The three players who’ve benefited most from The Steve Nash Effect – and why Kobe will be next

“The Steve Nash Effect” is a phrase that has come to represent Nash’s ability to make his teammates better. Whether a player starts out as a borderline pro, a solid NBA player, or an all-star is irrelevant. According to the Steve Nash Effect, if you spend some extended time on the floor with Nash, then a career year and a big contract are just around the corner. 

How exactly does Nash make his teammates better? Well, first and foremost, it starts with his core desire to make them better. For Nash, it is always about his teammates, and never about him personally. Secondly, though, Nash has an amazing ability to break down defenses and then hit the open man with pinpoint accuracy, setting him up for an uncontested shot – whether it be a 3-pointer or a slam dunk.

In reality, not everyone who has played with Nash has enjoyed a career year. For example, Dirk Nowitzki has continued to be spectacular long after Nash left Dallas. Also, time on the floor with Nash did nothing to change the general trajectory of fading stars such as Antoine Walker, Hedo Turkoglu, and Vince Carter. And even Steve Nash couldn’t turn Robin Lopez into a starting center in the NBA.

However, the list of players who have benefited greatly from The Steve Nash Effect is long. Here are, in my opinion, the three players who have benefited the most from playing with Nash:

#3: Channing Frye

Channing Frye had played four seasons in the NBA before joining the Phoenix Suns in 2009-10. During those four seasons, Frye made 20 of 70 career 3-point attempts – a 28.6% rate.

In Frye’s first year with Nash and the Suns, he hit 172 of 392 3-point attempts – a whopping 43.9% rate. Nash just kept giving him open looks and Frye just kept knocking them down, to everyone’s surprise, all season long.

That summer, Channing Frye signed a five-year contract with the Suns for $30 million.

#2: Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson and Steve Nash only played one season together. It was 2004-05, Nash’s magical first season back with the Suns, when he helped turn a 29-win team into a 62-win team in just one season.

In 2003-04, without Nash, Joe Johnson hit 30.5% of his 3-pointers for the Suns. In the following year, with Nash, Johnson shot a miraculous 47.8% on 3-pointers.

What’s more stunning, though, is that Johnson didn’t just hoist up a few long balls in 2004-05 to reach that gaudy percentage – he shot 47.8% on 370 attempts! While that percentage is the 18th highest single-season percentage of all time, none of the 17 people ahead of him took anywhere near as many shots as Johnson’s 370 – the second highest was just 245 attempts – not even close!

Like Frye would in 2009-10, Johnson kept shooting open 3s in 2004-05, and kept hitting them, but at an even higher percentage.

That summer, Joe Johnson left Phoenix and signed a five-year, $70 million contract with the Atlanta Hawks.

Although Johnson has played very well since leaving Nash and has become a six-time NBA all-star, he has never come close to replicating the 47.8% figure on 3-pointers. His second best season is 38.8%, and if you exclude his one season with Nash, his career percentage on 3-pointers is a very pedestrian 35.5%. 

#1: Amare Stoudemire

Unlike Frye and Johnson, who benefited from Nash’s playmaking by taking (and making) open 3-pointers, Stoudemire is a big man who benefited from Nash’s playmaking on the pick-and-roll, whether it resulted in a lay-up or slam, or an open 17-footer, which Stoudemire became increasingly adept at knocking down over the course of his years in Phoenix.

In Stoudemire’s first two years in the NBA, before Nash joined him on the Suns, he had field goal percentages of 47.2% and 47.5%. Those are not very efficient numbers for a power forward.

Nash joined Stoudemire in 2004-05, and Stoudemire’s field goal percentage skyrocketed immediately, and stayed high year-after-year. Beginning with that first 2004-05 season with Nash, his field goal percentages were as follows: 55.9%, 57.5%, 59.0%, 53.9% and 55.7% in 2009-10, his final season with the Suns. (These figures exclude the 2005-06 season, in which Stoudemire played only three games.)

The following summer, Amare Stoudemire signed a 5-year contract with the New York Knicks for $100 million.

In the two years since joining the Knicks, Stoudemire’s field goal percentages have fallen back to 50.2% and 48.3%. Without Nash to help him get easy looks, he has had to create his own opportunities, and has not had much luck with that.

Looking ahead to 2012-13

Of course, the real hope for Nash fans is that his new Laker teammates will benefit from his play-making abilities as well.

To my mind, the most likely beneficiary will be Kobe Bryant. For his career, Bryant is shooting 45.3% from the field and 33.7% on 3-pointers. These figures may not seem high at first glance, but when you consider that most of his shots have come out of double-teams with a hand in his face, you realize that they’re pretty impressive.

But those days are over. They are long gone. No longer will Bryant need to defy the odds with each shot he takes. Nash will always take what the defense gives him, and he’ll put the ball in Bryant’s hands only if that’s the smart play. As a result, Bryant will not get as many shots as he has in the past, but they will be of a much, much higher quality.

Something tells me that Kobe might be looking at a 50%/40% season, and both of those figures would be career highs. And, it’s possible that if Kobe is not having to work so hard to score then he will not be as exhausted during games, and this could actually improve his free throw percentage as well (which is already very good).

Could Kobe Bryant actually join Steve Nash in the very exclusive 50/40/90 club – a club that Micheal Jordan never came close to joining?

The answer is yes – Kobe has always had a great stroke, and this year he will finally have great looks, too.

Written by Craig Lawson

Craig Lawson is a Canadian who works during the day and enjoys writing about basketball at night (from the comfort of his wifi-equipped igloo). You can read all his posts at www.steve-nash-chronicles.com, and follow him on twitter @stevenashchroni.

  • JB!

    100% agree!