Last season all the numbers pointed to Steve Nash earning an All-Star bid but one: the Phoenix Suns’ record.
Despite ranking near the top of all the advanced stats and scoring, assisting and shooting comparably to his MVP seasons, Deron Williams and Russell Westbrook secured the Western Conference’s backup point guard spots.
We will find out on Thursday whether a similar story will play out this season or if Nash will join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone as the only 38-year-old All-Stars in league history (not bad company).
What’s not up for debate is whether Nash is playing at an All-Star level. You could make it easy on yourself and just pop in the tape of the Suns’ last two wins in Atlanta and Milwaukee when he averaged 21 points and 11 assists while draining 17-of-25 shots (68 percent) and 6-of-8 treys while adding 3.5 boards per game for good measure. Oh, and he scored the game-winning bucket against the Bucks to boot on a little hesitation move that allowed him to evade the defense before banking home a runner.
Or you could do the dirty work and dig deep into the statistics, which make the same statement.
Starting with the basic stats, Nash is averaging 15.1 points and a league-best (again) 10.0 assists per contest while tossing up a 55.9-45.5-87.2 shooting line. He ranks fifth in the entire league in shooting percentage, a tenth of a percent behind Marcin Gortat, and the four guys ahead of him are all centers; Chris Paul is the only other guard in the top 23.
Of course, this is Mr. 50-40-90 we’re talking about so these scorching hot shooting numbers are not a huge shock, but in light of his shooting prowess perhaps it is surprising that he has only once shot better than 51.2 percent, when he knocked down 53.2 percent of his shots in 2006-07. Nash hasn’t shot this well from distance since his career-high three-point shooting season of 47.0 percent in 2007-08.
It’s amazing that Nash’s numbers look this good because in four December games he averaged 8.3 points and 7.8 assists on 30.8-31.3-100 shooting while fighting through a bruised rib he suffered in the season opener. Since then? 16.5 ppg and 10.5 apg on 60.6 shooting from the field and 50 percent shooting from distance.
Somebody check his birth certificate because a 38-year-old should be not putting up those kind of numbers.
By comparison, Nash averaged 15.5 and 11.5 on 50-43-89 shooting during his MVP year of 2004-05, 18.8 and 10.5 on 51-44-92 shooting during his MVP repeat in 2005-06 and 18.6 and 11.6 on 53-46-90 shooting during his career statistical season of 2006-07.
Advanced stats tell the same tale.
Nash has always been a plus-minus monster, and this year is no different with Two Time ranking fourth in the entire league with an adjusted rating that says the Suns are 22.13 points per 100 possessions better with Nash on the floor (unadjusted they are 11.04 better). No West guard outranks him.
Adjusted plus-minus is often seen as an unreliable stat because it is so variable year to year, but that does not apply to Nash. Since Basketball Value began tracking the stat in 2007-08, Nash has ranked eighth, 13th, fifth, second and now third, so the Suns being significantly better with Nash on the floor is neither a new development nor breaking news.
Nash has produced 4.0 wins with an elite WP48 of .278, according to The NBA Geek. That puts Nash ninth in Wins Produced despite missing a pair of games and in the company of potential West All-Star guards such as Kyle Lowry, James Harden and Ricky Rubio as well as starting point guard Chris Paul but only CP3 owns a better WP48.
Moving on to the Hollinger stats, we encounter more of the same. Nash ranks 11th in the league with a 24.03 PER, which trails only All-Star starters Kobe Bryant and Paul among West guards. The two-time MVP has never posted a PER above 24.
Nash ranks tied for 10th in the league in true shooting percentage at .648. He’s tied with a potential West All-Star in Harden but no other candidate is particularly close.
As usual Nash ranks among the league leaders in assist ratio (the percentage of a player’s possessions that end in an assist), sitting in fourth at 39.8. Jason Kidd is the only West guard ahead of him and he’ll need to buy a ticket if he wants to go to the All-Star Game. Not surprisingly, Nash has ranked in the top six in this department every year since his return to Phoenix.
Moreover, Nash ranks 12th in Value Added behind just Kobe, Westbrook and CP3 and tied for 11th with CP3 in Estimated Wins Added behind Kobe and Westbrook.
Nash rates among the elite in mySynergySports as well, as he ranks 50th overall by scoring 1.01 points per play but also is 11th at 1.00 in isolation scoring and 14th at 0.97 as the pick and roll ball handler, the latter of which makes up better than 60 percent of his plays.
The 38-year-old’s latest career season has convinced ESPN senior writers John Hollinger (who sees Tony Parker as an almost equally good candidate) and Marc Stein that Two Time should be invited to Orlando. Stein sums of his defense of Nash by writing:
“You could certainly presume that Nash — who turn[ed] 38 on Tuesday — wouldn’t mind having some time off during All-Star Weekend to recharge after dealing with the usual aches and ailments he deals with. But then it hits you that a weekend on the All-Star stage might be as good as it gets for Nash all season. So he needs to be there.”
Upon further review, a case could be made that 2011-12 has been one of Nash’s finest statistical seasons yet, a stance that also could have been argued last year at this time before injuries limited Two Time down the stretch.
However, All-Star Game spots (like MVP awards) are not awarded in a statistical vacuum and because the Suns still languish in 12th place in the Western Conference even after this three-game winning streak, a Nash selection is hardly the sure thing it would be if he were putting up these numbers for a contender.
It’s funny that if Nash doesn’t make the All-Star team it will be because his only consistent teammate has been Gortat whereas in years past he was surrounded by stars like Amare, Matrix and Joe Johnson, but really shouldn’t that count for Nash, not against him?
Having just turned 38 he’s putting up comparable numbers to his MVP seasons with Jared Dudley and Channing Frye as his chief running mates rather than the All-Stars of yesteryear, and for that Nash surely belongs on the All-Star team this year.