In Defence of: Steve Nash (Part 1)

Just a warning, What you are about to read is probably the most detailed defence of Steve Nash’s career that you have ever seen. As a result it is very long, and will be split into 2 parts.

Disclaimer: This article has been on the shelf for over a year, and the majority of it was written prior to or during the 2011 season. I have updated all relevant stats to reflect performance in 2011, but this does not include any stats from the 2012 season.

With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Steve Nash is generally considered to be a great guy and a tremendous basketball player. However, in my experience watching and discussing the NBA, he has more haters than i could possibly count. Who are these people who feel the need to tear down this player who is by all accounts the ultimate teammate, a great leader, and one of the most generous, charismatic, entertaining, and well-spoken superstars of his generation. From what I can tell, they usually fall into one of the 3 categories.

Defense Fanatics

You’ve all heard them. Their mottos include “Defence is half the game”, “Defence wins championships” etc. They argue that Nash, while great offensively, is essentially overrated due to his minimal impact on the other end of the floor.

Championship Lovers
These are those fans who seem to think that a player’s career is measured by the number of championship rings they possess. These are the people who claim that Kobe is only 1 ring away from equalling MJ’s career, or that Bill Russell is the greatest player ever. It’s pretty clear why they don’t think too highly of Nash.
Kobe Fans

The most interesting group. We’ll get to them later.

So now that we’ve established who Nash’s main critics are, lets look at their arguments.

  1. Nash is a defensive liability which reduces his overall impact on the court.
  2. He has never won a championship. In fact he is the only MVP other than Rose to never play in the NBA finals.
  3. He was a product of D’Antoni’s run and gun system which boosts players’ stats through increased pace and fast break opportunities.
  4. He didn’t deserve his two MVPs.
  5. He’s Canadian.

Kidding aside, that’s about all the criticism I have heard. Now, the counter points, what does Nash do well (I’ll back up these claims in a bit).

  1. He is the best shooter in NBA history.
  2. He runs the most efficient offenses of all time.
  3. He is one of the best passers of all time.
  4. He is a clutch player.
  5. He is a very underrated team defender.
  6. He has a bigger impact on his teammates’ performances than any player I have seen.

Those are some pretty big claims, time for some evidence.

Shooting

So I said that Nash is the greatest shooter of all time. There are many people who share this opinion, and there have been several articles written on the subject. But let’s see just how much proof I can give you.

50/40/90 seasons.

Here is the list of all seasons in history (well since the introduction of the 3 point shot at least) where a player shot at least 50% from the floor, 40% from 3, and 90% from the free throw line, meeting all league requirements for minimum attempts and what not. Now there were enough close calls that I decided to include all players whose numbers round up to those numbers, so technically the requirements are 49.5% fg, 39.5% 3pt, 89.5% ft. We will also have a minimim of 10 points per game to eliminate those role players who take only the most open of shots. We get 15 players with the following numbers.

Name FG% 3PT% FT% Points
Steve Nash 53.2 45.5 89.9 18.6
Steve Nash 51.2 43.9 92.1 18.8
Steve Nash 50.4 47 90.6 16.9
Steve Nash 50.7 42.6 93.8 16.5
Steve Nash 50.3 43.9 93.3 15.7
Larry Bird 49.6 42.3 89.6 25.8
Larry Bird 52.5 40 91 28.1
Larry Bird 52.7 41.4 91.6 29.9
Jose Calderon 49.7 40.6 90.8 11.2
Jose Calderon 49.7 42 98.1 12.8
Dirk Nowitzki 50.2 41.6 90.4 24.6
Mark Price 52.6 44.1 90.1 18.9
Mario Elie 49.7 42 89.6 11.7
Jeff Hornacek 51.8 41.8 89.7 16.9
Reggie Miller 50.3 42.1 90.8 19.9

So clearly Nash has the upper hand in sheer number of 50/40/90 seasons, but how about the quality of them?

Nash has the top 2 3 points shooting seasons, 4 of the top 5, and 5 of the top 7.

He has the 2nd and 3rd best free throw marks, beaten only by Calderon’s record of 98.1%. He also has the 5th best.

He has the best field goal percentage season, along with the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 11th.

His 2006-2007 season (the first one listed on the table, top fg%, 2nd highest 3pt%) is easily the best season on the list.

He has the top 4 seasons (along with the 7th) in terms of 3 pointers made, which makes his 3 point percentages (5 of the top 7) all the more impressive.

Now the most important part of it all… As a point guard, Nash shoots the majority of his shots off the dribble. The offense was designed for him to set up his teammates, not the other way around. Not only is shooting off the dribble more challenging than simply catching and shooting, it also means that he is receiving less open looks that his teammates create for him. How can we prove this? Let’s look at the percentage of player’s field goals that they were assisted on, courtesy of hoopdata.com.

Now Hoopdata only has data going back to the 2006-2007 season, so the majority of these seasons don’t show up. So first we will compare the active players on this list, namely Dirk, Nash, and Calderon.

Season Steve Nash Dirk Nowitzki Jose Calderon
2007 23.20% 49.50% 20.20%
2008 22.10% 54.60% 29.70%
2009 17.10% 55.40% 36.30%
2010 11.00% 61.50% 33.50%
2011 14.00% 63.10% 31.30%

So Nash was clearly assisted on fewer of his field goals than Calderon, and far fewer than Dirk.

Now that’s only 3 players, we can’t make an accurate statement based on that. So let’s look at the following star players over the past 4 years and compare the percentage of field goals on which they are assisted to Nash. Note that all are perimeter players.

Season Nash Kobe Lebron Carmelo Durant Paul Deron Wade Rose
2007 23.20% 39.90% 34.30% 58.90% N/A 17.30% 39.70% 26.70% N/A
2008 22.10% 39.50% 34.30% 58.10% 59.20% 18.70% 38.30% 29.20% N/A
2009 17.10% 37.00% 33.60% 48.00% 56.50% 14.30% 25.90% 25.80% 35.50%
2010 11.00% 40.20% 36.20% 41.60% 52.00% 12.40% 46.80% 27.70% 31.50%
2011 14.00% 37.40% 32.30% 47.5%* 62.40% 17.90% 38.4%* 36.70% 27.30%
Average 17.48% 38.80% 34.14% 50.82% 57.53% 16.12% 37.82% 29.22% 31.43

*Data given only for each team, not overall. Weighted average calculated.

So Nash is assisted on by far the fewest other than Chris Paul, who has a tiny edge on him. And yet Nash destroys all of them on percentages despite clearly having to create more of his shots by himself. With this in mind, let’s revisit the 50/40/90 players.

The only player on the list with any case against Nash really is Bird. Dirk, Price, Miller, Hornacek and Elie each had only one such season. Calderon had 2, but he scored less, shot worse, and was assisted on a higher percentage of his looks, so he’s out.

Bird had 3 such seasons, but the thing in his favour is that he scored significantly more points (about 10 more per game). However, Nash had a higher Effective field goal percentage (2pt fg made + 1.5*3pt fg made/ total fg attempts) in EACH of his seasons (58.3%, 61.3%, 59.7%, 56.6%, 57.0%), than Bird had in ANY of his seasons (52.1%, 55.5%, 55.6%). The same holds for True Shooting Percentage (Points/(2*(field goals attempted + .44* ft attempted))), as Nash’s 5 marks (63.2%, 65.4%, 64.1%, 61.5%, 61.5%) are each better than any of Bird’s marks (58.0%, 61.2%, 60.8%). In fact, in both cases, Nash’s 5 marks were each better than any that Bird put up throughout his entire career. When you take into account that Bird spent a lot of time around the basket and thus took more close shots than Nash did, while also likely being assisted on far more (safe to assume when you consider the similarities between Bird and Dirk and Dirk’s percentage of field goals assisted), I think there is little doubt that Bird was a worse shooter than Nash. So that should settle that Nash was the best of all those players. Was there another player who never had a 50/40/90 season who could be considered better? Let’s look at some other all time marks that he has.

Nash has the 8th highest 3 point percentage of all time (.4295). The 7 players ahead of him are Steve Kerr (.454), Anthony Morrow (.4474), Hubert Davis (.4409), Stephen Curry (.4391), Drazen Petrovic (.4374), Jason Kapono (.4372) and Tim Legler (.4312).

Now observe their 3 pt attempts

Player 3 point attempts 3 point attempts per game
Steve Nash 3644 3.3
Steve Kerr 1599 1.8
Anthony Morrow 751 3.9
Hubert Davis 1651 2.4
Stephen Curry 722 4.7
Drazen Petrovic 583 2
Jason Kapono 1027 2.1
Tim Legler 603 1.9

So Nash has attempted the most by far, and the most per game by quite a bit other than Morrow and Curry, who have only played 3 and 2 years respectively.

Nash has 2.2 times as many 3 point attempts as anyone else in the top 8 percentages. Kerr was a fantastic shooter without a doubt, but he was shooting only the most open of looks off of passes from Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Kapono, Davis, Legler and Petrovic were also spot up shooters for the most part, which is once again easier than shooting off the dribble. If you gave Nash the same open looks these shooters had he might have equalled or bettered their percentages.

Nash also has the highest free throw percentage of all time. He is hundredths of a percent ahead of Mark Price. The top 10 free throw percentages in history belong to Nash, Price, Peja Stojakovic, Chauncey Billups, Ray Allen, Rick Barry, Calvin Murphy, Scott Skiles, Reggie Miller, and Larry Bird. I think its safe to say that being on this list means you are a pretty darn good shooter, and Nash is the best of them all, for now at least.

Moving on and taking a look at the yearly leaders for True Shooting Percentage. Only 3 point guards have led the league since 1980: John Stockton (3 times), Damon Jones (once), and Nash (two times). Jones was a spot up shooter playing off of Wade and Shaq, so his isn’t nearly as impressive as Nash or Stockton who created a large portion of their own shots. The only other guards to do it were Reggie Miller (twice) and Brent Barry. Still pretty elite company when discussing shooters.

If you look at career True Shooting Percentage, Nash is 15th with 60.45%. The only players ahead of him that could be considered shooters are Miller, Stockton and Brent Barry.

Nash has the 10th most made 3 pointers in history, and he still has a chance to move up another spot or two. He has the best percentage of anyone in the top 100 (Davis is next at 115).

Another statistic, by John Hollinger of ESPN, called “Combined Shooting Rating”, formed by adding a player’s career 2 pt fg%, 3pt%, and ft%, also helps Nash’s case. Nash is first all time with a CSF of 1.849, .37 ahead of second place Kerr. To put that in perspective, the difference between Kerr and 7thplace is also .37.I think that’s sufficient evidence that Nash is the greatest shooter in history. There are a couple other candidates, Reggie Miller probably being the main one, but when you consider all of Nash’s all time percentages and the percentage of his shots he has to create for himself, I feel confident saying Nash is the best of them all.

Most efficient offenses

Looking at the seasons since Nash became a full time starter (2000-2001), Nash has run some of the league’s most efficient offenses (measured by points per 100 possessions, all info from basketball-reference).

2000-2001 Dallas. 4thof 29

2001-2002 Dallas. 1stof 29

2002-2003 Dallas. 1stof 29

2003-2004 Dallas. 1stof 29

2004-2005 Phoenix. 1stof 30

2005-2006 Phoenix. 2ndof 30

2006-2007 Phoenix. 1stof 30

2007-2008 Phoenix. 2ndof 30

2008-2009 Phoenix. 2ndof 30

2009-2010 Phoenix. 1stof 30

2010-2011 Phoenix. 9th of 30

So in 11 years, six 1st place offences, three 3nd places, one 4th and one 9th . Also note that the Suns were a top 4 offensive team in 2011 until they traded their only true scorer (Richardson) and secondary playmaker (Turkoglu) for Marcin Gortat and Vince Carter’s rapidly decaying corpse. Even after that trade they were in the top 6 or 7 until Nash’s injury.

Yes Nash had talented teammates most years, but so did the other stars. Shaq and Kobe played together and yet only once did they top the efficiency of last year’s suns, you know the team that started Carter’s remains, 38 year old Grant Hill, and offensively challenged Robin Lopez. As for Nash’s good Phoenix teams? They blow those 2 superstar Lakers out of the water.

But how much of this can we actually attribute to Nash? In 2004 the Suns were the 21st most efficient offense. But subtracting Marbury and replacing him with Nash, they were 1st. In 2006, Amare (team’s top scorer in 06) was injured for all but 3 games, Joe Johnson (team’s 3rd top scorer and second best playmaker) left in free agency, Quentin Richardson (5th top scorer) was traded for Kurt Thomas, and they STILL had the league’s second most efficient offence.

So Nash led the best offenses for the majority of his career… but what about all time? By determining the difference between a given team’s offensive rating and the league average for that year, a list of the 5 best offenses of all time can be composed.

(Note: By determining the difference from the league average it greatly reduces the effect that rule changes and different strength defenses would have on the result)

(Note: These numbers were obtained from John Hollinger’s article “These Suns not setting just yet”, and all credit goes to him)

Without further ado, the 5 best offenses of all time.

2003-2004 Mavericks

2004-2005 Suns

2009-2010 Suns

2001-2002 Mavericks

2006-2007 Suns

Shocked? Nash has been at the helm of the 5 best offenses of ALL TIME! Say what you want about his teammates, but that is pretty special. Also, notice that Nash’s first Phoenix team comes in 2nd, and the 2010 version comes 3rd. Anyone want to hazard a guess as to how many players played on both teams?

3.

Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, Steve Nash. And Barbosa averaged 7 ppg in 2005, and 9.5 in 2010. He wasn’t exactly a cornerstone player. Amare missed out in 2006 when they still ran the second most efficient offense in the league. And it wasn’t like they replaced him with another star, they replaced him with Boris Diaw, who put up 5 ppg, 2.6 rpg and 2 apg in 18 minutes the year before on a 13 win Hawks team.

Notice the 2003-2004 Mavericks at the top of the list. The greatest offense of all time by this measure. When Nash left (and was replaced by Jason Terry who was incredibly efficient for them too), they dropped to 4th in the league, but considering that they were falling from the best offence of all time to merely 4th best in the league, it was a larger drop than it initially appears.

So from the looks of it, Nash = elite offensive team.

Passing

This is the area of Nash’s game where everyone seems to give him credit. They admit that he is a phenomenal passer. Just how great however, is up for debate.

Want some numbers? I hope so.

Nash is currently 6th all time in assists. The only active player ahead of him is Jason Kidd. Just over 600 more assists and he will pass Oscar and move into the top 5. He is under 900 from moving into 4th, and about 1100 from moving into 3rd. Considering that he had 855 assists this past year and 892 the year before, I think it’s safe to assume that if Nash plays 2 more relatively healthy seasons he will end up behind only Stockton and Kidd.

He is 9thin career assists per game with 8.5. Very good, but not great. He trails Magic (11.2), Stockton (10.5), Chris Paul (10.0), Oscar (9.5), Isiah (9.3), Deron Williams (9.2), Kidd (9.1) and Kevin Johnson ( 9.1).

Now this is where it gets tricky. All of those players with the exception of Kevin Johnson were starters their first year in the league, hence boosting their totals and per game numbers. Kevin Johnson was a starter by the end of his 1st year. Nash started 11 games total in his 1st two years, started 40 games in the lockout shortened season, started only 27 the next year, and then became the full time starter for the 2000-2001season. Since that season, he has had 7506 assists, for an average of 9.648 per game. That would put him in 4thplace for assists per game. Now since we should account for the fact that he clearly was still developing and such before then so he would not be averaging 9.6 right off the bat, but it does put some things in perspective, and the lack of playing time explains his relatively low rank on the all time assists chart.

Think the whole not-starting argument is nonsense? Maybe Nash just wasn’t very good at passing back then hence why he didn’t play much. Alright, let’s ignore the fact that he was playing off the bench for a large part of his first four years and look at assists per 36 minutes over entire careers.

Stockton- 11.9

Magic- 11.0

Nash- 9.7

Paul- 9.7

Kevin Johnson- 9.6

Williams- 9.3

Isiah- 9.2

Kidd- 8.9

Oscar- 8.1

Looks a little bit different now doesn’t it? Magic and Stockton were clearly awesome passers and these numbers support that. Paul has been great, but has only played 6 seasons at the moment, so the jury is still out on him, same with Deron Williams. Kevin Johnson is a surprise, one of the more underrated point guards. As you can see Nash now blows Kidd and Oscar out of the water.

But assists per game aren’t everything. Let’s now look at assist percentage, which is defined as an estimate of the percentage of teammate’s field goals a player assists on while he’s on the floor.

Career Numbers

John Stockton- 50.24%

Chris Paul- 46.60%

Deron Williams- 42.23%

Steve Nash- 41.22%

Magic Johnson 40.86%

Brevin Knight 40.06%

Jason Kidd 39.67%.

So Stockton by quite a bit. Then Chris Paul who will inevitably go down as one of the great point guards ever if he can stay healthy. Deron Williams is slightly ahead of Nash, which makes sense since he’s spent most of his career running endless pick and rolls with Carlos Boozer, and he hasn’t had the end of his career drag down his numbers yet.

Now let’s look at the highest assist percentages in a single season.

John Stockton (1990-91)- 57.48%

John Stockton (1989-90)- 57.40%

John Stockton (1987-88)- 54.80%

Chris Paul (2008-09)- 54.47%

John Stockton (1988-89)- 54.27%

John Stockton (1991-92)- 53.66%

Steve Nash (2010-2011)- 53.11%

John Stockton (1993-94)- 53.07%

John Stockton (1994-95)- 52.62%

Chris Paul (2007-08)- 52.23%

Steve Nash (2009-10)- 50.92%

Steve Nash (2006-07)- 50.07%

Stockton has the top 3, 5 of the top 6, and 7 of the top 9. He is the king of this category. Paul has the 4th, 10th, 44th, and 99th. Nash has the 7th, 11th, 12th, 17th, 29th, 53rd and 78th. Kidd doesn’t show up until 49th, then shows up at 56, 57, 73, 81, and 95. Magic has the 15th, 20th, 30th, 41st, 43rd and 45th. So Stockton clearly has Nash beat, and Paul’s top seasons are slightly better than Nash’s, but Nash is consistently better.

I’m not going to try to convince you with numbers that Nash is the greatest passer of all time, he isn’t. I would have Stockton and Magic over him. People argue Kidd, but I don’t really see how you can support that, with numbers or with qualitative evidence from watching the games. Paul looks to be on his way, but we’ll have to see how is career pans out. Statistically Nash seems to be the 3rd best passer of all time, and arguably second. From what I’ve watched I would never put him over Stockton or Magic, but 3rdseems like a nice fit.

Clutch

Nash has always been one the most clutch performers in the league. For the purposes of all stats I present, “the clutch” is defined as

Fourth quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points.

I will not be discussing game winners. While being able to make game winning shots is certainly helpful, in most cases the most clutch players perform well enough down the stretch that a game winning shot is unnecessary.

So here are some stats.

Last year, Nash was 3rdin the league in clutch assists, averaging 12.5 per 48 minutes. While he had a poor shooting performance in the clutch this year from the field (37%, only 27.6 points per 48 minutes), it should be noted that he was assisted on 0% of his field goals in clutch situations. The fact that he had to create his own shot with very few other offensive threats on his team allowing the other team to focus their D on him helps explain the low shooting percentage. He did however shoot 94% on free throws while attempting 13.5 per 48 minutes of clutch time.

Now go back a year, where Nash was on a quality team and wasn’t playing hurt, and we see a completely different story.

Nash scored 43.6 points per 48 minutes in the clutch, trailing only Lebron (66.1), Kobe (51.2), Dirk (47.2), and Carmelo (47.0).

- Of these Nash was only assisted on 13% of his points. Compare this to Lebron (22%), Kobe (18%), Dirk (54%), and Melo (20%). In fact of the top 22 scorers in the clutch, only Chris Paul (11%) and Brandon Roy (9%) were assisted on fewer of their points.

- Nash shot a very respectable 45.7% in the clutch. That is better than Kobe, Anthony, Dirk, Durant, Rose, Billups and several others.

- Nash had 13.4 assists per 48 minutes in the clutch, almost 2 better than 2nd place Deron Williams (11.5), and way ahead of anyone else, with Wade coming 3rdwith just 10 per 48 minutes.

- He averaged fewer turnovers than Lebron(while dishing 5 more assists) and Carmelo (while dishing almost 9 times as many assists) , and .1 more than Kobe (while dishing almost 4 times as many assists). Not bad.

In other years it’s not quite as dramatic, but still very good numbers.

- In 2008-2009, he averaged 28.2 points per 48 minutes, and 11.6 assists, good for third in the league behind only James (12.6) and Deron Williams (12.4). However, he committed 1.2 fewer turnovers per game than James, and 1.4 less than Deron.

- In 2007-2008, he averaged 40.3 points per 48 minutes, good for 8thin the league, and 12.8 assists, good for second place. He was assisted on only 16% of his points, better than anyone else in the top 10 scorers. He shot 50.8% from the floor, better than anyone else in the top 24 scorers other than Manu Ginobili. He shot 53% on 3 pointers, better than anyone in the top 29 scorers other than Durant.

That’s as far back as reliable clutch statistics go that I could fine. Needless to say, Nash is a rather clutch player.

Impact on teammates- the “Nash Effect”

Players are often complimented with the saying “He makes his teammates better”. But what does that actually mean? One obvious, and perhaps the most common usage, is that the player in question is unselfish and puts his teammates into positions where they can be most successful at what they do best. In the case of Nash, a point guard, this would seem to mean that Nash puts his teammates in the ideal position for them to score. This can be easily tracked, by looking at points per 36 minutes (account for changes in playing time), field goal percentage, three point percentage, and effective field goal percentage (accounts for a change in the number of 3 point attempts,) The following table shows the differences in players’ stats from their last year before playing with Nash to their first year with Nash.

Note that for players traded mid season I used their mid season splits unless the sample size was incredibly small. I only considered players who played at least 15 minutes per game, and I ignored point guards since they likely spent most of their playing time without Nash on the floor, so Eddie House (he played point guard his one seasons in Phoenix) and Aaron Brooks were not considered. Finally Josh Childress was ignored because prior to playing with Nash he played overseas for a few seasons.

Without further ado, the results.

Player
Difference in points per 36 minutes
Difference in FG%
Difference in 3pt%
Difference in EFG%
Shawn Marion
1.2
3.60%
-0.60%
4.60%
Amare Stoudemire
5.8
8.40%
N/A
8.40%
Joe Johnson
0.8
3.10%
17.30%
7.40%
Leandro Barbosa
1.4
2.80%
-2.80%
1.20%
Casey Jacobson
0.7
-0.30%
-3.50%
0.10%
Raja Bell
-1.4
0.30%
3.90%
6.80%
Boris Diaw
4.1
10.40%
8.70%
9.40%
Tim Thomas
0.5
-0.40%
2.00%
2.80%
James Jones
4.2
2.20%
-1.20%
1.30%
Kurt Thomas
0
1.50%
N/A
1.40%
Gordan Giricek
1.3
3.50%
-4.60%
2.70%
Shaquille O’neal
-1.7
3.00%
N/A
3.00%
Grant Hill
-1.8
-1.50%
N/A
0.60%
Jason Richardson
-2.6
4.70%
-2.30%
3.20%
Jared Dudley
2.1
1.30%
17.40%
6.90%
Matt Barnes
1.2
0
5.00%
2.70%
Channing Frye
2.2
2.80%
10.60%
12.90%
Vince Carter
-0.2
-4.80%
2.00%
-2.70%
Marcin Gortat
6.7
2.00%
N/A
2.10%
Hedo Turkoglu
0.3
3.10%
4.90%
5.70%
Hakim Warrick
0.1
2.90%
N/A
2.90%

The average increase in points per 36 is 1.2 points. Now while that could easily be attributed to joining a faster paced team, one must also consider that the majority of these players were joining a team with established scorers such as Nash, Marion, and Amare, in place, so that their scoring load took a back seat. Due to this, it’s obvious that points per 36 aren’t the best measure of whether a teammate improved, but regardless Nash had a marginal effect on his teammates point totals.

But what about efficiency?

Players on average increased their fg% by 2.3%. While that might not seem like a lot when you consider an individual player, it is quite telling when you have a sample of 21 players. For reference, when you consider an entire team, the difference between the 11th ranked Lakers (46.3% shooting), and the 28thranked Nets (44% shooting) was also 2.3%. So this number is quite significant.

But we’re just getting started. Nash’s teammates shot on average 3.8% better from 3. However this must be taken with a grain of salt since a large amount of this is due to the enormous improvement of Joe Johnson, Jared Dudley, and Channing Frye. The other players only improved by about 1%.

However, this isn’t the important part. Several players saw a drop (or a smaller than expected increase) in their 3pt% because of how many more 3s they were being asked to take. So let’s look at Effective Field Goal Percentage.

Nash’s teammates on average increased their EFG% by a full 4 percent in their first season playing with him. This is extremely relevant. In fact you can see from the chart that the only player who didn’t see an increase in their EFG% was none other than Half-Man Half-Amazingly Washed up himself, Mr Vince Douchebag (I’m a Raptors fan, cut me some slack).

Nash’s impact by now should be clear. However, there is always the argument that these players just improved when they came to Phoenix, and that’s the reason for their better production and efficiency. It’s a fair point, although to insinuate that nearly every player did this is a bit absurd. Regardless, it’s time to look at how they did once they stupidly decided to leave, or were traded.

Same notes as before, the player must have played 15 minutes with Nash, point guards are ignored, and mid season splits were used for players that were traded mid season. The only difference is that this time I will ignore Leandro Barbosa, as he was mostly a point guard in his last Phoenix season, and was also hurt for a large majority of that season and the following season (62 total games missed), so the stats might not be an accurate reflection.

Player
Difference In Points per 36
Difference in Field Goal Percentage
Difference in 3pt Percentage
Difference in EFG%
Shawn Marion
-1.9
-6.70%
-8.90%
-9.80%
Joe Johnson
1.8
-0.80%
-12.20%
-3.70%
Casey Jacobsen
1.8
-1.60%
-1.80%
-6.00%
Raja Bell
2.5
1.10%
-7.30%
-4.50%
Boris Diaw
2.4
-7.20%
6.20%
-4.30%
Tim Thomas
1.7
-2.10%
-4.70%
-1.80%
Eddie House
-2.4
0.60%
4.00%
1.40%
James Jones
0.4
6.90%
6.60%
10.60%
Kurt Thomas
0.9
0.60%
N/A
0.60%
Shaquille O’neal
-2.8
-4.30%
N/A
-4.30%
Matt Barnes
-1.3
6.40%
-2.40%
3.60%
Hedo Turkoglu
-1.4
0.80%
-1.90%
-1.80%
Jason Richardson
-7.4
-3.70%
-3.50%
-2.20%
Amare Stoudemire
0.6
-5.50%
N/A
-5.20%

So once again, some basic numbers.

On average, players saw their points per 36 fall by .4 points. This difference at first appears insignificant, until you consider that several of these players (Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire to name a few) left for larger offensive roles, and yet they barely changed their scoring. Regardless, I already stated that due to changing roles, looking purely at points per 36 is not the best measure.

So once again we must consider efficiency. On average players saw a drop of 1.1 percent in their field goal percentage. While this is not as significant as the 2.3% increase we saw when they first came to play with Nash, its relevant once again. The more curious thing with this section is that several players either saw large drops (Amare, Shaq, Marion, Diaw) or large gains (James Jones, Matt Barnes), whereas before the changes were more consistent across the board.

Players also saw a drop of 2.4 percent in their 3 point accuracy. While this was less than the 3.8% increase from before, it is still significant. As with field goal percentage though, there were several instances of players seeing large drops (Marion, Johnson, Bell) as well as some experiencing large gains (Diaw and Jones).

Finally, we look at effective field goal percentage. Players saw an average drop of 2%, which while not as large as the previous 4 percent, still means quite a bit.

So now let’s look at it all. Players saw an average increase of 1.2 points per 36 when they arrived, and a drop of .4 points per 36 when they left. They saw an increase of 2.3% in their fg% when they arrived, and a drop of 1.1% when they left. Likewise they saw an increase of 3.8% when they arrived, and a drop of 2.4 percent when they left. Finally, on average their effective field goal percentage rose 4% when they arrived, and dropped 2% when they left.

Let’s now define the “Nash Effect” as

Nash Effect = Difference in stat upon arriving to play with Nash – Difference in stat after leaving to play with Nash.

For example Shawn Marion saw an increase of 1.2 points per 36 when he arrived, and a drop of 1.9 points per 36 when he left. The Nash effect for his points is then 1.2 – (-1.9)= 3.1. The Nash effect for other stats can be calculated in a similar manner.

All in all, the “Nash Effect” resulted in an overall change of 1.6 points per 36, a field goal percentage change of 3.4%, a 6.2% change in 3 point percentage, and a 6% change in effective field goal percentage.

Now don’t even try to tell me that’s all a coincidence.

Defence

The biggest knock on Nash is his defence. It’s a legitimate blemish, Nash isn’t laterally quick enough to keep up with super athletic point guards, and he isn’t strong enough to handle bigger point guards. I won’t deny any of this, there is a litany of other guards that a team would rather have on the defensive end. My argument is two-fold.

  1. Nash is a very underrated team defender.
  2. Defence at the point guard position is not nearly as important as offense.

So let’s first examine team defence. Note that for all the following stats I used hoopdata.com, and for some reason it appears that they did not keep any data for charges drawn for the 2010-2011 season. Therefore, I will only use numbers for the seasons from which they have data, namely 2007-2010, 4 years in total.

Defensive Plays are defined as steals+blocks+charges drawn.

So for the 4 years in question, Nash averaged the following.

2006-2007- .75 steals, .8 charges drawn, 1.63 defensive plays per game, 1.5 fouls per game.

2007-2008- .65 steals, .42 charges drawn, 1.14 defensive plays per game, 1.4 fouls per game.

2008-2009- .74 steals, .72 charges drawn, 1.59 defensive plays per game, 1.5 fouls per game.

2009-2010- .52 steals, .46 charges drawn, 1.12 defensive plays per game, 1.3 fouls per game.

It’s not great, but I would never argue that Nash is a dynamic game changing defender because he isn’t. However, he is a very smart defensive player, let’s take a look at his defensive plays per foul committed.

06-07- 1.09

07-08- .81

08-09- 1.06

09-10- .86

So an average of .96 defensive plays per foul. Now this isn’t a stat you see every day, so we have no clue whether that’s good or bad. Let’s compare these numbers to some other star point guards (all numbers are averages over the last 4 years, except in cases where the player has played 3 or fewer years, in which case their career averages are used).

Player
Steals per game
Charges Drawn Per Game
Defensive Plays Per Game
Fouls Per Game
Defensive Plays Per Foul
Steve Nash
0.67
0.6
1.37
1.4
0.96
Rajon Rondo
1.88
0.19
2.2
2.4
0.93
Chris Paul
2.36
0.33
2.8
2.5
1.12
Deron Williams
1.1
0.38
1.72
2.6
0.67
Chauncey Billups
1.2
0.11
1.51
2.05
0.74
Tony Parker
0.83
0.14
1.1
1.58
0.68
Derrick Rose
0.79
0.14
1.2
1.35
0.89
Russell Westbrook
1.34
0.12
1.8
2.4
0.74

Observations:

Nash is far and away the winner in terms of charges drawn. He has 1.6 times as any as second place, 1.8 times as any as 3rd, and over 3 times as many as any of the other 5. He is only 6thout of 8 in defensive plays per game, but as stated Nash isn’t the guy who will make tons of defensive plays. However, he is one of the smartest defenders out there, shown by his .96 defensive plays per foul, second only to Chris Paul. Now obviously numbers are an extremely imperfect way of measuring defence, but I think we can at least say that Nash makes a noticeable defensive contribution without hurting his team with a lot of dumb fouls. He’s a solid team defender.

However, there is obviously more to defence than team defence, one on one defence is also important. The question I now ask is, how important.

Defence is half the game.

This is what most Nash critics will say. As a team, it is definitely true. As a point guard, it is not. Why? Because the amount that a point guard can impact your team defensively at the NBA level with one on one defence is almost insignificant compared to his impact on offence. How often do you see a point guard just try to break down the other point guard one on one in the half court? Not that often except against a choice few guards (Rose, Westbrook come to mind). How many times do they instead try to score via a pick and roll of some sort? Far more often. So really the biggest one on one responsibility of a point guard is pick and roll defence. But how big of a role does he play in this?

On any pick and roll, assuming the opponents run it well and the opposing point guard uses the screen properly, the defence has 3 real options.

  1. Have the screener’s defender stay on his man, and have the point guard go under the screen. This is used mainly when playing against point guards who are uncomfortable shooting distance shots off the dribble, since this strategy gives the point guard a wide open jumper off the top of the screen.
  2. Have the screener’s defender “hedge” quickly to take away the jump shot, giving the time for the point guard to recover on defence. This is probably the most common defence used.
  3. Switch. Have the screener’s defender pick up the point guard and the defending point guard pick up the screener. Most teams don’t do it too often since it generally ends with the offense having 2 mismatches.

So now let’s look at the point guard’s role in these different options.

In option 1, the point guard has to go under the screen and stop the point guard from getting to the rim after going around the screen. In this case the point guard is the primary defender.

In option 2, the point guard still has to recover, but since his teammate is “hedging”, the point guard has plenty of time to get back to his man. The effectiveness of this defence is dependant on how quickly the screener’s defender gets back to his man to deny an easy pass to his man for a layup. In this situation, the screener’s defender (generally a big man), is the primary defender.

In option 3, the actual screen is essentially useless, other than it forces the switch. The other team will then likely have 2 mismatches unless you have a Garnett/Ben Wallace type defender guarding the point guard, and even that might not be enough. However, since the opposing point guard still has the ball, this is the mismatch they are most likely to exploit. So in this situation, the screener’s defender is usually the primary defender.

So even in pick and roll situations the point guard is not the most important defender. And then when you consider that even if the point guard gets beat its not a bad thing so long as he has quality defenders at the rim to funnel his match up to. While obviously you would rather not need help, I think this demonstrates why a point guard cannot possibly impact the game on defence as much as other players, particularly interior players.

Want an example? The Spurs have been the best defensive team of the past 10 years. They were 1st in the league (in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions) 4 times, and near the top a number of other times. They started Tony Parker for the majority of this run, one of the worst defensive starting point guards in the league. Why were they so good? The answer has a lot to do with Tim Duncan and Gregg Poppovich and very little to do with Parker. Orlando was the top defensive team in 2010, they started Jameer Nelsom, a worse defender than Nash. The Bulls last year were number 1 in defence despite having an average (at best) defensive point guard in Rose. The Bulls in the 90s were consistently elite while giving huge minutes to John Paxson and Steve Kerr. On the contrary, The Sonics were 26th defensively in 1999 despite having Gary Payton who is widely considered the best defensive point guard of all time. And this wasn’t post prime Payton, he still averaged 22 and 9, made 1st team defence, and made 3 more all defensive 1stteams after that year. Why were they so bad? Because despite being a great defender, he just couldn’t have as big of an impact on that end as other players, such as Dwight who lead a top 5 defence last year with some of the worst defenders in the league at every position playing big minutes for them. Why? Because a center has a huge impact on team defence, a point guard does not. Nash has not played on a good defensive team in Phoenix, this has very little to do with Nash, and a lot to do with having lazy frontcourt defenders (I’m looking at you Amare) and a poor defensive coach.

I’m not trying to say that defence for point guards is irrelevant or anything. It matters, and if Nash were a Rajon Rondo level defender then his team would definitely be better off. But defence is not nearly as important as offence since the point guard cannot possibly have the same impact on that end. A point guard can help his team by being a good team defender, drawing charges, getting some steals, not committing dumb fouls, communicating, and giving it his all. Nash does these things, most of them very well. Now he is subpar to poor at other aspects of defence to be sure, but all in all, he is an underrated (note that I did not say good) defender when you consider a point guards role on that end.

I think we have now covered the majority of what he does well, as you can see it took nearly 7000 words and several tables. We will address the main criticisms of him in part 2, coming on Friday.

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5 Responses to In Defence of: Steve Nash (Part 1)

  1. Abagail Braddock says:

    John Stockton didn’t start til his 3 season if i’m not mistaken.

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  2. Pingback: Steve Nash Appreciation Day - Sun-N-Gun - A Phoenix Suns Fan Site - News, Blogs, Opinion and More

  3. PistonsAffiliated says:

    That is incorrect. Stockton didn’t become a main starter at the PG position until his fourth season. No matter, since it’s well accepted that Stockton>Nash.

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