Apparently, Steve Nash has finally come to terms with the end of his career and returned to the Los Angeles Lakers in a mentoring capacity. In particular, Nash is helping 22-year-old Jordan Clarkson understand the mental game of the NBA.
Nash is one of the greatest point guards in the history of the NBA, but he will not go down as a beloved figure among fans of the purple and gold. Fans questioned Nash's disappearing act from the team after the Lakers announced Nash would not be playing during the 2014-15 season. Fans felt irate that the veteran point guard continued to receive a salary while not being with the team in any known capacity.
"I know it didn't go over perfect," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said when asked about Nash on Thursday. "With our blessing, we said 'take the time you need to get away from the game,' but I've been engaged with Steve [Nash]."
"He's around," Kupchak continued. "We have breakfast once a month. He will work with some of our players. He may have already started doing that. He's not going to go out and advertise that he's doing it. We've talked about helping the younger players. As the season progresses, I think he'll be more engaged."
Without much fanfare, Nash returned to the team in a mentoring capacity, and the greatest Canadian basketball player of all time is helping Clarkson, the Lakers' rookie point guard, adjust to life as a starting point guard in the NBA.
In his first career start, Clarkson lined up against former NBA Finals M.V.P. Tony Parker. Next, he faced one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA in Patrick Beverly. In his third and fourth careers starts, Clarkson matched up against All-Star John Wall and former NBA M.V.P Derrick Rose.
In three of those four games, Clarkson stepped up to the challenge, and he has thus far outperformed expectations.
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Playing 43 minutes in a double overtime win over Rose and the Chicago Bulls, the Lakers' rookie tied his career high in points (18), rebounds (4) and assists (4). Only making his fourth career start, Clarkson spoke about watching film and improving following Thursday win.
At his locker, Clarkson told NBCLA.com that Nash had recently spoken with him in an attempt to help the young point guard.
"I was actually with Steve [Nash] yesterday," Clarkson said after Thursday's victory over the Bulls. "That was, I think, the first time meeting face-to-face and talking about stuff, so it was good."
Clarkson said that Nash's input helped, and the 22-year-old confirmed that the 40-year-old was helping via conversation and also working on the court.
In the Lakers' time of need, Nash turned up. Nine games into a losing streak and on the same day news that Kobe Bryant would be out for nine months broke, Nash sat down with the Lakers' rookie. The Canadian's presence was, no doubt, a welcome sight for the Lakers' organization.
When asked about which guys he has been studying on film, Clarkson said he had been watching Chris Paul because the LA Clippers' point guard is one of the best in the business at changing and controlling his pace. Clarkson also said he had been studying old game footage of Nash, as the Canadian mastered changing speeds during his nearly two-decade long career.
Clarkson, however, has a couple inches on Nash and about five inches on Paul. In terms of speed, Clarkson's pace and natural athletic ability likely trumps either point guard. After making a tough jump shot in the second overtime period, Clarkson struck a gunslinger pose that was reminiscent of a point guard that Clarkson naturally matches on multiple levels: Russell Westbrook.
"I watch Russell a lot," Clarkson told NBCLA.com. "I watch him a lot. I take some stuff from his game, the way he's aggressive at all times."
Similar to Westbrook, Clarkson is naturally more of a scorer than a passer, and a foot race between the two point guards would be fun to watch. The Lakers' rookie is not nearly as aggressive as the Oklahoma City Thunder guard, but his confidence is growing with every start.
Although the comparisons are admittedly premature, Clarkson has the opportunity to gain confidence with extended time on the court. With Nash helping develop the rookie's NBA identity and Clarkson's natural explosiveness mixing with a conscious effort to play with more aggression, the 22-year-old should only continue to draw comparisons to the former UCLA Bruin. And, that's a positive comparison.
For those wondering, the Lakers and the Thunder meet at Staples Center on Mar. 1 and in Oklahoma City on Mar. 24. Those meetings should only further help to develop the rookie, who provides a glimmer of bright light in a season filled with darkness.