Steve Nash’s assist record validates an evolved dinosaur

Steve Nash

PHOENIX — Records mean little in terms of success or failure. Moreso do they validate long-term presence. In the Phoenix Suns’ history books, Steve Nash’s franchise assist record that he broke on Wednesday night acts as another punch in his Hall of Fame ticket, but it also offers a perspective.

A dinosaur by age but not by the way he evolved to stand the test of time, Nash’s game should be appreciated for how it all went down.

“His body of work speaks for itself,” said former teammate Vince Carter. “I don’t care for how long you’ve been in the league, I think you have that respect for my man because of not only the things that he’s accomplished and is accomplishing at his age, but the respect that you have to give him for doing that.”

Early in his career, this was a third-string point guard starting behind Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson. Even when he was traded to the Dallas Mavericks, Nash took a few years to develop into a leader and one of the league’s better point guards.

Perhaps Nash’s metaphorical asteroid that could have destroyed his career was a series of injuries that left Mark Cuban thinking his point guard was about to break down. Of course, you know what happened next. Nash returned to Phoenix, won two MVPs and multiple times put the Suns on the doorstep of the NBA Finals. And he’s still going.

At 6,522 assists as a Sun and 9,441 in his career, Nash has the sixth-most assists for an NBA player behind only John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. In the franchise record-breaking game last night, he scored 30 points with his 10 assists, becoming the oldest player — he’ll be 38 years old on Tuesday — in NBA history to have a 30-10 game with points and assists. Only Nash (five times), Sam Cassell (two times), and Larry Bird (once) have done it at 35 or older since 1985-86.

“His preparation is second to none, at his age where he can come and lead the league in assists,” Carter said. “He really sets the bar high for a guy his age, for younger guys, how you can preserve your body and have a long-lasting career.”

This is a story of a once-in-a-decade type player. For all of the hype that players like Derrick Rose and John Wall receive, it’s nearly every year that John Calipari ushers another uber-athletic scoring point guard into the league. This is a story about a player that defines the ideal of the point guard position and is keeping it alive with a refusal to let age get the best of him.

It’s earned him a great deal of respect amongst his peers, and that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

“I’m happy for him,” said former teammate and current Mavs forward Shawn Marion before facing the Suns on Monday. “He’s one of the best ever to really do it. What more can you say? He can pass that rock.”

But what makes the two-time MVP able to churn out assists like they’re hotcakes? Is it the handles? The vision?

“You can say his vision, but you can say it’s his determination to not really pass it until he really had an assist,” Marion said. “It’s timing. He made sure it’s the right timing to get his assist.”

It’s arguable whether he’s yet to pass the torch on to the Chris Pauls and Rajon Rondos of the NBA. No matter how ugly this season gets for Phoenix, he’ll likely sit near the top of the more prolific passers in the league, all with a roster of less-than-ideal offensive weapons around him. A delusional optimist might say the Suns can still turn it around, and that’s only because of Nash.

“(It’s) his love for the game,” Carter said of playing with Nash. “He’s a leader … it’s just who he is. It makes you want to go out and play well for him because of that. I think he just demands that respect.”

That’s Nash. A dinosaur by age and a rare survivor of a harsh profession.