I could write a game preview relating to Kevin Garnett’s ball-tap, or Channing Frye’s logical comments about the ball-tap this afternoon. I could write about Marcin Gortat’s out-of-nowhere 19 points and 17 rebounds in the last Celtics-Suns meeting, or I could write about Mickael Pietrus’ annoying tendency (and I have no stats to support this) to murder the Celtics. I could write about Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, or I could write about something else I’ve spent far too much time discussing the past few days.
Or I could write about Steve Nash. Partially because he’s one of my favorite non-Celtics, and partially because he’s having one of the most severely overlooked seasons in recent memory.
The Suns, when Nash is on the court, are an obscene 17.2 points per 100 possessions better than when he’s off it. That’s partially due to the fact that Goran Dragic, Nash’s backup prior to the trade deadline, has taken a step back this season. But 17.2 points are 17.2 points, even if Grant Hill’s grandmother was Nash’s backup. For comparison’s sake, the Chicago Bulls are 4.0 points better with Derrick Rose on the floor, the Boston Celtics are 8.2 points better with Rajon Rondo on the floor, the New Orleans Hornets are 15.3 points better with Chris Paul on the floor, and the Utah Jazz were 8.6 points worse with Deron Williams on the floor (yes, you read that right). When reading these stats, please keep in mind: Mr. Nash is 37 years old. By most historical comparisons, he should have retired by now.
Instead, Nash keeps chugging along, dragging a stable of decent small forwards and — to use a Waltonism — the thinnest, softest frontcourt in the history of Western Civilization to within one game of the Western Conference’s final playoff spot (and, actually, the Suns are one game ahead of current eighth-seed Memphis in the loss column). Quick, name the Suns’ best big man. You said Channing Frye, right? Gross. Yet Nash has this Phoenix team, so flawed in so many ways, four games above .500.
The Canadian magician trails only Rajon Rondo in assists per game, and, per 36 minutes, Nash actually out-assists Rondo 12.2 to 11.5. While Rondo has earned a reputation as a poor shooter, Nash shoots 50.7% from the field, 38.2% from the arc, and 91.6% from the free throw line, while averaging 16.4 points per game — all of which puts him one slightly-extended hot streak away from joining the 50-40-90 club for the fifth time in his career.
Nobody else has ever accomplished that feat more than twice, and only four players besides Nash — Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, and Mark Price — have ever done it once. Yet Nash, 37 years old, is whiskers away from doing it again. As usual, he shoots such a high percentage while having to create almost all his offense by himself — only 12.5% of all Nash’s made shots are assisted. Contrast that to Ray Allen, another old man within shouting distance of the 50-40-90 club this season, who is assisted on 73.4% of his made field goals.
The Phoenix Suns, without Nash, would reside in the NBA’s basement alongside the Cleveland Cavaliers. Hell, they’d be worse than the Cavs. When Nash sits, the Suns get outscored by an average of 13.5 points per 100 possessions. The Cavs, meanwhile, get outscored by an average of 10.9 points per 100 possessions.
Again, I point out that Nash is 37 years old. Not that his accomplishments need a qualifier. For a man of any age, Nash’s numbers and play speak for themselves. He just should have slowed down years ago.
Maybe Nash didn’t deserve to make the All-Star team. Chris Paul and Deron Williams are terrific talents, and play (or played, in Williams’ case) for good teams. But Nash has been fantastic, in ways that Nash always is fantastic. Despite playing with a misshapen roster that lacked positional foresight, Nash has done what he always does, lifting Phoenix on his oft-spasming back while making everyone around him much better.
These oddly-constructed Suns could very conceivably earn a playoff berth, and that, in a career filled that has led to two MVP trophies, would be one of Nash’s greatest accomplishments yet.