Mar 28, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash (10) dribbles the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first half at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers Should Start Steve Nash

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On Feb. 7, Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash will be 41 years old. Only two other guards in NBA history were active at age 41 (John Stockton and Bob Cousy).

Although the aforementioned would be considered elite company for Nash to be regarded, the underlying factor is an age bias that has made Nash the subject of trade rumors and overall usefulness for the Lakers.

Currently in the last year of his $27.9 million contract as part of a sign-and-trade with the Phoenix Suns, Nash will receive a bit more than $9.7 million with the Lakers and will be the second most expensive player behind Kobe Bryant. This season has been rumored to be Nash’s last, although he hasn’t committed to the idea of retiring. 

As the NBA’s oldest player, Nash has dealt with frequent back and nerve injuries which have held him to only 65 games played in total for the Lakers. In two seasons for the purple and gold, he’s averaged 11.4 points and 6.4 assists, his lowest career averages out of the three total teams he’s performed with.

However now it seems Nash is healthy again, according to Lakers trainer Gary Vitti:

All my conversations with (Nash) are that he has absolutely no neural issue at this point. He’s playing full-tilt, unrestricted soccer. He’s doing all the corrective injury and performance exercises he’s supposed to be doing, and right now he’s 100 percent healthy.

His unpopular tenure in Los Angeles gives way for an approval ratio comprised of 50/50 optimism and the rest dismissive entirely when broaching the subject of Nash’s usefulness. There are some that want Nash out of a Lakers uniform and sent out to pasture, while others believe he can be a solid back up behind Jeremy Lin

Both incorrect sides of a short-sighted argument.

To debate Steve Nash’s usefulness and the possibility of a productive 2014-15 season with the Lakers, using his 2013-14 campaign is a wash for debate. Nash only appeared in 15 games for the Lakers, sidelined for the majority of the year with the most injury-riddled season of his career.

A more appropriate primer for arguing that Nash should not only remain with the Lakers but serve as a starter is to use his slightly productive 2012-13 season.

The NBA is full of bias and Nash is subject to a few. Devoid his age, the idea that he’s unable to play adequate defense at the point guard position due to the loss of athleticism is another.

A great example of a player who continues to be productive while showing very little to any athleticism is Paul Pierce. There’s one common denominator that both “The Truth” and Nash share which make them special (even with a lack of athleticism). Both have always been top of the league in the fundamentals.

It’s safe to say that Paul Pierce has some of the best footwork among all guards currently playing in the league. His ability to consistently create space and drive by defenders in what most feel is John Woo-like slow motion is incomparable.

In a similar manner, Nash can still be effective, just without the flash, pizzazz and unnecessary white doves.

It’s also attention to the fundamentals that made Grant Hill as a serious candidate for the NBA’s All-Defensive team at the age of 39. Hill’s commitment to playing the angles on defense put on display flashes of superior D against offensive juggernauts like Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant, to name a few.

It’s been proven that remaining effective on both sides of the ball can be attributed to hoops acumen. It seems the popular adage of “the game is more mental” continues to serve true.

The body may be willing, but if the brain is defunct a player can suffer worse consequences than retirement.

Nash is the most experienced and arguably the most intelligent player at his position. At age 40 (give or take a year) most would expect a beat up and withered NBA body incapable of keeping up on offense, defending the position or even taking normal contact in the game.

Surprisingly Nash still does all well enough for the Lakers to compete.

In the paint between the rim and free throw line (19 feet) where the most physical contact occurs, Nash has hit .519 percent of his field goals in the last three seasons most of which include floaters and layups. His attempts were much lower due to injuries, however his proficiency in the paint shows that Nash is still effective driving the ball and scoring.

It’s an even greater positive sign for head coach Byron Scott and the Lakers when comparing that statistic to Chris Paul who also hits .519 of his field goals in the paint. Nash’s similarity to who most would consider the league’s best point guard (Paul), suggests Nash is still effective when penetrating the lane and does so on an All-Star level.

In 65 games total with the Lakers in the last two seasons, while on the floor the Lakers have had dips in point production 32 times, 10 of which games were played last season. In good health with carefully managed minutes, Nash should be able to make an even better contribution to the Lakers.

With 21 minutes per game last season (35 the prior year), there was only one shooting zone on the floor where Nash shot under league average in the 2012-13 season. In four zones he was comparable to the rest of the league, while excelling in the remaining nine zones.

He’ll average somewhere close to 20 minutes again, and will only be expected to distribute the ball and shoot. Obviously he’s capable of doing just that.

Nash also compiled more than 10 assists 12 times during the previous two regular seasons, including nine double-double games in points and assists. Compare that to Jeremy Lin, who has only had more than 10 assists 19 times in his career, Nash is obviously the better floor general and most important the most experienced.

Still while Nash may not win the position battle every night, in the 2012-13 season the Lakers won in overall offensive production versus their opponents compiling an offensive rating of 109 with Nash on the court, compared to 108.5 on the bench. The miniscule difference in rating suggests the Lakers were just as good with Nash on and off the court (especially with a healthy Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard for most of the year).

However in the 2013 playoffs the Lakers opposition posted a 120.9 offensive rating with Nash on the bench versus 99.1 in minutes played.

Nash may not be a popular subject and his health may have subjected him into the doghouse with Lakers fans, however he’s still useful. In limited minutes he should be the guy who starts the game and ends it, where tempo and pace mean the most.

It’s not that he’s earned the chance to prove himself, he’s simply the best option at the moment.

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