By Chris Le
It all began in the 2005 NBA season — that was when my hatred for Steve Nash was born.
I was absolutely fine with him throughout his stint with the Dallas Mavericks, as I believed his accolades accurately portrayed his play, but his move to the Phoenix Suns completely changed the world’s view of the Canadian point guard from Santa Clara. In that 2005 season, leading a young Suns team to the best record in the NBA, Nash was elevated into the upper-echelon of the league’s best and, in my opinion, undeservingly recognized as the Most Valuable Player.
It didn’t stop there. The praise only became more effusive the following year, in which Nash guided his team to a 3-seed in the Western Conference without Amare Stoudemire, the Suns’ most explosive scorer. Once again, Nash questionably won the Maurice Podoloff Trophy in a year that hosted a plethora of deserving candidates (LeBron James, Chauncey Billups, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki), possibly the most open field in history. Yet it didn’t matter; Nash won in a landslide, ending up 236 total points ahead of the second-place finisher. Then late in the postseason, the Nash love reached its apex with the label of “All-Time Great” being tossed around. For me, that was the final straw.
Don’t get me wrong; I viewed Nash as the best floor general in the game, though not too far ahead of Jason Kidd or Billups, particularly when factoring in their defensive stoutness — an aspect of the game in which Nash is clearly lacking. At the height of his esteem, I always asserted that he was playing no better than a prime John Stockton, who never finished in the top five of the MVP voting. Why is Nash, I thought, a two-time MVP, when he pretty much has the game of Stockton? How come Nash gets all the love and Stockton didn’t?
Anyways, nothing bothers me more than unwarranted, excessive praise, so you can imagine that my loathing for Nash burned with the fury of a thousand suns (no pun intended).
However, watching this season’s second round match-up between Phoenix and the San Antonio Spurs, I’m beginning to warm up to Nash. I somewhat have a newfound respect for his game. Perhaps I needed to see him dissect my Spurs — a team I watch closer than any other, knowing their ins and outs — exploiting their weaknesses to really appreciate how good he really is. Whatever it is, I’ve come to this conclusion: he is good enough to have the label of All-Time Great…and he may be a little of a pleasure to watch. I say this choking back two and a half years of utter detestation, but it must be said.
Though I’m not quite ready to leap-frog him over the likes of Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson or Bob Cousy, Nash is, right now, performing as well as a point guard can. With his growing—or simply more utilized—scoring prowess, it is now difficult to find a single flaw in his offensive arsenal. You name it, he can do it: ambidextrous behind-the-back passes, nifty layups over athletic seven-footers with either hand, and even fadeaway jumpers, which are quickly becoming his bread-and-butter. What makes him such an effective passer, aside from his smarts, is the threat of his lethal jump shot. Opponents have to play him aggressively because of his accuracy and unlimited range, allowing Nash to blow by. Yet, help defenders near the rim still can’t play for the block too aggressively since he can dish out a pass to an open teammate at the drop of a dime, even in mid-air, half-way into the motion of a layup or jumper.
I hate to admit this, but when I watch Nash play, I am at times amazed at what he does. He doesn’t wow me with freakish athleticism (because he’s about as physically gifted as I am), but with straight up, Ivy League-status basketball IQ. His near perfect judgment, the way he never picks up his dribble, how he takes a big man off the dribble or the way he manipulates his body and plays the glass for an impossible-looking layup — I stare in awe at it all.
On top of this, as evidenced by the beating he is taking in this series, he’s clutch as all hell and has the mental and physical toughness of a Spartan Warrior in 300. Okay, maybe that’s going a little overboard, but like Leonidas, Nash is the ultimate floor general, reveling in the game’s physicality, but responding only with clutch play that cuts as deeply as a Spartan sword. If there’s anything he lacks, it’s the ability to post-up. But in his defense, such a maneuver is mainly implemented in half-court offenses and isn’t conducive to the Suns’ fast-paced style.
Okay, let’s clear something up, however. Even though I’ve been nut-huggerish in this article at times, don’t clump me with those who believe Nash to be, as my roommate would claim, the best basketball player he has ever seen. Let’s not get crazy here. Bryant is still the most skilled baller on the planet, and overall, no one is more impactful than Tim Duncan, who consistently demands double-teams on offense and is a linchpin on the other end of the court. Nash’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, occasionally drawing some nice charges but more often than not flops more than Manu Ginobili and Vlade Divac combined. But, the point guard’s chief purpose is to run an offense, and Nash does this better than anyone alive.
In the end, Steve Nash is alright in my book.
Though of course, if he happens to beats my Spurs, forget all of this. I will have to revert back to my old mode of thinking and detest his utter existence.
The San Antonio Spurs lead the Phoenix Suns 3-2 in the series. Game 6 will be Friday in San Antonio at 5:30pm Pacific on ESPN.