Steve Nash Can Lead Another All-Time Offense with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistSeptember 3, 2020

Steve Nash, right, greets Kyrie Irving on the red carpet before induction ceremonies into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018, in Springfield, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Steve Nash (yes, that Steve Nash) is the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets and a match made in offensive heaven with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

When the two stars joined forces last summer, it seemed as though the Nets weren't quite done building their title contender.

With KD set to sit out 2019-20 while recovering from an Achilles injury, the team had a year to solidify the supporting cast and coaching situation. And when Brooklyn parted ways with Kenny Atkinson in March, the second item on that agenda was bumped up.

On Thursday, nearly six months after Atkinson's departure, we got a Woj Bomb (to use the parlance of NBA Twitter) in every sense of the phrase.

Most breaking news comes with at least some degree of surprise. It isn't a stretch to say the Nash move is shocking.

The NBA's coaching carousel is generally populated with people who have had past head coaching experience. As recently as July, before they hired Tom Thibodeau, the New York Knicks were reportedly interested in Jason Kidd, Mike Woodson and Mike Brown.

For Nash, not only does he join the Nets without any formal coaching experience, there also wasn't even any smoke to this fire. For a team that rosters KD and Kyrie, one would think the rumor mill would kick up at least a few threads of speculation regarding this hire. There was nothing of the sort.

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The process that landed Nash in Brooklyn will come to light, but for now the focus is on what it means for the two superstars.

Nash may not have any on-the-bench coaching experience, but he spent much of his career around some of the NBA's best, most innovative offensive minds.

If you sort every team across league history by relative offensive rating (the team's points per 100 possessions minus the league average for that season), Nash is all over the top 20.

He was the starting point guard for the 2003-04 Dallas Mavericks (first on that list) and the 2004-05 Phoenix Suns (second). Then, he was a player development consultant for the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors (third). Altogether, he was involved with seven of the top 15 and eight of the top 20 offenses of all time (usually as the floor general).

JOHN FROSCHAUER/Associated Press

In Dallas, Nash played under head coach Don Nelson, one of the pioneers who brought us to today's brand of NBA play.

Nelson pushed for uptempo and positionless basketball as far back as the 1970s with the Milwaukee Bucks. He refined the approach all the way through his time with Nash.

"I wanted to coach a team that could run a fast break led by a forward," Nelson wrote of his so-called Nellie Ball. "But most of all I wanted to have all my best players on the court at the same time—regardless of position."

That approach makes sense for both the era and situation with the Nets.

It's 2020, which means positions are as close to irrelevant as they've ever been. And that's especially true with Brooklyn. A healthy KD can be a shape-shifter within Nash's lineups, naturally drifting between the forward who leads the break and a small-ball 5 when Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan are off the floor.

Kyrie could benefit from Nellie's philosophies as well. Nash was empowered to score and create in Dallas. And the two-man game between him and Dirk Nowitzki, which featured pick-and-roll, give-and-go and post-and-relocate heavy sets, could be the blueprint for an Irving-Durant partnership.

Those two could also benefit from the philosophy of empowerment Nelson impressed upon Nash. At one point, he threatened to fine his point guard for every game he failed to take at least 10 shots.

KD and Kyrie aren't lacking in confidence or a desire to shoot, but knowing they have a coach who believes in them to that degree could go a long way toward quelling some of the issues those stars have had with teams in the past.

Playing fast should suit them too. And few coaches are as synonymous with that style of play as Nash's during his second stint in Phoenix.

In 2004-05, Nash and Mike D'Antoni led the "Seven Seconds or Less" Suns to the best record and offensive rating in the league under a simple philosophy: Get the ball to Nash, let him make a decision and take the first good shot available.

In hindsight, D'Antoni wishes things went even more in that direction.

"To this day, mind you, even D'Antoni wishes, like Nelson before him, that he had forced Nash to be more shoot-first," The New York Times' Marc Stein wrote. "Almost without fail nowadays when I cross paths with D'Antoni and we get on the subject of the 'Seven Seconds Or Less Suns,' he'll crack that the rule should have been 'eight threes or more' every night for his point guard."

Again, Nash's new point guard, Kyrie, probably won't have to be pushed into taking more shots. Perhaps Nash's unique perspective could help Irving find a middle ground. Nash was unselfish to a fault. Irving may occasionally take shots when a little extra ball movement could get the defense moving and keep teammates happy. A meeting of their minds could unlock another level for the All-Star 1.

Finding common ground with KD should be even easier for Nash.

Just a few months into Durant's first season with the Warriors, Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News wrote that Nash and Durant had "established a bond over the last few years through individual workouts and long talks and who see the league, stardom, fame, the game of basketball, and the outside world in thoughtfully congruent ways."

"I trust his judgment on stuff," Durant said of the decision to consult Nash before joining the Warriors. "He's always kept it real with me."

Matt York/Associated Press

Over his three seasons in Golden State, KD became more of an enigma even as he won back-to-back Finals MVPs, but that desire for "real" interactions emerged in several interviews and media interactions.

Having that in a head coach who has worked with Durant since 2014, long before he became a Warrior, could preempt any potential chemistry issues between the superstar and his teammates.

He too can benefit from Nash's experience. Durant's game is different, but the 6'10", 240-pound star has always been known for bringing guard skills to a forward's frame. And Nash had as good a view as anyone of Nowitzki, one of KD's progenitors in the evolutionary chain of forwards.

Durant is 31 years old and coming off one of basketball's most devastating injuries. There's no way to know exactly how he'll look. If the Achilles rupture has slowed him a bit, there are elements of Nowitzki's game that could be incorporated more fully.

Patiently getting to his spot, deploying that one-legged fadeaway and generally working from the post a bit more could all serve KD well.

However he looks, the talent and trust in Nash possessed by Durant suggests his next act is one we won't want to miss.

With Durant flanked by a Kyrie imbued with a few Nashian tendencies, a developing Caris LeVert or Spencer Dinwiddie, the sweet shooting of Joe Harris and the rim-rolling of Jordan or Allen, Nash could lead more all-time great offenses.

He's done so as a pupil, player and consultant. Now he has a chance to do the same from the perspective of the legends who pushed him.