Appreciate Steve Nash while he’s still a star


As the rest of the nation celebrates Super Bowl Sunday, Steve Nash will celebrate a not so subtle reminder that he is getting old.

You might not know it by watching the Suns on a daily basis, but Steve Nash is 36 today, an age at which no point guard has ever sniffed the kind of production Nash is giving the Suns this season.

As a 35-year-old, Nash has averaged 18.4 points and 11.1 assists in 33.7 minutes per game without missing a single contest. That’s 0.4 and 0.2 points behind his career-high scoring averages from his MVP years, which means Nash isn’t far off from becoming the oldest player to set a career high in scoring, and he’s just 0.5 and 0.4 off his best assist years. His PER (23.52) is even threatening his career-best PER season of 2006-07 (23.87).

Unlike stars in certain other sports who put up ungodly numbers as they aged with bodies that didn’t even resemble their rookie physiques thanks to some, ahem, chemical enhancement, Nash looks the same as he did when the Suns drafted him in 1996. The difference for him is that he’s evolved mentally into such a smart basketball player that he can practically run a perfect pick-and-roll in his sleep.

It’s insane to think that Mark Cuban was afraid to give a 30-year-old Steve Nash big money because of fears about how he would age. Instead of trending downward, Nash has played the best ball of his career (save for the first half of last season) since his return to Phoenix.

In this way, Nash reminds me of another Valley athlete whom we all had our attention focused on at this time last year: Kurt Warner.

Warner, like Nash, played at a Hall of Fame level at the tail end of his career for the Cardinals before retiring this offseason at the age of 38. Like Nash, Warner was no physical specimen, but nobody thought football better than him.

It was impossible to confuse Warner on the football field. He seemed to know what was coming before the defense even did, and the execution of his pin-point passing was legendary. His teammates knew if they would get open just a sliver, Warner would find them for a positive play.

Which NBA player could that paragraph describe as well?

Yep, you know it, Nash. Nobody reads an NBA defense better than Two Time, and if you give one of his teammates an ounce of space, MVSteve will find him for a bucket. Every game he makes one or two plays that are incomprehensible, plays that nobody else in the league can make.

Warner and Nash both achieved success in places besides Arizona, but it feels like Nash belongs to the city of Phoenix more than Warner does. Warner had the magical Super Bowl run last year and another fun season this year, but Nash has been doing this for six years in the Valley, not to mention the first two years of his career.

Nash also never achieved the kind of success Warner did in St. Louis by leading that franchise to a pair of Super Bowls, including one big victory. More of Warner’s greatness came with the Rams, whereas although Nash played a major role in putting the Mavericks on the map, his greatest successes have come in Phoenix.

Both players are also very similar in their efforts to help those less fortunate than they are. Warner, the NFL’s 2009 Man of the Year, has his hands in more charitable organizations than I can count, and the Steve Nash Foundation assists numerous underserved children in all aspects of life.

Warner and Nash are both genuinely good human beings who care about people and using their superstardom to make a difference in this world.

They are also incredible teammates. Warner has graciously taken his successor under his wing in all three of his NFL stops, and Nash is helping Goran Dragic develop into a quality NBA point guard. Both stars are so unselfish that teammates love playing with them.

As for the rest of us, I think it’s easy for sports fans to take the kind of performances Nash and Warner deliver on a daily basis for granted a little bit. They have been so amazing for so long that you just expect greatness whenever they step into the stadium.

Last year at this time we watched Warner loft perfect spirals to Larry Fitzgerald and last month we saw him shred the Green Bay Packers in a legendary performance. We will never see that again.

That’s why we need to appreciate the greatness of Steve Nash while he’s still playing at an All-Star starter level. He still has two more years on his contract after this one, but knowing how many interests he possesses beyond basketball, I expect him to retire then at the age of 38 just like Warner did.

Nash truly is a transcendent basketball player. In my book he’s the best pure shooter and passer in the league today, which he combines with a herky jerky game around the basket to make him one of the most devastating offensive forces in the league.

There’s a reason Nash has led the NBA’s most efficient offense for the past eight years and has the Suns leading that category again this season. In fact, entering today Phoenix’s offense was 2.6 points per 100 possessions more efficient than No. 2 Toronto.  The next 10 teams in that department are all within 2.6 of Toronto, so once again a Nash-led team is handily leading that department.

One day we will be telling our grandchildren that we were around to witness the greatness of Steve Nash, when his offensive efficiency is but a memory on YouTube (or whatever the kids will be watching in those future days).

So enjoy it, because just like Kurt Warner, Nash won’t be around forever.