PHOENIX — For the past seven seasonshas been the sun, moon and stars of the Phoenix Suns franchise, as Lon Babby so often likes to say about him, and this year was certainly no different.
Despite playing through a myriad of injuries that head coach Alvin Gentry said would have led most NBA players to sit out 12-15 more games than Nash did, Two Time put up the kind of numbers that are unprecedented for a 37-year-old point guard, especially before the All-Star break.
During the season’s first half Nash dominated to the tune of 16.8 points and 11.3 assists per game on 52.3-40.8-91.7 shooting. He also led the league in impact rating and adjusted plus/minus as of March 7.
The second half was a different story as a banged-up Nash gutted through that portion of the schedule by scoring 10.0 points and dishing 11.6 assists per game. His shooting numbers dropped to 40.6-35.8-88.6 while he attempted 2.3 fewer shots per game.
Nash played anyway because he knew that was the only way the Suns would have a chance at reaching the playoffs with teammates likeand relying on him so much. Frye and Gortat were assisted on 82.4 and 78.6 percent of their buckets, respectively, whereas Nash was assisted on a league-low 14.0 percent of his baskets since he’s always the guy creating the offense.
“I haven’t been healthy since the All-Star break,” Nash said. “I probably needed a few games off here and there before I got to the point where I had to take games off, and we just couldn’t afford it this year.
“I think last year the bench played great so I didn’t play as much and didn’t have any problems playing all the way until the end of May. I feel like I’ll be in better shape next year more prepared, and hopefully we’ll have a second unit that kicks butt like we did last year.”
Even with his second-half struggles Nash ranked second behind only Chris Paul in adjusted plus/minus, with the Suns 14.41 points better per 100 possessions. The last two years only LeBron James and Kevin Durant best Nash in this department, and I hear they aren’t bad.
The Suns’ plus/minus numbers as a team make the greatest statement about Nash’s value. Their only other players in the positives of plus/minus are — believe it or not –(1.09) and (0.58), and and Frye follow barely in the negatives.
The Suns scored 113.9 points per 100 with Nash on the floor, whereas without him they scored a woeful 101.6. Basically Phoenix’s offense was still very lethal with Nash at the controls but it was anemic when he was out.
The Wins Produced stat tells a similar tale as Nash produced 14.1 of the 38.9 wins credited to Phoenix’s players, a number within a slight margin of error of the 40 games they did win. By this measure Nash accounted for 36 percent of Phoenix’s victories, and only Gortat (8.1) and Dudley (7.6) are even above four.
“He’s the face of the franchise, face of Phoenix,” Dudley said. “We need him, he runs the show for us. Steve, without him, this team is in the lottery, top-five pick, so I’m glad he’s here.”
Babby even said that anybody who begins an analysis of the Phoenix Suns stating Nash is the problem rather than the solution is looking at things backwards, and from a basketball standpoint he’s 100 percent correct.
Despite playing the final two months hobbled Nash was still the Suns’ best player by far and without him I shudder to think where they would be.
The only problem is his birth certificate.
I genuinely believe Nash will play at a high level next season and potentially the two years after that. The issue is I’m not so sure the Suns can build a contender in that time.
I like that the Suns kept Nash this one season post-Amare to see what a new mix could do, but barring an unforeseen move it seems this group’s ceiling is a low playoff seed and a first-round upset.
At some point the Suns will need to rebuild, and at this time their most valuable asset by far that can help expedite the rebuilding process is Steve Nash.
In recent days, Nash once again reiterated his desire to remain a Sun.
At the conclusion of the season Wednesday night, he said, “This is my team. I feel like this is my home as a basketball player, and I want to try to get back to the playoffs with this team, try to build this team into a contender again, so it’s pretty simple. And there’s no guarantees. You can’t just go out and say, ‘Hey, can you trade me to this team?’ So it’s very abstract to think of what the alternative is, but that’s beside the point. I want to be a part of this team, and I want to try to take us back to the playoffs with these guys and hopefully be better next year.”
The Phoenix training staff — whose techniques involving corrective exercises and ensuring a weakness in one area of the body does not compromise another part of the body — is the ideal training staff for Nash, and following his divorce I’m sure he wants to stay close to his children. On top of that Nash is loyal to a fault and legitimately cares about this franchise.
Gentry and Babby both made it seem like the possibility of a Nash trade is unfathomable.
Before his season-ending press conference even began on Thursday, Gentry started by saying, “Steve’s coming back. He wants to be back and we want him back. So before you guys go ahead and start asking that question we’ll go ahead and let you B-roll that.”
Said Babby, “There’s no change in our position about Steve Nash. We see how we play with him and how we play without him, and so as I stand here today I just can’t imagine a scenario where he won’t be back. We want him back, we recognize his value here.”
With that being the case, it could make sense to extend Nash beyond the one year he has left at $11.7 million for next year, and both sides said they would be open to that. If this franchise does decide wholeheartedly it is sticking with Nash I would be in favor of an extension because the worst possible scenario is spending another year with Nash on the treadmill of mediocrity next season only to see him leave for nothing thereafter.
I understand that Nash is the kind of guy who would never suggest he wants to leave, especially with the previous season so fresh, and management loves him too much to intimate this early in the process that trading Steve Nash could be the best move for the franchise’s long-term health.
It would be tough for every Suns fan to swallow, and there’s no question this team would be much more competitive and fun to watch with Nash.
But for the long-term health of the franchise the Suns must see what they can get for Nash.
I understand the risks involved with trading for a 37-year-old point guard with a creaky back putting up numbers unprecedented for his age. I understand that not many elite teams need a point guard and that the teams interested in Nash don’t have the kind of package (high-upside young player and a lottery pick) that I would want for him (although that could be solved in a three-team deal).
But I also know there are plenty of teams that could use a player who just led the league in assists for the fifth time in seven years, a guy who is almost averaging a 50-40-90 for his career and a guy who is one of the most unselfish leaders of his generation.
Steve Nash has defined Phoenix Suns basketball with his frenetic style from the minute he took his shaggy locks to the Valley, and his seven-year run of elite offensive basketball rivals any player’s contribution in franchise history.
It would devastate everyone from Sarver to Gentry to the players to the fans, but at this point Nash’s biggest assist to the franchise could come from what it could get back in a trade for him.
Marcin Gortat will wholeheartedly disagree with that conclusion. He has repeatedly spoken about how much playing with Nash has opened up his game, and on Wednesday he joked that he would do just about anything to ensure Nash comes back.
“I’ll say it, everything starts from Steve,” Gortat said. “I really hopes he’s going to stay. I don’t know how his situation is, but I’m ready to give up my check for Steve, honestly. He can have my pants, he can have my BMW for driving around, he can use my apartment, I can bring him donuts every day for practice even though he’s not eating [donuts], I can bring a salad to the plane, I mean he can do whatever he wants to do, I’ll take care of him.”