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The Case for ... Steve Nash

Dec. 02, 2013
Dec. 02, 2013

Table of Contents
Dec. 2, 2013

SI.com
LEADING OFF
THE MAIL
The MMQB
COLLEGE FOOTBALL
  • AFTER USC AND FLORIDA ATLANTIC LOST THEIR COACHES, THE REPLACEMENTS—ED ORGERON AND BRIAN WRIGHT—LOOSENED THE REINS. THE RESULT HAS BEEN SIDESPLITTING SUCCESS, WITH COOKIES

WINTER OLYMPICS
THE SHOT
  • THE VIDEO OF KHALIL EDNEY'S LAST-SECOND BASKET WENT VIRAL NOT JUST BECAUSE IT WON A HIGH SCHOOL PLAYOFF GAME, BUT ALSO BECAUSE IT SHOWED THAT GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO PERSEVERE

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The Case for ... Steve Nash

Steve Nash will spend the next few weeks working out with Rick Celebrini, his physiotherapist-guru from Canada, and as Nash performs his inscrutable regimens of bends and stretches and twists, rumors of his impending retirement will swirl around him. With 39 years on his body and one year left on his contract after this one, he says that he has not contemplated hanging up his sneakers. But insiders say that quitting this season is very possible if his troublesome back does not heal.

This is an article from the Dec. 2, 2013 issue

Myriad assessments have already been made about Nash's candidacy for the Hall of Fame, with his supporters pointing to his back-to-back MVP awards (2005 and '06), a feat that puts him in the elite class of one-namers Russell, Wilt, Kareem, Moses, Bird, Magic, Michael, Tim and LeBron. Nash beat out Shaquille O'Neal in a close race for the first one, a popular choice. That was not the case in '06. Some thought runner-up James should've won what would have been his first MVP (perfectly valid); some thought that Nash wasn't a true MVP because he was mostly the beneficiary of Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo system in Phoenix (reasonable thought, though I don't agree). I voted for Nash in 2004--05, but not the following season when there were other legit candidates (James, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups) and no clear case for any of them.

Still, the second MVP award is a minor point in deciding the Hall of Fame question. From the 2004--05 season, when he arrived in Phoenix and jumped into the conductor's seat aboard the D'Antoni freight train, until 2011--12, his last with the Suns before moving to the Lakers, Nash was the most accurate three-point shooter (minimum of 300 games) in the league at 43.7%. Only two point guards, Billups and Mike Bibby, made more threes, and they were, to a large extent, combo guards. Nash's brilliance was that he was both pure quarterback and pure shooter.

Though he never seemed quick—more prober than blazer—Nash's accuracy forced defenses to push out on him, and so he was able to go around them. That provided him with the one valuable (albeit ineffable) quality of elite point guards: He got where he needed to go.

Nash compares with Hall of Famers Isiah Thomas and John Stockton, all three average-sized quarterbacks. (Nash is listed as 6'3"—he seems more like 6'2"—and both Thomas and Stockton are 6'1".) Nash was a deadlier three-point shooter. Stockton averaged 38.4% on his treys and never made more than 102 in a season, a figure Nash surpassed eight times. Thomas was poor from distance, averaging only 29%, partly, no doubt, because he got where he needed to go more easily than almost anyone else.

In the eight-year period that Nash was knocking down shots, he was averaging almost 11 assists per game. In much the same way as Stockton did in Utah, Nash was both producer and director of the Phoenix offense, without as consistent a finisher as Karl Malone. Thomas never dished like Nash or Stockton (9.3 assists for his career).

Nash, in my view, belongs just below Thomas and Stockton, but saying someone is not as good as Isiah Thomas or John Stockton is to say next to nothing.

There is more to Nash: The ice baths that helped ease the pain of his spondylolisthesis, a congenital back condition; the nuanced leadership in a Suns locker room that included moody Shawn Marion, capricious Amar'e Stoudemire and volatile Raja Bell; the ability to shoot and pass with either hand; the sometimes reticent, sometimes outspoken personality that gave him an air of mystery and unpredictability.

It would've been nice to see if a healthy Nash could've blended his talents with Bryant's in L.A., but that almost certainly isn't going to happen. What we did see, however, was quite enough to give the playmaker from Canada a place in Springfield.

LED NBA IN ASSISTS/GAME FIVE TIMES AND RANKS AMONG THE TOP THREE-POINT SHOOTERS

{42.8% for his career}

HIT A RECORD 90.4% OF HIS FREE THROW ATTEMPTS

BACK-TO-BACK MVP AWARDS (2005, '06)

HAS PLAYED 17 SEASONS

{An All-Star eight times, All-NBA seven times}

PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATEDFOUR ILLUSTRATIONS