level with Nash as a teammate. As a result, those players have managed to make an absurd amount of money in the NBA thanks to Nash making them look good out on the court.
Could the same story play itself out with Andrew Bynum? Can Bynum become the league’s next dominant big man with Nash running the offense? Can Bynum, to give it a modern analogy, become the next Dwight Howard?
Bynum had a career year last season, averaging 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. The big man’s success last season can be attributed to two factors.
1. He managed to stay consistently healthy throughout the season for the first time since 2007.
2. He averaged a career-high 35.2 minutes per game, which was 11 minutes more than his 24.2 minute-per-game average during the six seasons prior.
What’s truly impressive about those numbers is the fact that Bynum was playing alongside Kobe Bryant, a one-on-one isolation scorer who shot the ball 1,336 times in 58 games a season ago.
That’s 23 field goal attempts per game for Bryant, so the fact that Bynum was able to put up more than 18 points per game with far fewer touches is a true marvel.
While Bryant shot just 43 percent from the floor a season ago on those 23 attempts per game, Bynum shot 55.8 percent on just 13.3 attempts per game.
Statistically speaking, Bynum was the more efficient scorer by a wide margin (of course, he wasn’t shooting contested baseline fade-away jumpers).
So how does Nash fit in to that admittedly awkward equation?
Well, ideally Nash will be given the freedom to do what he does best, which is play unselfish basketball as the floor general and point guard, a position the Lakers have been lacking seemingly since Magic Johnson retired.
Nash is perhaps the most unselfish player in the NBA, which allows him to get the best production out of his teammates. He knows how to find players around him no matter where he is out on the court, and always seems to put teammates in the best position to score. Thus, he can single-handedly create a more balanced offensive attack.
It’s hard to imagine Nash’s presence not making a huge impact by improving the play of everyone around him. However, Bynum fits the prototype of a player Nash may have some trouble molding.
Bynum simply doesn’t have the agility and athleticism of Stoudemire or Gortat (two players who made a name for themselves by playing the pick-and-roll game with Nash).
The pick-and-roll game that Nash has all but perfected to this point in his career caters more toward another player on the Lakers’ roster—Pau Gasol.
Even if Bynum diving to the basket off a set screen would have the appearance of a drowsy grizzly bear lumbering along following a period of hibernation, if anyone can make Bynum happier in terms of number of touches, it’s Nash.
What needs to worry Lakers fans about the Nash era in Los Angeles is an experiment that already failed in the past.
Former Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr rolled the dice in 2008 by trading Shawn Marion and Marcus Banks to the Miami Heat for Shaquille O’Neal, attempting to add a dominant big man to the roster.
The Big Aristotle had a strong resurgence in Phoenix when he averaged 17.8 points per game during the 2008-2009 season, which was the most points per game he tallied since 2005-2006 with the Heat when he averaged 20 per game.
Although O’Neal played quite well for the Suns, he bogged down the Suns’ fast-paced offense, clogged the lane during Nash/Stoudemire pick-and-rolls and diminished Nash’s stellar play.
O’Neal and Bynum are similar back-to-the-basket, post-up centers, so it’s possible that Nash and Bynum won’t coexist as well as expected.
Even given this worrisome comparison, Nash’s tremendous passing ability should allow for a more free-flowing offense that relies more on open looks instead of isolation sets.
So can Nash’s presence shape Bynum into the next D12?
It’s certainly possible, if not likely, that Nash can make Bynum a better scorer by penetrating into the lane and setting the big man up for open dunks and easy baskets (as well as just flat out getting him the ball more often than in years past).
However, nothing Nash can do will make Bynum a superior rebounder or shot-blocker when compared with Howard. Of course, Nash’s uncanny ability to get torched by quicker, more athletic guards on defense may provide Bynum with more opportunities to block shots, but that’s more of a silly observation than a concrete reason.
Only Bynum can motivate himself to be a better rebounder and defensive threat next season. Issues with maturity are still prevalent with the 24-year-old, but perhaps Nash’s pedigree as a two-time NBA MVP, as well as his thirst for a championship, will rub off on Bynum and aid the maturation process.
Ultimately, if Bynum wants to be known as the league’s next dominant center, he has to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke. Don't be surprised if the "Steve Nash Boost" helps him get there.
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