Steve Nash’s recent retirement is hardly a surprise. His body has failed him since he joined the Lakers three years ago, he has not made the All-Star team since 2012 and he has not made the All-NBA team since 2010.
So where is Nash’s proper place in pro basketball’s point guard pantheon?
Before answering that question, here are three career stat lines to ponder (the name of each player appears at the end of this article):
Player A: 13.1 ppg, 10.5 apg, 2.7 rpg, 51.5% FG, 38.4% 3FG, 82.6% FT
Player B: 14.3 ppg, 8.5 apg, 3.0 rpg, 49.0% FG, 42.8% 3FG, 90.4% FT
Player C: 15.2 ppg, 6.7 apg, 2.6 rpg, 47.2% FG, 40.2% 3FG, 90.4% FT
Nash led the NBA in assists five times (2005-07, 2010-11) and he ranks third all-time with 10,335 assists, trailing only John Stockton (15,806) and Jason Kidd (12,091).
Nash is the only player who posted four 50-40-90 seasons (50% field goal shooting, 40% three point shooting, 90% free throw shooting).
Nash’s strengths are his shooting efficiency and his playmaking skills. Defenders could not leave Nash alone at the three-point line and because Nash had to be guarded closely this opened up lanes for him to penetrate into the paint, collapse the defence and dish to open teammates.
Nash’s major weakness is that he was a below average defender. His teams scored prolifically but they also gave up a lot of points and even though this style proved to be effective during the regular season it did not work nearly as well in the playoffs. Consequently, Nash never made it past the Conference Finals.
Nash received back-to-back MVP awards in 2005 and 2006. He is one of 12 NBA players who won at least two MVPs (Mel Daniels earned two ABA MVPs and Julius Erving captured three ABA MVPs before also winning an NBA MVP).
Nash’s MVPs will forever be a source of interest and controversy. A good case could be made even at the time that Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant respectively should have received those awards.
After Nash moved from the Dallas Mavericks to the Phoenix Suns in 2005, the Mavericks replaced Nash with Jason Terry, advanced to the NBA Finals twice and won the 2011 title.
Nash and Karl Malone are the only players who won at least two MVPs and did not also win at least one championship. In fact, every two-time ABA or NBA MVP won at least two championships except for Steve Nash, Bob Pettit, Karl Malone and Moses Malone. Pettit and Moses Malone each had singular, dominant championship runs.
One could endlessly compare the supporting casts of various great players (Elgin Baylor, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing are three other great players who never won a title) but, no matter how you look at it, Nash is an outlier among the multiple MVP winners.
Nash is on the short list of all-time great point guards, but it is difficult to rank him ahead of Bob Cousy (an MVP who also ran the show for six championship teams), Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, John Stockton and Jason Kidd. All of those players except Stockton won at least one championship and all of those players (except possibly Cousy) were much better defenders than Nash.
The player most similar to Nash in playing style and statistics might surprise some people: Mark Price. He mastered ‘splitting’ the pick and roll during an era in which big men did not hesitate to knock a smaller player to the floor when he embarrassed them.
Price’s career was cut short by an ACL injury but for a brief period in the early 1990s he did for the Cleveland Cavaliers what Nash later did for the Phoenix Suns. Price led the Cavs to the 1992 Conference Finals, where they fell to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls much like Nash’s teams later lost to Kobe Bryant’s Lakers.
As some final food for thought, here are the names of the three players listed at the beginning of this article. Player A is Hall of Famer and Top 50 selection John Stockton, Player B is Steve Nash and Player C is four-time All-NBA team member Mark Price.