The Four Quarters of Steve Nash’s Career
Part 4 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 4: The fourth quarter of Nash’s Career: 2008 – 2012
When we last left Steve Nash, he had just completed his first four seasons since returning to the Suns. These were spectacular seasons. He won the MVP in his first year back with the Suns in 2004-05, had a better season in 2005-06 to win his second MVP, and then had the best season of his career in 2006-07 (finishing second in MVP voting), before falling off slightly in 2007-08. They were four wild years if you were a Nash fan.
The 2008-09 season, however, was a turbulent one in Phoenix, as head coach Mike D’Antoni had bolted over the summer to coach the Knicks, and Suns general manager Steve Kerr had replaced him with the more defensive-oriented Terry Porter. It was not a good fit, and in February of that same season Porter was replaced with long-time Suns assistant coach Alvin Gentry.
During the turbulent 2008-09 season, Nash averaged 33.6 minutes, 15.7 points, and 9.7 assists per game – all great numbers, but slightly less than what Phoenix Suns fans had come to expect. His shooting efficiency remained excellent, as he shot 93.3% from the line, 50.3% from the field, and 43.9% from three-point land. His PER for the year was 19.5 – still very good, but the lowest it had been since the 1999-2000 season. Nash was not selected to the All-Star game or to the All-NBA 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Teams for the first time since 2003-04. The Suns finished the season with a respectable 46-36 record, but it was only good enough for ninth place. After eight straight seasons of making the play-offs, Nash was on the outside looking in.
Although the Suns had missed the play-offs, the feeling was that they were in better shape now that Gentry had taken control of the team, not because he was a better coach than Porter, but because he was a better coach for the players the Suns had.
And, in 2009-10, Steve Nash did bounce back from his slight decline the year before. He averaged 32.8 minutes, 16.5 points, and a league-leading 11.0 assists per game. He shot a league-leading 93.8% on free throws, 50.7% on field goals, and 42.6% on three-pointers. His PER rebounded to an impressive 21.6, and he recorded a league-leading 50.9% assist percentage. Nash returned to the All-Star game this year and was named to the All-NBA 2nd Team, disrupting the growing narrative that age was finally catching up with the then 36 year-old Nash.
Further, success in 2009-10 wasn’t limited to just the regular season. The Suns finished the year with a 54-28 record to return to the play-offs, and then went on a run, eliminating the Blazers 4-2 and then sweeping the dreaded Spurs 4-0. Nash had made it to the western conference finals for the fourth time in his career, this time to face the Los Angeles Lakers. The teams each won their first two games at home, before the Lakers won a dramatic game five, and then game six, to eliminate Nash and the Suns.
For those of you who have been Lakers fans longer than the four months that I have, I have included the TNT video recap of the very dramatic game five, in which Ron Artest went from being a zero to a hero in less than a minute (and Jason Richardson did the reverse in less than five seconds):
Two significant things happened between the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. Nash, who was a free agent after completing his six year contract with the Suns, signed on for two more years for a total of $22 million. But his pick and roll partner, Amare Stoudemire, decided to leave for the Knicks, who had offered him a five-year maximum deal that Suns owner Robert Sarver was unwilling to match. This left Nash in a tough spot, as he was now by some distance the best player on his team.
For the bulk of the 2010-11 season, the Phoenix Suns’ starting five was Steve Nash, Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Robin Lopez, and Channing Frye. During the year, Nash averaged 33.3 minutes, 14.7 points and a league-leading 11.4 assists. He shot 91.2% from the line, 49.2% from the field, and 39.5% from beyond the arc. His PER was 20.8, and he had a league-leading assist percentage of 53.1%. This was another very good season for Nash, but did perhaps show a slight decline from the previous year. Nash was not selected to the All-Star game or to any of the All-NBA teams. As a team the Suns fared better than most had predicted, but still missed the play-offs with a 40-42 record.
In the lock-out shortened 2011-12 season, the Suns starting five again featured Nash, Hill, and Frye, but this season it included Marcin Gortat and Jared Dudley. For the year, Nash averaged 31.6 minutes, 12.5 points and 10.7 assists per game. He shot 89.4% from the line, a very impressive 53.2% from the field, and 39.0% on three-pointers. His PER for the season was 20.3, and he once again led the league in assist percentage – again at 53.1%. Nash was selected to the mid-season All-Star game, but was not named to any of the three All-NBA teams. So, despite another very solid season from Nash, the Suns finished the year with a 33-33 record, which meant that Nash had failed to make the play-offs two seasons in a row.
And that brings us to the end of the fourth quarter of Steve Nash’s NBA career (so far). In fact, it brings us right up to today.
As can be seen in the table below, Nash’s statistics over the four seasons in the fourth quarter do show a moderate decline from the third quarter of his career in all categories except free-throw percentage:
Although there is a drop-off from the third to fourth quarters, what is unknown – and what is of great interest to Lakers fans – is how much of that drop-off is due to age, and how much is due to the weak teams he was playing on during those four years.
Finally, it is interesting to compare Nash’s fourth quarter (when he was age 34-38) to his second quarter (when he was age 26-30). On balance, the two quarters are similar, but I think his fourth quarter statistics are better overall.
Look for my final post in this five-part series, which will draw on the figures above to determine whether Nash’s performance will fall off a cliff in 2012-13, or whether Nash will experience a resurgence as he takes his career into overtime as the starting point guard of the Los Angeles Lakers.