Steve Nash: The Man, the Myth, the Defensive Liability

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Steve Nash: The Man, the Myth, the Defensive Liability

I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter and debate recently, especially on B/R, aimed at Steve Nash’s true value and impact on the Suns since his second stint with the team beginning in 2004.

The discussion topics have ranged from his MVP trophies to his effect on the Suns to his defensive ability. I have always fallen on the side of the argument that views Nash as an elite offensive point guard and a subpar, nearly incapable defender.

Furthermore, I fall on the side of the Nash spectrum that has stated that his lack of defensive prowess and leadership is the primary reason why the Suns have proved unable to reach the NBA Finals.

For all of you Nash lovers and supporters who are going to flood the comments section with complaints and anger, this is not an attempt to knock Steve Nash's accomplishments in any way.

I am solely seeking to shed some light on how Nash is not, nor will ever be, a complete and all-around point guard.

A few things before I get started:

First, a majority of the statistical analysis and research I have done will not be posted in this article because it would take up a significant amount of space and deter the reader from the essence of the article.

Don't hesitate to ask if you would like to see my full list of statistics. I received almost all my numbers from Basketball Reference, and a description of each statistical category I have used in this article can be found on its website.

Second, all of the stats that I will be providing or speaking about, unless otherwise mentioned, are stats from Nash's 2004-2011 seasons with the Suns.

Third, I will attempt to be as objective and impartial at the beginning of the piece in order to make the reader aware of both sides. I'll lean on my own opinions in the latter part in order to get my point across.

Nash has been the face of the Phoenix Suns franchise for the past seven years. His combination of flashy yet fundamental passes and efficient scoring has been the foundation of his game.

Upon arrival in Arizona, Nash helped lead the franchise, along with Amar'e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion, to a 62-win season—an amazing 33-game turnaround from the season prior.

Seven seasons later, Nash has helped orchestrate five playoff runs, including three trips to the Western Conference Finals. He has averaged 16.7 points and 11 assists a game.

His efficiency from the field is almost unrivaled, shooting 91.4 percent on free throws, 50.7 percent on field goals and 43.6 percent on three-pointers.

He had back-to-back MVP campaigns in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons and has been selected to three All-NBA first teams and seven All-Star teams. The Canada native has steered the NBA's most high-powered offense of the 2000s.

Nash will probably go down as one of the top 10, if not top five, point guards in NBA history. Is this distinction justifiable, though?

When taking into consideration that the game of basketball is split up into two distinct yet equally important entities, it seems as if Nash has only been incredible at one of them.

Yes, the man's offensive exploits have been enough to override his defensive inadequacies, but why should we overlook that part of his game and hold him to a different standard than that of every other exceptional point guard in the history of the league?

Magic Johnson averaged over 19 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds a game. John Stockton had probably the most similar stat line to that of Nash with over 13 points and 10 assists a game.

The difference? Defense. Johnson was a major part of the Showtime Lakers defense with his length and athleticism on the perimeter. He also managed to lead the league in steals twice throughout the duration of his illustrious career.

Stockton finished in the top 10 in steals per game in 12 different NBA seasons, leading the league twice. He was also placed on five NBA All-Defensive second teams and is the all-time leader in steals.

Gary Payton, Jason Kidd, Isiah Thomas—I could go on for days with point guards who were stellar, or at least held their own, at the defensive end. Unfortunately, Nash is not one of them.

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Here are a few of Nash's and his Suns' defensive rankings over the past seven years (the first three categories are out of roughly 450 players, while the last one is out of 30 teams):

Seasons Category Average Ranking
2004-2011 Nash's Defensive Win Shares 203
2004-2011 Nash's Defensive Rating 388
2004-2011 Nash's SPG 87
2004-2011 Suns' Allowed PPG 27
2004-2011 Suns' Forced Turnovers 16
2004-2011 Suns' Allowed FG% 14

Nash has never finished in the top 50 in steals, never cracked the top 100 in defensive win shares nor placed in the top 350 of defensive rating.

The Suns have also been the worst defensive team in the league in terms of points allowed during the time Nash has been on the team.

There is no defensive statistical category in which either Nash or his team was in the upper echelon.

I'm sure a few of you have already begun writing a rebuttal detailing that the Suns' and Nash's statistics are a product of their up-tempo style of play, which allows for a lot of points scored but in turn scores more.

This is true, but it also translates to more crunch time and postseason losses, which brings me to my next point.

You cannot win a playoff series, especially those consisting of multiple "down to the wire" games, without defense. Your weaknesses are magnified and exposed throughout the course of a playoff series.

This is evidenced by the Suns' five playoff appearances and zero NBA Finals appearances. While a high-octane system is entertaining and profitable, it doesn't win rings.   

The argument that “he hasn’t had the pieces” to make a run at the finals is partially true, but Nash is definitely to blame.

He has had superstar pieces during his time in Phoenix. Nash was the fourth-leading scorer on the Suns during his first MVP season (2004-2005).

Shawn Marion (19 points and 11 rebounds), Joe Johnson (17 points and five rebounds) and Amar'e Stoudemire (26 points and nine rebounds) all put up significant numbers. The Matrix and Stoudemire were probably just as significant a part of the Suns' success as Nash.

He also had Stoudemire (21 points and eight rebounds), Shaquille O'Neal (18 points and eight rebounds) and Jason Richardson (16 points and five rebounds) for an entire season in 2008-2009.

Granted, Shaq was an aging superstar, but he still put up All-Star-quality numbers. The team finished with only 46 wins, though, and 27th in points allowed.

Both of these instances show that Nash had enough pieces to at least make a run at the championship if defense was prevalent.

Until Nash learns to play in a system that requires half-court-organized offense and defense, rather than glorified pickup ball, he will not win a championship, nor will he be considered one of the most complete and greatest point guards of all time.

Nash is one of the top five offensive, regular season point guards in NBA history. But he is not in the same category as Magic, Thomas, Kidd, Payton, Stockton or the like, who prided themselves night in, night out on leading the charge at both ends of the court.

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