Steve Nash is an outlier. At every point in his career he defied expectations. Despite playing terrible during his rookie contract Nash went on to be a star. Nash became even greater in his 30s. And somehow he’s still going! Jeremy Britton asked me a very interesting question, which I promised to answer in 500 words or less: Why did Nash defy the odds? Here are a few answers we can glean from the data.
Nash stopped fouling
|Year||PF per 36 minutes|
Nash has impressively gotten better at controlling his fouls over his career. As a young player he was quite foul prone. As he got older he got his fouls under control. And as a much older player he really learned how to keep his personal fouls low.
Nash got better at Shooting
|Year||TS%||3P%||FGA per 36||FTA per 36|
Nash was actually not a great shooter as a young player. And this was in spite of being a good three point shooter and good from the line. By his fourth season, though, he had figured out his shot selection, and since then he has consistently seen his TS% exceed the 0.600 mark. Additionally, in his fifth season he started taking enough shots to make his efficient shooting matter.
Nash got better at Rebounding and Passing
Nash’s shooting and fouling alone explain his improvement from a bad rookie to a good player. His final transition into the great player we have seen recently comes from the rest of his game
|Year||RBD per 36||AST per 36|
In 2005, Nash saw a small increase in his rebounds per game and a major increase in assists per game. This of course, coincided with him joining the run and gun Suns. Now an important thing to note is pace. The Dallas Mavericks with Nash had a pace of around 93-95. With the Suns it was around 95-96. This translates to 2-3 more possessions a game. While this can definitely help, on it’s own it doesn’t explain Nash’s massive improvement.
Putting it all Together
Nash has improved virtually every aspect of his game with time. He started with fouling less and taking better shot selection. Later in his career he improved his passing and rebounding. He also took advantage of his improved shooting by taking more shots.
In sum, it appears Nash is a smart player and does know what things help teams win in the NBA. And as a side note, he also seemed to post the biggest improvements right after contract extensions. It’s possible that this means that Nash only attempted to improve his game after he was assured he wouldn’t get dinged for it. If that’s true then the real answer to all of Nash’s improvement boils down to him being a smart player (it must be that extra year of high school in Canada)