The Four Quarters of Steve Nash’s Career
Part 3 of a 5-Part Series
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 3: The third quarter of Nash’s Career: 2004 – 2008
When we last left Steve Nash, he had just completed his sixth season in Dallas and his eighth in the NBA. His most recent four seasons were very good, and included two all-star game appearances and twice being named to the All-NBA third team. Further, his stats improved significantly in all categories from the first quarter of his career.
Now he was a free agent. What would Mark Cuban offer him?
Cuban, perhaps rightfully, wanted to build the Mavericks around Dirk Nowitzki. He was also worried about how Nash’s body would hold up given his frenetic playing style, and may have wondered whether Nash had already plateaued, given that his best season in Dallas, if only marginally, had been three years earlier. And so Cuban offered Nash a seemingly reasonable four-year contract worth roughly $36 million.
Unfortunately for Cuban, the Phoenix Suns saw something in Nash that Cuban did not, and offered him a six-year contract worth roughly $63 million, which admittedly seemed like a lot at the time, especially given that Nash was already 30. Nash called Cuban and gave him a chance to increase his offer. Cuban passed. And Steve Nash was once again a member of the Phoenix Suns.
In 2004-05, Nash’s first year back in Phoenix, he started alongside Quentin Richardson, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion, and Amare Stoudemire. During that magical season, Nash averaged 34.3 minutes, 15.5 points and a league-leading 11.5 assists per game. He shot 88.7% on free-throws, 50.2% from the field, and 43.1% from behind the arc. His PER was 22.0.
Nash had taken a moribund Phoenix Suns team that had finished 29-53 the year before and turned them into an up-tempo, run-and-gun, fun-to-watch team with a record of 62-20 – a 33-game turnaround in one season! The Suns led the league with 110.4 points per game, far outpacing the Sacramento Kings, who were the second highest scoring team at 103.7 points per game.
Steve Nash was rewarded by being named league MVP.
The Suns started the play-offs with a bang, beating Memphis 4-0, and then they beat Nash’s old team, the Mavericks, 4-2.
In the close-out game against Dallas, Nash scored 39 points on 58.3% shooting and added 12 assists and nine rebounds. His three-pointer that tied the game and sent it into overtime is probably my favourite Steve Nash moment of his career so far – I was even cheering aloud as I watched the video below last night. If you have seven minutes, you should watch this video dedicated to recapping Nash’s magical game:
Sadly, the Suns lost the Western Conference Final 4-1 to the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs. Joe Johnson had been lost due to injury earlier in the Mavericks series, and the Suns weren’t left with enough talent to beat the Spurs.
In 2005-06, Nash had an even more spectacular season than he had in 2004-05. Joe Johnson had bolted for more money in Atlanta. Amare Stoudemire underwent microfracture surgery and played in only three games that year. The Suns starting line-up that year – honestly, I’m not making this up – was Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and James Jones, with Leandro Barbosa, Eddie House, and Kurt Thomas being the biggest contributors off the bench. On paper, this team should not have made the play-offs.
What kind of a year did Nash and the Suns have in 2005-06? Nash averaged 35.4 minutes, 18.8 points, and a league-leading 10.5 assists per game. He shot a league leading 92.1% from the line, 51.2% from the field, and 43.9% on three-pointers. His PER was 23.3. And he led the league in both true shooting percentage at 63.2%, and in assist percentage, at 44.4%. Most impressively, he led that diminutive roster to a record of 54-28.
Nash was rewarded with his second MVP in a row. The voters really had little choice – they had given him the MVP in 2004-05, and in 2005-06 he played even better, and on a much less talented team.
And the wild ride continued into the 2005-06 play-offs. The Suns eliminated the Lakers 4-3, and then eliminated the Clippers 4-3, but then fell to the Mavericks 4-2. For the second time, a Steve Nash team had played 20 play-off games without making it to the NBA finals.
As hard as it is to believe, on the heels of two MVP seasons, I think that 2006-07 has been Nash’s greatest season to date. In 2006-07, Nash averaged 35.3 minutes, 18.6 points, and a league-leading 11.6 assists per game. He shot 89.9% from the line, a monstrous (for a point guard) 53.2% from the field, and a whopping 45.5% on threes. His PER was 23.8, and he led the league in true shooting percentage at 65.4%, effective field-goal percentage at 61.3%, and assist percentage at 50.1%. The Suns, with Stoudemire back, finished 61-21.
Let’s face it, Steve Nash outdid himself again – 2006-07 was better than 2005-06, which was better than 2004-05. However, he was not rewarded with his third MVP – instead, he finished a fairly close second in voting to his good friend Dirk Nowitzki. I am sure Nash was happy for Dirk.
In the 2006-07 play-offs, the Suns beat the Lakers 4-1, before falling to the eventual champion Spurs 4-2.
But I can’t just breeze past that Spurs series without adding this: That one series included Nash’s bloody nose after colliding with Parker, Bruce Bowen kneeing Nash in the groin, and Robert Horry hip-checking Nash into the scorers’ table, which led to the devastating suspensions of Boris Diaw and Amare Stoudemire. This series was a nightmare for Phoenix Suns fans (disgraced referee Tim Donaghy even officiated the Suns loss in game three!), and yet at the same time really highlighted to the basketball world what a competitor Nash is.
It is fair to say that the 2007-08 season showed a slight drop-off for Nash, after having improved for three consecutive seasons. Still, it was another spectacular season for him. Nash averaged 34.3 minutes, 16.9 points and 11.1 assists per game. He shot 90.6% from the line, 50.4% from the floor, and a stunning 47.0% from 3-point land. His PER was 21.1. However, the Suns were eliminated in the first round of the play-offs, falling 4-1 to the Spurs. Nash was named 2nd-Team NBA, after having been named 1st-Team NBA for three consecutive seasons.
And that brings us to the end of the third quarter of Steve Nash’s NBA career (so far).
Nash’s statistics over the four seasons in the third quarter of his career show a substantial improvement when compared to the second quarter of his career (which had shown a substantial improvement over the first quarter of his career):
In looking at the improvement in the third quarter of his career over the second quarter, what really stands out are the assists per game and his shooting percentages. During these years Nash began to go out of his way to set up his teammates, and at the same time improved his own shot selection.
It is staggering not just that Nash improved in every statistical category from the first quarter of his career to the second quarter of his career, and then improved again in every statistical category from the second quarter of his career to the third quarter. What is even more staggering, is that if you’ve read the two earlier posts in this series you’ll see that his best year in the first quarter of his career wasn`t nearly as good as the worst year in the second quarter of his career, and the best year in the second quarter of his career was not nearly as good as the worst year in the third quarter of this career. Nutty!
So, how did Nash go from below average at age 26 to very good at age 30 to phenomenal at age 34? That’s another article. But there’s no denying he was a late-bloomer.
Look for my next post, on the fourth quarter of Nash’s career, in the days ahead.