The Four Quarters of Steve Nash’s Career
Part 2 of a 5-Part Series
Steve Nash has completed 16 NBA seasons, and over a two-week period I will post to Lakerholicz 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 2: The second quarter of Nash’s Career: 2000 – 2004
When we last left Steve Nash, he had just completed his second season in Dallas and his fourth in the NBA. They were four trying seasons – mediocre seasons at best – and there was no sense that he was improving with each year.
And then it happened. He broke through.
In the 2000-01 season, Nash was relatively healthy, and played in 70 games, starting in all of them. And his stats improved noticeably. In 34.1 minutes per game, he averaged 15.6 points and 7.3 assists. His accuracy improved, too, shooting 89.5% from the line and 48.7% from the field, and he maintained his sharp-shooting from distance, to the tune of 40.6% on 3-pointers. His overall improved play resulted in an equally improved PER of 19.6.
2000-01 also saw the emergence of Dallas’s Big Three of Nash, Nowitzki, and Michael Finley. Finley had been putting up good numbers year-over-year, but with the emergence of Nash and Nowitzki, the three of them became a tough unit to defend, and a fun unit to watch.
2000-01 was not just a breakout year for Nash and The Big Three – it was also a break-out year for the Dallas Mavericks franchise. It was the first full year under new owner Mark Cuban, and it was the season that Dallas ended a whopping 11-year play-off drought. It was also Nash’s first real play-off run. He had played minimal play-off minutes in first-round eliminations in each of his two years with the Suns, but in 2000-01 Dallas beat the Jazz 3-2 in the opening round before falling to the Spurs 4-1 in the second round.
Then, in 2001-02, Nash turned it up another notch. He played in all 82 games for the first time in his career, and averaged 34.6 minutes, 17.9 points and 7.7 assists per game. He showed great shooting efficiency as well, shooting 88.7% from the line, 48.3% from the field, and a whopping 45.5% on three-pointers. His PER was 20.7. He was named to the All-NBA Third team and made his first All-star game appearance. The Mavericks ended their season by beating the Timberwolves 3-0 in the first round of the play-offs, and then losing to the Kings 4-1.
To this point, Nash had improved for three consecutive seasons, but the 2002-03 season showed a very slight regression in terms of his stats. He played in all 82 games for the second season in a row, but in 33.1 minutes he averaged 17.7 points and 7.3 assists per game. He shot a phenomenal 90.9% from the line, but his field goal percentage fell back to 46.5%, and his three-point percentage fell back to (a still fabulous) 41.3%. His PER, though, was a very impressive 22.6. Nash was rewarded by being named to the All-NBA Third Team for the second year, and he also returned to the All-Star game, where he famously wore a “No war – Shoot for Peace” t-shirt to a press conference, a month before the U.S. invaded Iraq.
Perhaps most memorable about the 2002-03 season was the Mavericks’ magical play-off run. In the first round, the Mavericks went up 3-0 on Portland, only to see the Trail Blazers roar back to tie it 3-3, before the Mavericks won the series at home in game 7. The Mavs were then extended to seven games again before beating the Kings 4-3, but in the next round they fell to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs 4-2 in the Western Conference Finals. As this was the first year the NBA employed a best-of-seven first-round series, the 2002-03 Mavericks became the first team ever to play 20 play-off games without advancing to the NBA Finals. It was a wild run, but Nash and the Mavericks came up short in the end.
The 2003-04 season was another very good year for Nash, though maybe not quite as good as the one before. In 78 games he averaged 33.5 minutes, 14.5 points and 8.8 assists. He shot a remarkable 91.6% on free throws, and shot 47.0% from the field and 40.5% on three-pointers. He PER fell, but was still an excellent 20.5. Nash was not named to any All-NBA teams, and was not invited back to the All-star game. The season ended in disappointment for the team as well, with the Mavs being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Kings, 4-1.
And that brings us to the end of the second quarter of Steve Nash’s NBA career (so far).
Below is an eight-minute YouTube video that follows the careers of Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki – the first four minutes of it cover their time together in Dallas. There is a Nash-to-Dirk assist at the 2:28 mark that I had never seen before, and it left me shaking my head.
Nash’s statistics over the four seasons in the second quarter of his career show a substantial improvement when compared to the first quarter of his career:
(The chart will be completed in subsequent posts.)
After a disappointing first four years, Nash played incredibly well during his second four years. He went from not getting minutes and being booed at home to becoming an All-star – at least a marginal All-star.
On the downside, though, he was now 30 years old, and his greatest season to date was likely 2001-02, with the two years since then showing very slight declines. He had become a great player, but would he be great for much longer?
Mark Cuban must have been considering all these questions as he thought about what sort of contract he would offer Nash, who was about to become a free agent on July 1, 2004.
Look for my next post, on the third quarter of Nash’s career, in the days ahead. (This is when the story gets nutty.)