Examining the Perils and Positives of Steve Nash's Passing off the Dribble

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterSeptember 28, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 19:  Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball during the NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers at US Airways Center on February 19, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Lakers 102-90. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The late, great John Wooden was no fan of one-handed passes. During his time at UCLA, he emphasized the importance of making the fundamentally sound play whenever possible, which often meant keeping two hands on the ball and suspending the dribble when passing.

Then again, as saintly as the "Wizard of Westwood" may have been, he didn't care for dunking and actually preferred baseball to basketball.

Steve Nash wasn't always a basketball savant, either. He got his start in sports on the soccer pitch in British Columbia and didn't pick up basketball until his early teen years.

Judging by the way Nash plays now, he might've missed out on Wooden's teachings.

Few players in the NBA today pass off the dribble as frequently or as spectacularly as does Nash. Plays like this, jaw-dropping as they may be, are simply par for the course when Nash is at the point\, and figure to be a welcome sight for the Los Angeles Lakers this season:


Not that such pretty passes aren't without peril. Nash posted the third-worst turnover rate of any point guard who played at least 20 minutes per game last season, giving the ball away on 27.1 percent of his possessions (per Hoopdata).

Of course, it'd stand to reason that a pass-first point guard who was as responsible for running an offense with as subpar a supporting cast as Nash had with the Phoenix Suns would wind up losing the rock so often.

Still, there's plenty of reason for concern. Nash's turnover rate in 2011-12 was easily the worst of his Hall of Fame career, even though he posted his lowest usage rate since his days with the Dallas Mavericks and ranked just 38th in usage among 20-minute-per-game floor generals.

It's possible that Father Time is catching up to the seemingly ageless wonder. If so, the Lakers have some reason to worry—he'll be 39 in February, with a contract that runs through the 2014-15 season. Perhaps, then, Nash should stick to safer, more conventional plays as his body begins to betray him, as a means of cutting down on his miscues...

Or not.

After all, Nash's way has worked quite well to this point. He registered the league's second-highest assist rate at 78.4 and ranked second behind only Rajon Rondo in assists per game last season. Anyone who passes the ball as frequently and with as much flare as does Nash is bound to miss more often than most would. That's simply the price you pay for gems like these:


And yet, it would seem that most players would turn the ball over even more if they attempted dribble passes and one-handed dishes as often as Nash does. You can't have your cake and eat it too, though Nash comes awfully close to doing so in this regard.

The dribble pass isn't all flash, either. Nash's ability to pass off the dribble allows him to distribute the ball while on the move and keep his handle alive, thereby rendering himself a threat to thread the needle through the defense at any given moment.

Manipulating the ball in such a way may put Nash at greater risk of a giveaway, but it also keeps the defense on its heels more effectively than, say, a two-handed pass off a jump stop.

Who could argue with Nash's methods, anyway? The guy had the Suns in the playoff hunt until the bitter end this past spring, despite a roster that featured such "juggernauts" as Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley and Shannon Brown.

Think he'll enjoy sharing the ball with the likes of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard? He may not rack up quite so many helpers—what with only so much orange leather to go around. But, the time he spends with the ball in his hands figures to be that much more awe-inspiring.

Lakers fans have been pining for years for a player like Nash, someone who makes the game itself fun to watch, between the lines of wins and losses. Not since the days of Magic Johnson and "Showtime" have the Lakers employed a player as pure of passing acumen as Nash.

That being said, winning tends to trump everything else in Lakerland. Such is the way of any world wherein championship aspirations are the rule, not the exception, as they are in LA.

Wooden did plenty to establish that tradition during his days at UCLA. The game has changed tremendously since then, on all levels.

This makes Steve Nash's flashy passes not only fun to watch but also potentially pivotal to a new contending outfit in Purple and Gold.