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Steve Nash: The Most Unselfish Point Guard


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Steve Nash’s style of basketball is not something we see a ton these days in the NBA. Nash had a decidedly unselfish attitude toward the game. Traditionally it is the point guard’s job to distribute the ball, not to score points. Steve Nash took this philosophy to a whole new level. His first year in the league he averaged just over three points a game with about two assists and a field goal percentage of .423.

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In other words, he was shooting the ball well, just not often. Nash was a player who looked to pass first and shoot second. His coach at the time, Don Nelson, had a problem with this. It was his opinion that Nash could be a great scorer and so he encouraged him to shoot more. For whatever reason, Nash was not incredibly motivated to be a shot-taker so it actually took Nelson threatening to fine Nash if he didn’t shoot at least ten times a game.

Nelson felt that his team, the Dallas Mavericks, were actually doing worse because Nash wasn’t shooting enough. And sure enough, he was right. By Nash’s fifth season in the NBA he was scoring on average, 15.6 points a game. The interesting thing is that Nash’s shooting percentage didn’t change all that much. From .423 his first year, he went up to .487 in his fifth year.

It seems like Nelson knew what he was talking about. Simply getting his point guard to shoot more helped his young team propel forward into one of the best teams of the day. Of course, Nash had help from Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki. The three young stars formed a powerhouse trio for the Mavericks in the early 2000s. 

Nash Enters The Hall Of Fame This Year  

No one should be surprised by this. Steve Nash was an All-Star eight times in his career. He led the league in assists six times when he played for the Phoenix Suns. He even won the MVP award twice. Right now he’s third all-time for assists with 10,335. He’s only outdone by John Stockton and Jason Kidd.

And that’s just his passing. Just like Don Nelson thought, Steve Nash became a great shooter as well. Only two players (Steph Curry and Kyle Korver) have made over 1,000 three pointers with a better percentage. Nash’s all-time percentage is an impressive .428.

Someone like Nash who’s shooting ability is only surpassed by his ball distribution skills is rare in the NBA. Nowadays it is rarer still. In modern times a new brand of more selfish basketball, pushed forward by players like Steph Curry and James Harden has taken over. Modern superstars are more likely to be shoot first, pass second players.

Curry and Harden are not bad passers. But their priority is to score the basketball. They have no problem taking the ball down the floor and shooting right away before making any passes. This is why their points per game outweigh their assists per game. Last season Steph Curry averaged about 26 points per game with just over six assists. Harden scored just over 30 points with almost nine assists per game. As stated before, neither player is incredibly low in the assist column but it is easy to see what their goals are.

In the era of LeBron James, it is hard to imagine a superstar like Nash, who is known as a passer. Guys like James and the aforementioned Harden and Curry have changed the expectations of the game. It is not strange to have one player on a team scoring most of the points. Spreading the scoring around is not much of a part of the game these days.

What If Steve Nash Was Playing Now?

The change in the style of basketball being played nowadays begs the question that if Steve Nash was a young player starting out now, would he have become one of the highest scorers of all time? Nash’s career shooting percentage was .490. Last season LeBron James had a shooting percentage of .542 with a career shooting percentage of .504.

Yes, James is a bit better overall than Nash but not by much. Perhaps if Nash were playing in 2018 he’d be one of highest scoring point guards in the league. But that doesn’t mean his teams would have fared any better. A great passer is just as valuable to a team as a great scorer. So it is possible that Nash’s stat line might look different if he were playing nowadays but it is hard to say whether or not he would have won more championships or had more playoff appearances. 

Nash’s Beliefs Have Taken Him To The Hall Of Fame 

We can hypothesize about how good Nash would have been if he had shot the ball more. But what we do know is that he was one of the most effective point guards ever to play the game. It is almost comical to compare the number shots Steve Nash used to take with what is common today. For instance, he took roughly the number of three-pointers that low scoring/poor shooting point guards in the NBA take now.

But he’s gotten into the Hall Of Fame for passing. And that in and of itself is a feat. It may be many years before the games changes again and we see a player so well known for unselfish play.

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