The Four Quarters of Steve Nash’s Career
Part 5 of a 5-Part Series
Steve Nash has completed 16 NBA seasons, and over the past two weeks I have posted to Lakerholicz an analysis of each of the four quarters of his career so far.
I am now posting the fifth and final entry in the series that addresses expectations for Nash as he takes his career into overtime as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Part 5: The Overtime Period of Nash’s Career: 2012 – 2015
Let’s start by re-examining the chart that we built over the course of the previous four articles:
1st Quarter (1996-2000) – Nash was a borderline NBA player
2nd Quarter (2000-2004) – Nash was a borderline All-Star
3rd Quarter (2004-2008) – Nash was a borderline Basketball Deity
4th Quarter (2008-2012) – Nash returned to being a borderline All-Star
So, looking ahead, what do I expect from Nash over the next three years?
Given the trajectory of his career as shown in the chart and summary above (below average, then very good, then spectacular, then back to very good), it’s tempting for some to say that the Overtime period of his career will mirror the first quarter, just as the fourth quarter mirrored the second quarter, forming a perfect bell curve with the third quarter being the high point – in other words, that Nash’s production will fall off a cliff in Los Angeles.
The problem with that perspective is that there are absolutely no warning signs that it is about to happen. He is healthy and strong in ways that most athletes are not because of his diet and the work he does on his core muscles with renowned physiotherapist Rick Celebrini. It’s not as though he’s in great shape for a 38 year-old – he’s in great shape for a 28 year-old. The chances of him falling, breaking a hip, and pneumonia setting in are very, very low.
Further, his only statistic that has been dropping over the last few years is points per game, but that has been a direct result of attempting fewer shots, which is likely the result of defenses focussing on him rather than his less skilled teammates during his final years in Phoenix.
So, I think it’s unlikely that Nash’s production will fall off dramatically during the next three years.
The most optimistic of predictions are that Nash’s highly-skilled teammates will allow him to return to the production levels of his MVP years (the third quarter in the chart above), as they will turn more of his passes into assists and divert defenses into leaving him with wide-open shots. But this perspective does not take into account the Princeton offense that the Lakers plan to run, which will place a higher emphasis on team ball movement, meaning that although Nash will still be the primary ball handler, he is likely to have the ball in his hands less than he is used to.
And so while I don’t think that Nash’s production is going to plummet, I also don’t think he is going to be a serious contender for MVP again.
So, what do I expect from Nash as he enters the Overtime period of his career with the Lakers?
I expect him to show only a modest decline from the fourth quarter of his career, and I expect that decline to be attributable to playing on a stronger team (which is therefore less reliant on him) as much as to his advancing years.
Over the next three years, I believe Nash will post the following averages:
72 Games Per Season – There’s no evidence that Nash’s body is breaking down, and thus no reason to think that Nash will miss more than a handful of games each year because of injury. However, Coach Brown is likely to be cautious and thus sit him out an additional handful of games each year, simply for additional rest.
30 Minutes Per Game – He’s going to be the starting point guard for the next three years, and so he’s going to play a starter’s minutes, but with a modest reduction due to his advancing years.
14 Points Per Game – Nash’s shooting has gotten better with age, and one can only imagine that defenses will be more worried about his teammates than they have been in the past, giving Nash ample scoring chances, which he will take advantage of in his typically efficient but modest way. Playing slightly fewer minutes will also keep his points per game from being higher than 14.
9 Assists Per Game – On the one hand, as Nash is a healthy, pass-first point guard on a talented team, it is tempting to predict that he will average 12 assists per game. But given that the offence the Lakers plan to run will have the ball in Nash’s hands less than he’s used to, and given that he will likely play slightly reduced minutes, 9 assists per game seems like a reasonable prediction. The Lakers should generate a tremendous number of assists as a team, but Nash’s assist percentage is likely to be lower than in previous years.
93% FT – Practice makes perfect, and so a 38 year-old Nash continues to improve as a free throw shooter. Although he is currently in second place behind Mark Price in career free throw percentage (with both around 90.4%), I strongly suspect Nash will retire on the top of that list. (The really scary thing is that I bet he could shoot 75% from the line shooting left-handed.)
50% FG – I am predicting a slight decline only because with Howard and Gasol in the paint I suspect Nash to have fewer lay-ups and more three-pointers in his shot mix than usual, which will be good for the Lakers but bad for his own field goal percentage. (50% is, of course, a fabulous shooting percentage for any guard, let alone a short one with what I estimate to be an eight-inch vertical leap.)
38% 3PT – Here I am actually forecasting a modest decline, mostly because of his back condition, which is called spondylolisthesis (which even my spell-checker doesn’t think is real a word). When his back acts up it most noticeably affects his long-range shooting, and here I admit to assuming that Nash’s age will increase the number of back flare-ups he experiences.
(Steve Nash Viewing Tip: You can be positive that Nash’s back is acting up if he shoots poorly in two consecutive games and then has very few attempts in the third game – it means his therapist has been called but has not yet arrived. Rest assured, though, that once Nash gets his treatment he returns immediately, and at 100%.)
19.5 PER – This figure would represent a slight decline from the fourth quarter of his career. Keep in mind that a PER of 15.0 is average.
So, the following chart summarizes my predictions, which call for only a modest decline in production:
I also think that, within the three-year Overtime period, Nash’s decline will be modest from year to year, meaning that his production in 2012-13 should only be slightly better than my projected figures above, and his production in 2014-15 only slightly less than the figures above.
And that leads to my final prediction, which is that I don’t think Steve Nash’s career will be over when the Overtime period expires in 2014-15.
I am feeling fairly confident that Nash will have another couple of quality years left in him, most likely as a back-up point guard mentoring a young superstar on a contending team. Yes, I think Steve Nash’s career is likely to extend into Double Overtime.
So, this brings an end to this five-part series. I thought I would leave you with an overly dramatic but still fun Steve Nash mix that I pulled from YouTube, to put you in the mood for the coming season and championship run: