Nash more than just a D’Antoni player

Posted by on January 1st, 3:22 pm

Nash's numbers are down with D'Antoni in New York, but that's because he has less responsibility under Terry Porter. (AP/Sue Ogrocki)

Nash's numbers have decreased with D'Antoni in New York, but that's mainly because he has less offensive responsibility under Porter. (AP/Sue Ogrocki)

Bill Simmons makes the point that Mike D’Antoni is “the Coors Field of coaches” and that Steve Nash is only “slightly better than Mark Price” but will go down as an all-time great because of D’Antoni.

There’s no debating that Nash and D’Antoni were a perfect marriage, as Nash’s skills fit the Seven Seconds or Less system better than any point guard on the planet.

We’ve known that for years, that Nash made D’Antoni’s system go (as we saw in the Suns’ record without Nash) and D’Antoni made Nash a two-time MVP.

Simmons makes the point that “only in basketball is the historical fate of everyone from borderline All-Star to borderline superstar determined entirely by his situation,” with Nash being the example.

But look at what Andre Ethier did when he had Manny Ramirez hitting behind him with the Dodgers, and think about how different Kurt Warner looks when his offensive line protects him.

And let’s not forget Nash was twice an All-Star and third-team All-NBA performer in Dallas, so it’s like he went from journeyman to two-time MVP.

In fact, Nash only averaged one more point per game during his four years under D’Antoni than during his previous four “prime” seasons in Dallas, but he did average 3.4 more assists per game.

The scoring difference is negligible, especially being that the Suns played a bit of a quicker pace than Dallas and Nash’s shooting numbers were up in Phoenix.

The assist numbers without question stem from the system, but it’s not like Chris Duhon is averaging 11 apg just because he’s D’Antoni’s starting point guard right now. Duhon is averaging 8.5 per game, numbers Nash well surpassed in the SSOL system.

That brings us to one of the questions that prompted Simmons’ column: why is Nash averaging just 14.8 ppg and 8.3 apg this season after his stellar four-year run under D’Antoni?

Simmons makes the point that those numbers are in line with what Nash averaged in his final season in Dallas. And although they’re down from what he’s done in Phoenix, who can complain about the 34-year-old Nash’s numbers being in line with his 29-year-old self?

Sure, I’d attribute some of the decrease to Nash getting up there in age and fighting injury issues such as the back spasms that have kept him out of most of the past two games. But also the Suns just don’t need him to be the same kind of point guard he was under D’Antoni.

Nash used to be the engine that made the system go, a vital cog that would result in the entire system blowing when he’s not around.

Now he’s more of a propeller, as the Suns still need him to run their best, but they have a Diesel to carry the load if need be.

That’s one reason why the Suns are 2-2 (and really 3-2 if you count the Oklahoma City game that he left in the first quarter) without Nash this season but a woeful 4-13 without him the last four years.

In years past the Suns needed Nash leading Amare and Matrix on a fast break and kicking it out to shooters like Quentin Richardson, Raja Bell and Tim Thomas for threes.

Now they can throw it into Shaq, throw it into Amare or have Jason Richardson or Grant Hill create something.

This brings us to Nash’s impending free agency during the summer of 2010.

Nash told NBC’s Graham Bensinger he has three intriguing options when his contract expires:

“There’s a few situations out there that would be attractive, so I feel fortunate that there could be some possibilities for me. One would be for me to stay here in Phoenix. I’ve had a great 4 1/2 years here. New York, obviously, is our offseason home, so we love the city. It’s a basketball mecca. Mike D’Antoni is there so there’s a lot of attractive variables. And then Toronto, to go back to Canada to play for the home team, so to speak.

“I feel good that one of those three could really be a really strong possibility. Like I said, Phoenix would be the natural choice, just because I’ve been here and enjoyed success here and really feel at home here.”

With their cap space and emphasis on that summer, I’d have to say the Knicks are the favorites to land Nash in 2010 at this point.

I’ve written before that I could see Nash doing what John Stockton did later in his career, playing less minutes in a decreased role, but New York gives him the best chance to do what he’s done the last four years in the system he’s done it in.

So did Mike D’Antoni change the course of Steve Nash’s career for the better?

Of course, but you can’t blame Nash for signing into the right place at the right time when no other point guard in the universe could have done what he did the past four years in Phoenix.

Michael Schwartz founded ValleyoftheSuns in October 2008 and is the owner/editor emeritus of the site. He is currently working toward his MBA in sports business at San Diego State University.

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Tags: Mike D'Antoni · Phoenix Suns Analysis · Steve Nash

16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 McLane // Jan 2, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Simmons is a jackass and he wrote a throwaway column. Nice work in putting something together.

    As I said, chicken and the egg.

    What people don’t realize is lots of players are “system” players. Take Simmons’ favorite Celtic, Kevin Garnett, for example.

    There’s a reason they won a title last year, and it’s because the system he was in allowed him to play to his strengths, rebounding and defense.

  • 2 eric // Jan 2, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Steve Nash, in many ways, is the modern day Bob Cousy. Both had great court vision, thrived in a fast-break system, and had high IQs. A true measuer of a great player is someone who can MAKE their team win, keep them together through tough times, and come up big in the clutch. With the exception of a few BAD turnovers in the playoffs (against san antonio) Nash has done all those things. Statistics be damned– They're the cause of selfish players. (but that's a rant for a different day)

    So now, onto his options: If Phoenix can throw their messy, but talented roster together for another title run, (and, God forbid, if they actually win or come close) then I like the SUNS chances of keeping Nash in '10.

    BUT, if the SUNS fall apart, then he has two options: 1. Sign with New York IF they get two star players to sign with them, enabling Nash to play distributor OR 2. if that doesn't work, just sign with another contender of his choosing.

    really though, I don't see him signing with Toronto. I think he's just blowing smoke there. They already have Jose Calderon (spelling?) and so I don't see a 36-year old Nash playing backup for a mediocre team that has no chance of winning the title. Bosh will probably bolt that summer anyway, Calderon will be in his prime, and what's left of Jermaine O'Neal isn't going to be enough… So yeah, screw the Toronto idea. I just don't see it happening.

  • 3 ed // Jan 3, 2009 at 3:07 am

    my mistake nash avg 10 assists in 05-06

  • 4 ed // Jan 3, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Of course simmons thinks this cuz were not in BAH-STEHN!!! Hes the worst homer in all of sports writing and doesnt even care. He also seems to overlook the fact since porter let the suns run again and put the ball back in nash’s hands hes averaging nearly ten assists again (which he avg in 06-07 under Dantoni) and doesnt have nearly the same scoring load with 3 20 pt scorers on the court with him. I wish he would actually do some research and watch this team sometime. Anyone who believes Nash is a product of a system (while it might have inflated his stats abit) is a legit tard and doesnt deserve to work for a company like ESPN cuz hes hands down the most talented point guard weve seen since magic. But since his uniform is purple and not green nothing matters to this guy

  • 5 ed // Jan 3, 2009 at 10:10 am

    he also seemed to be able to an mvp award when avg ONLY 10 assists a game that year

  • 6 itchandscratchy // Jan 3, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Duhon doesn't need to average 12 assists to prove that Dantoni's system produces numbers, the fact that he is averaging 8+ speaks volumes. Duhon isn't even a legitimate starting point guard in the league and now all of a sudden he has this spike in his numbers. Duhon couldn't start for any other team in the league. Watch Duhon's numbers come down to reality as soon as he is on another team.

  • 7 iggy // Jan 3, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    All you need to know about Steve Nash is that he’s all about team play and has been at the helm of the NBA’s most efficient offense each of the last ten years. It’s a team oriented statistic, that’s true, but it’s a Rodman/Wilt like statistical dominance that followed Steve when he moved from Dallas to Phoenix.

    The reason Steve is a 2-time MVP is simple: the first year he took an essentially unchanged team from 29 wins to 62 wins, his only competition was Shaq, the margin of victory was pretty slim and it could have gone either way; in the second year he won because the 4 players behind him split their share of the MVP vote fairly evenly.

    But lets be clear: what Simmons should really be complaining about is the poor quality of coaching and player evaluation in the NBA. That it took Steve 10 years to find a system that maximized his abilities, is a disgrace, and we’re all the poorer for it. I can only imagine how many years of greatness we would have seen if Steve had played for Jerry Sloan, Greg Popovich or Phil Jackson his entire career.

  • 8 Pinky // Jan 3, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Chris Paul could have done what Nash did in the D’Antoni years, maybe better.

  • 9 itchandscratchy // Jan 3, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Simmons didn’t say that Nash went from terrible to MVP, he said that he was a player that was slightly better than Mark Price and the system created numbers that made him a two time MVP. I have to agree. Price was a very good player and his numbers were 18 and 8, shot 40% from 3 and 90% from the line which is almost exactly what Nash’s numbers were during his 4 years at Dallas. Price was good but he wasn’t MVP good and so he never got any real MVP consideration. Part of the problem was that the played during a time when there were lots of great point guards but the other thing was that there were a lot of better MVP candidates. What Simmons is saying is that Nash then went to play in a system that inflated his numbers so much that it convinced voters that he was MVP worthy when he was pretty much the same player as before. Simmons doesn’t give Nash enough credit for winning games as the Suns did win a lot of games but so did Price’s Cavs and Stockton’s Jazz for that matter. The problem that I have is that he won an MVP and even worse, 2 MVP’s which should be reserved for some of the leagues best ever. Take a look at your own team and you can see what a farce his MVP trophies are when even Shaq has only won one MVP during his long amazing career. Kobe has only won one. Barkley only won one. Stockton, Payton, Kevin Johnson, and Isiah Thomas, all of whom were better point guards than Nash never placed higher than third in MVP voting during their careers. Simmons other good point is that Nash is an awful defender and if you only play one side of the ball then you shouldn’t get MVP consideration. DH’s dont win MVP’s because they don’t play half the game and niether should point guards that regularly get lit up by opposing point guards. If Nash played lock down defense and averaged less assists, I would consider him a more worthy MVP candidate. I like Nash, he is a great offensive point guard and is maximized in a system that emphasizes offense and shuns defense but he was no MVP worthy and never should be.

  • 10 Michael Schwartz // Jan 4, 2009 at 2:25 am

    I don’t think you give Duhon enough credit. Keep in mind he’s averaging almost 40 minutes per game, whereas he was mainly a backup playing in the 20s for Chicago. He’s also the primary distributor for the Knicks, with no Kirk Hinrich to deal with. Even with Hinrich in the same backcourt, he averaged more assists per 40 minutes as a rookie for the Bulls in 04-05, and his 8.5 a/40 this season are within two dimes per game of every season average of his career. That’s not to say D’Antoni’s system hasn’t made a difference in Duhon’s stats, because like with the Nash argument it clearly has. I’m just pointing out Duhon’s numbers haven’t blown up thaaaaaat much, and a serviceable point guard like him isn’t going to start averaging 11 assists per game and winning multiple MVPs just because he’s playing under D’Antoni.

  • 11 Pinky // Jan 4, 2009 at 3:20 am

    Itchandscratchy is right.

  • 12 Ivan // Jan 4, 2009 at 5:51 am

    Nash second MVP was more worthy than his first, I remember other players having better numbers than him that first year, but either they didn´t play enough games or their teams played poorly. I think that Nash winning that first MVP was in part because the voters saw an opportunity to reward a style of play that was not selfish, from a position that had not win since Magic (Allen Iverson is a shooting guard, he doesn’t create enough game for others to be considered a truly point, his numbers are awesome, but he is a 2G) and (I say it meaning no offence to anyone), because he represented a minority in the NBA that had no win an MVP since Bird. He was as worthy as the others mainly because in the pool of candidates there was not a single one that was leaps ahead of the others. I guess that now with the benefit of hindsight many people think that he should have not win 2 MVPs. But in his second MPV he did was the one candidate leaps ahead of the others mainly because his numbers were up, the others were down, and his team was doing better, it would have been against the logic and the principles of what is an MVP not to vote him MVP. Having said that, I do think he should have not win that first MPV, that should have been Shack´s, but his numbers were way down his average, and that’s the problem of numbers, they misguide you sometimes of what a players really means for a team.

  • 13 Irk // Jan 4, 2009 at 6:55 am

    How can someone without any D can win MVP award consecutively?..Kareem, Bird, Magic, Moses, Jordan, Russell, Duncan, Wilt … and Nash.. Look at these players and think twice..Is it really fair ? I think Bill Simmons got a point

  • 14 PC // Jan 5, 2009 at 4:21 am

    Its just funny how Gary Payton and Jason Kidd (among others) have averaged the same numbers for their entire careers as Nash's numbers in his best 2 seasons but they've never really been considered for an MVP – and yet Nash somehow has 2. In fact those guys have helped take their teams to the Finals which is further than Nash has ever been with Phoenix.

    Here's another point that is a touchy topic but it needs to be addressed. We all know David Stern is trying to steer the NBA's image as a hip-hop gangsta franchise into a "whiter" more wholesome one. I can understand why he wants this. I haven't heard of a business that didn't think catering to its largest market isn't important, but what I don't understand is the way its being done. OK, no street clothes or bling bling allowed on the sidelines – fair enough, but I believe politics had something to do with Nash being voted MVP TWICE, I mean what better way to attract interest from a country with 30 million people that really only care about Hockey – I know! We'll make a player from Canada a legend, a superstar, one of the best ever – besides we're tired of giving it to those black guys who can jump out of the building that we can NEVER relate to, lets give it to the little guy, he's a nice guy why not. I'll tell you why not, because it is an insult to Kareem, Bird, Magic, Moses, Jordan, Russell, Duncan, Wilt, and others who have defined the NBA. Its an insult to the the greats who play today like Duncan, Shaq, Kobe. But most importantly its an insult to the fans for trying to make them believe that Nash is nothing less than the best PG to ever play in the game but only had 2 decent seasons. I think an asterisks is in order. *

  • 15 EP // Jan 5, 2009 at 5:25 am

    I take issue with the idea that the Suns “don’t need Nash to be the same kind of point guard.” Which kind of PG do you mean? An MVP-caliber PG? You’re saying the Suns don’t need Nash to be an MVP-caliber PG? Is that because they’re doing so well they can afford not to utilize all their talent? The Suns are a middle-level team, not a contender. It’s true they have a different style than in past years, but if Nash is capable of MVP-caliber play this year, it’s ludicrous to say the Suns don’t need it. They need it. It’s just that Nash is not capable of delivering that kind of play. I’m afraid the Nash bubble has burst.

  • 16 DC // Jan 5, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Wasn’t Nash’s last season with Dallas the Toine and Tawn season?

    That Dallas team was built to implode: no D from any starter, a known poor-shooting shot-jacker who didn’t get enough shots to justify his existence on the team (Toine), a solid offensive player and rebounder who can play within any system but is an even worse defender than Nowitzki (Tawn), and the previous Dallas big three. All of them clamoring for their shots. That’s why Toine was sulking for most of that season and was pretty much batshit useless.

    There’s a reason why Nash ‘only’ averaged 14 and 89that season, and Simmons failed to take that into account in his argument. Before Toine and Tawn came into town, Nash was averaging 17 and 8 for Dallas, which is not much different from his stats on the Suns besides fewer assists.

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