The Four Quarters of Steve Nash’s Career
Part 1 of a 5-Part Series
Steve Nash has completed 16 NBA seasons, and over the next two weeks I am going to post an analysis of each of the four quarters of his career so far.
After that, I’ll post a fifth and final entry in the series that will address expectations for Nash as he takes his career into overtime as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Part 1: The first quarter of Nash’s Career: 1996 – 2000
With the 15th pick of the 1996 NBA draft, the Phoenix Suns selected Steve Nash from the Santa Clara University Broncos, to the dismay of Suns fans who didn’t know much about him. Nash had played four years at Santa Clara (and graduated with a degree in Sociology), and the Broncos had earned three trips to the NCAA tournament during his tenure (winning one game in 1993 and another in 1996); however, the Broncos played in the small West Coast Conference and received little national attention.
Below is a wonderful two-minute clip of a beaming and youthful Nash on draft day, when he’s described – glowingly – as “a poor man’s John Stockton.”
When Nash arrived in Phoenix he found himself buried on the bench behind Kevin Johnson, Jason Kidd, and Sam Cassell. While Cassell was traded midway through the season, Nash’s minutes remained modest. During his rookie season, he appeared in 65 games, but averaged just 10.5 minutes, 3.3 points, and 2.1 assists per game. His shooting percentages weren’t great either – 82.4% from the line and 42.3% from the field, although he did shoot an impressive 41.8% from beyond the arc. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER), an advanced statistic that attempts to measure a player’s overall performance, was a very low 10.8.
During Nash’s second year with Phoenix, 1997-98, Nash was more firmly established as Jason Kidd’s back-up at point guard. He appeared in 76 games, his minutes doubled to 21.9 per game, and his production increased to a still modest 9.1 points and 3.4 assists per game. His shooting percentages generally improved as well – 86.0% from the line, 45.9% from the field, and 41.5% on three-pointers. His PER improved but was still a very pedestrian 15.6. Though it was still a modest season by any standard, it was an improvement over Nash’s rookie season.
After Nash’s second season, though, he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for Bubba Wells, Martin Muursepp, Pat Garrity, and a first-round draft pick – who would later turn out to be Shawn Marion.
Upon his arrival in Dallas, though, Nash regressed, and had his worst season as a pro. The 1998-99 season was shortened by a lock-out, but Nash did play in 40 games. He recorded 31.7 minutes per game as a starter, but generated a lacklustre 7.9 points and 5.5 assists per game. His shooting percentages fell significantly as well: 82.6% on free throws, 36.3% from the field, and 37.4% from 3-point land. His PER fell all the way back to 10.9. If there was any consolation for Nash, it was that he wasn’t alone in being booed by Dallas fans – his new friend and teammate Dirk Nowitzki also struggled in his rookie year.
How bad was the 1998-99 season? Here is Nash, in September 2012, reminiscing:
As a basketball fan, you know this story is going to get better at some point, but I’m afraid it didn’t happen during Nash’s second year in Dallas. In the year 1999-2000, Nash’s fourth NBA season, he battled injuries and played in only 56 games. What’s remarkable, though, is that he started only 27 of those games, as he battled Robert Pack for the starting job! Think about that – after a full four years in college, and in his fourth season as a pro, Steve Nash was battling Robert Pack to be the starting point guard on a bad Dallas Mavericks team.
During that 1999-2000 season, Nash’s minutes fell to only 27.4 per game, and he recorded only 8.6 points and 4.9 assists per game. His shooting percentages, though, did improve from his lows a year earlier, shooting 88.2% from the line, 47.7% from the field, and 40.3% from distance. His PER improved, but was still only 13.5. Meanwhile, the draft pick that he had been traded for was having a very nice season back in Phoenix – Shawn Marion averaged 10.2 points and 6.5 rebounds as a rookie during 1999-2000. The fans in Dallas were not impressed with Steve Nash.
At least not in the summer of 2000.
And that brings us to the end of the first quarter of Steve Nash’s NBA career (so far):
Nash’s statistics over those four seasons in the first quarter of his career are very unimpressive:
(The chart will be completed in subsequent posts.)
And remember that Nash did not enter the league at a young age – he was a 22 year-old rookie. Looking back, I don’t think he suffered from a lack of opportunity. It is true that he did play through injuries during his first two years in Dallas, but I don’t think that was the main reason for his underwhelming performance.
I just think he wasn’t an especially good basketball player – yet.
Look for my next post, on the second quarter of Nash’s career, in the days ahead. (Spoiler Alert: The second quarter is when the story starts to get better.)