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.