Why Did Steve Nash Defy the Odds?

Steve Nash’s Career Wins Produced
Team Season G GS MP WP48 Wins
Phoenix 1997 65 2 684 -0.004 -0.1
Phoenix 1998 76 9 1664 0.119 4.1
Dallas 1999 40 40 1269 0.034 0.9
Dallas 2000 56 27 1532 0.097 3.1
Dallas 2001 70 70 2387 0.193 9.6
Dallas 2002 82 82 2837 0.183 10.8
Dallas 2003 82 82 2711 0.211 11.9
Dallas 2004 78 78 2612 0.204 11.1
Phoenix 2005 75 75 2573 0.281 15.1
Phoenix 2006 79 79 2801 0.317 18.5
Phoenix 2007 76 76 2,682 0.340 19.0
Phoenix 2008 81 81 2780 0.273 15.8
Phoenix 2009 74 74 2484 0.232 12.0
Phoenix 2010 81 81 2660 0.277 15.4
Phoenix 2011 75 75 2497 0.283 14.7

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

Steve Nash Career Fouling
Year PF per 36 minutes
1997 4.8
1998 3.1
1999 2.8
2000 2.9
2001 2.4
2002 2.1
2003 1.8
2004 1.9
2005 1.9
2006 1.6
2007 1.6
2008 1.5
2009 1.6
2010 1.5
2011 1.3

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

Steve Nash Career Shooting
Year TS% 3P% FGA per 36 FTA per 36
1997 0.539 0.418 9.2 2.7
1998 0.556 0.415 12.6 1.9
1999 0.471 0.374 8.9 1.3
2000 0.601 0.403 8.5 2.0
2001 0.603 0.406 11.9 3.9
2002 0.602 0.455 13.8 3.7
2003 0.576 0.413 14.8 4.5
2004 0.590 0.405 11.6 3.5
2005 0.606 0.431 12.0 3.3
2006 0.632 0.439 14.5 3.8
2007 0.654 0.455 13.4 3.4
2008 0.641 0.470 12.6 3.2
2009 0.615 0.439 12.3 3.0
2010 0.615 0.426 13.3 3.0
2011 0.601 0.395 11.7 3.6

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

Steve Nash Assist and Rebound Career Numbers
Year RBD per 36 AST per 36
1997 3.3 7.3
1998 3.5 5.7
1999 3.2 6.2
2000 2.8 6.4
2001 3.4 7.7
2002 3.2 8.0
2003 3.1 7.9
2004 3.2 9.5
2005 3.5 12.0
2006 4.6 11.3
2007 3.7 12.2
2008 3.7 11.8
2009 3.2 10.4
2010 3.6 12.1
2011 3.7 12.3

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)

– Dre

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