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Is Steve Nash a Lock for the Basketball Hall of Fame?

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Is Steve Nash a Lock for the Basketball Hall of Fame?
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After 17 NBA seasons, has Nash done enough to make the Hall?

It happens to every player. 

Their skills begin to erode, their body starts breaking down, and before you know, it they no longer resemble anything close to what they were in their prime. 

That time has come for Steve Nash

Now 39 years old and entering his 18th NBA season, Nash barely made it through his first season with the Lakers, averaging 12.7 points and 6.7 assists per game (his lowest assist average since the 1999-2000 season) while missing 32 games with a leg injury. 

While Nash can still shoot the lights out (50 percent from the field, 44 percent from distance, 92 percent from the line), his days as an All-Star are seemingly done. 

Which brings us to one very important question: Is Steve Nash a lock for the Hall of Fame? 

Clearly he will garner some support. After all, the man has two MVPs to his name and is either the best or second-best point guard of his generation (Jason Kidd being the other in consideration). But is he a stone-cold lock to one day be enshrined in Springfield alongside a slew of basketball legends? 

To answer that question let's break down Nash's career, step by step, and see where he stands. 

 

College Career (1992-96)

It's no secret that college careers impact a players shot at the Hall. After all, it's the "Basketball Hall of Fame," not the "Pro Basketball Hall of Fame." And in Nash's case, his impact on the college game will surely help his cause.

When Nash arrived at tiny Santa Clara University in the Fall of 1992, there probably weren't many people predicting he would one day warrant Hall of Fame consideration. Nash was passed over by every other Division I school in the country, only being offered a scholarship to Santa Clara after then-coach Dick Davey saw his high school tape and was blown away by Nash's creativity and poise.

Nash's career at Santa Clara got off to a slow start as he averaged only 8.1 points and 2.2 assists per game as a freshman. However, Nash helped the Broncos advance to the NCAA tournament, and once there, they pulled off one of the greatest upsets of all time.

The 15th-seeded Broncos came from 13 down in the second half to stun the 2nd-seeded Arizona Wildcats, and Nash was right in the middle of it, hitting six free throws to help seal the win. It was only the 2nd time a 15-seed had won a tournament game, and it provided Nash with a seminal collegiate moment.

The monumental upset helped Nash take the next step as he improved his production greatly over the next few seasons. After averaging 14.6 points and 3.7 assists per game as a sophomore, Nash exploded his junior season putting up 20.9 points and 6.4 assists per contest. After a strong senior season, it was clear Nash had a future beyond the West Coast Conference. 

 

Early Pro Career (1996-2000)

If there's any knock against Nash, it's that it took him quite a while to take off once entering the NBA. Drafted 15th overall by the Suns in 1996, Nash spent only two seasons in the desert during his first go-round, averaging just 6.4 points and 2.8 assists per game over those campaigns. 

Phoenix was not impressed, and during the summer of 1998, Nash was dealt to the Mavericks for three players and a 1999 first-round pick, later used by the Suns to select Shawn Marion (Nash's future running mate). 

Once in Dallas, Nash became a starter, but the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 seasons still proved to be disappointments. 

By the end of his fourth NBA season, Nash had amassed career averages of 7.2 points and 3.8 assists per game, and not only did he not look like a Hall of Famer, Nash barely looked like a starter in the league. 

 

Becoming an All-Star (2000-04)

Finally, it began to click. With Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley by his side, Nash finally took the leap in 2000-01, just about doubling his career averages, putting up 15.6 points and 7.3 assists per game as the Mavericks made an unexpected playoff run. 

The next season, Nash made his first of eight All-Star teams, establishing himself as one of basketball's premier point guards and the Mavs as playoff regulars. 

Nash's transformation was staggering when you compare his first four seasons to the next four. Take a look. 

Time Period 1996-2000 2000-04
Seasons 4 4
MPG 21.7 33.8
PPG 7.2 16.5
APG 3.8 7.8
Shooting % 43.8 47.6

However, while the Mavericks routinely made it to the playoffs, they could not get over the hump while Nash was in Dallas. From 2001-04, Dallas made the playoffs each season, but just could not get past Western Conference powers San Antonio and Sacramento. Twice the Mavs lost to the Spurs, and twice to the Kings, despite Nash putting up very strong numbers.

During the summer of 2004, Nash became a free agent. During his six seasons in Dallas, Nash became the player the Suns hoped he would be when they drafted him in 1996. They attempted to erase the mistake of trading him by signing him to a six-year, $63 million deal. 

 

Mr. MVP Returns to the Desert (2004-2012)

When Nash returned to his original team in 2004, nobody could have predicted what was about to happen. Sure, Nash was an All-Star, but he was never an MVP candidate, and he was never the best point guard in basketball. 

But that changed really quickly. 

Nash transformed a 29-win Suns club into a 62-win juggernaut, one of the biggest single-season improvements in NBA history. He averaged 15.5 points and 11.5 assists per game, leading the league in the latter. He also shot 50 percent from the floor and 43 percent from three-point range, amazing efficiency from a guard.

Once in Phoenix, Nash teamed with up-tempo coach Mike D'Antoni to create the "8 seconds or less" offense. The premise was simple: put up a quality shot within the first 8 seconds on the possession, run the other team into submission, and tire them out by the fourth quarter. Here it is in action during the 2005 playoffs against Nash's old team: the Mavericks. Nash finished with 27 points and 17 assists.

In fact, 2004-05 marked the first of nine consecutive seasons in which Nash would have a true shooting percentage (a way to measure how efficient a player is with his shots) above 60 percent. It's  staggering number from anyone, and a ridiculous number from a point guard. 

Nash's amazing season, coupled with the Suns' incredible record, led the Canadian-born point guard to his first MVP award. Considering Nash had only made two All-Star games in his first eight years it remains one of the most unlikely MVPs in recent NBA history. 

And the most amazing part about it? He did it all again the next season. In fact, Nash was statistically better in 2005-06 when he averaged a career high 18.8 PPG while dishing out an NBA best 10.5 APG. For the second straight campaign, Nash won the MVP, becoming just the 11th man in league history to win multiple awards. 

Unfortunately for Nash and the Suns, it was also the second straight season they came up short in the Western Conference Finals, this time to Nash's old Mavericks team. 

As time went on, this became a pattern. Nash would put up staggering numbers, and the Suns would fall short come playoff time. Five times Nash led the league in assists, routinely coupling that with the best shooting numbers in basketball, but it wasn't enough. It never was. 

If there is a case against Nash making it to Springfield, that's it. Most of the all-time greats at the point guard position have at least one title to their name. Bob Cousy has six, Magic Johnson has five, Isiah Thomas has two, Oscar Robertson has one and Kidd has one. 

But we cannot be blinded by the bling. After all, it was never Nash's fault his teams came up short. In fact, Nash routinely played even better in the playoffs than he did during the regular season. Here are his career numbers in both.

Situation Regular Season Playoffs 
PPG 14.4 17.3
APG 8.5 8.8
Shooting % 49.1 47.3
PER 20.0 19.8

Nash basically traded a little bit of efficiency for more production, a common occurrence for superstars in the playoffs as they have the ball in their hand more often and are usually playing far better competition than they are in the regular season. 

 

Bottom line

When it comes to Nash's Hall of Fame case, there are two points to be made against him. 

The first, which we've already discussed a bit, is his lack of a championship. I'm not going to sit here and say that doesn't matter because it does. But let's not forget that the Hall is filled with players that came up a bit short in that department. 

Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Elgin Baylor and Karl Malone were all considered locks despite never taking home a Larry O'Brien trophy. And among his contemporaries, Nash can point to John Stockton as a point guard enshrined in Springfield that never won it all. 

While Stockton has the raw numbers (No. 1 in both assists and steals), Nash has him (and every other point guard) beat in terms of efficiency. No point guard in NBA history has shot the ball better than Nash, something that cannot be forgotten when it comes time to remember his place. 

The second case against Nash is the sluggish start he had to his career. Nash was basically a non-factor for his first four years, not breaking out until his age-26 season. 

However, Nash has been able to counteract that by playing extremely well into his late 30s, allowing himself to rack up some impressive stat totals despite his slow start. 

In fact, last season Nash passed Magic for fourth on the all-time assist list and should easily pass Mark Jackson for third this season (he's 85 assists shy).

He's also 77th all time in points, 40th in minutes played, 10th in three-pointers made, eighth in three-point field-goal percentage and first in free-throw percentage. 

So while it's true he didn't start his career playing like a Hall of Famer, he has made up for it by maintaining an elite level of play well into his 30s. 

When it comes down to picking who makes the Hall of Fame, the voters have a few things to consider. Namely, how dominant was the player's prime versus how good the overall body of work was.

When it comes to Nash, there are several other barometers that show that he has become a lock for the Hall. He has accomplished three things that have proven time and time again to warrant Hall of Fame enshrinement.

Namely:

  • Win multiple MVPs
  • Win at least five assist titles
  • Accrue 125 win shares (basketball reference win shares measures how many wins a player has helped his team accrue during his career)

 

As you can see, it's going to be a lot harder for voters to make the case that Nash doesn't belong in the Hall than it will be to make the case he does. After 17 seasons (and counting), he has done enough to join the all-time greats in Springfield, Massachusetts sometime around 2020. 

Even if he never gets that elusive ring. 

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