How Steve Nash Utilized Amar'e Stoudemire and What That Means for Pau Gasol
The Steve Nash/Amar’e Stoudemire duo in Phoenix became one of the most dynamic one-two offensive punches in all of basketball over a five-season span (six seasons if you count the 2005-06 season when Stoudemire played just three regular-season games, which I don’t).
Nash returned to the Suns organization in 2004 and utilized Stoudemire majestically in a Stockton/Malone relationship. Through pick-and-rolls and pick-and-pops, Nash and Stoudemire were not only as efficient as a ticking clock on offense, but they were also extremely fun to watch.
That’s not to say Stoudemire wasn’t already a great basketball player before Nash arrived; you don’t win the NBA Rookie of the Year Award by being a mediocre talent, after all. However, when we compare Stoudemire’s stats both before Nash returned to Phoenix and in the first year with the eventual two-time MVP, Stoudemire’s offensive efficiency is drastically different.
- Final season pre-Nash (2003-2004): 20.6 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting with 3.2 turnovers per game.
- First season with Nash (2004-2005): 26 points per game on 55.9 percent shooting with 2.4 turnovers per game.
Although Stoudemire was still scoring more than 20 points per game without Nash leading the way, his field-goal percentage with Nash jumped more than eight points. In addition, with a crafty ball-handler setting him up for easy open looks, Stoudemire recorded nearly one less turnover per game with Nash at the helm.
Stoudemire’s dip in efficiency without Nash can also be documented through his departure to New York. In his final season with Nash and the Suns, Stoudemire shot 55.7 percent from the field. In his first season with the Knicks, that percentage dropped to 50.2 percent. The former ninth overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft scored more points per game in New York, but he wasn’t putting the ball in the basket as efficiently.
Nash, without question, made Stoudemire into a better offensive player, but the relationship between the two was a two-way street. When Stoudemire left for the lucrative contract offer in New York, the Suns missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons after making the Western Conference finals in 2010.
Gasol fits the NBA prototype that Nash gels with most effectively. Much like Stoudemire, and even Marcin Gortat (I shouldn’t compare Gasol to Gortat, but you get the idea), Gasol is a skilled post player with athleticism, a high basketball IQ and the ability to finish at the rim and knock down mid-range jump shots.
For a player like Nash, who has all but perfected the basketball art form known as the pick-and-roll, playing alongside Gasol could be a match made in heaven.
Last season, Gasol admitted that being the team’s third offensive option was a tough situation for him, according to ESPN's Dave McMenamin.
Whose play will be influenced the most by Steve Nash in Los Angeles next season?
Being trapped behind Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum on the offensive end of the floor led to a down year for Gasol in which he averaged 17.4 points per game (the lowest of his entire career). Although Gasol’s “down year” would be seen as a terrific season for 90 percent of power forwards around the NBA, Gasol should expect to return to form with Nash at the helm.
Whether or not an unselfish Nash and ball-hogging Bryant can coexist in the same backcourt is a mystery. But the chemistry that could (and quite frankly should) form between Nash and Gasol would simply be more of the same in terms of a Nash-led offense.
Gasol should get plenty of offensive looks by being the prototypical player that works best with Nash’s skill set.
Although the Phil Jackson years of the triangle offense appear long gone in Los Angeles, embracing the court savvy of Nash with the post skills of Gasol could hearken back to the Nash/Stoudemire days.
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