Steve Nash: Was He Any Good?

Steve Nash is a Hall of Famer, one of the best players never to win an NBA championship, and one of the key figures along with Amar’e Stoudamire and coach Mike D’Antoni who helped bring the NBA out of the Dark Ages in the mid-aughts.

He is a four-time member of the 50/40/90 Club, an 8-time All-Star, 7-time All-NBA, 5-time NBA leader in assists, and two-time MVP. And speaking of the 50/40/90 Club, he averaged those numbers across 8 years of his prime in Phoenix plus 141 games at the beginning of his career before he went to join the Dallas Mavericks in 1999.

He also shot better than league average in every category from overall FG% to 3PT% to even 2-point percentage, that last usually the exclusive province of big men. For a guard to beat league average on twos is beyond elite and into…well, Hall of Fame territory. His career True Shooting? A you-gotta-be-kidding-me .605 for a guy who played half of his career in the most inefficient shooting era since the NBA adopted the three-point arc in 1979.

So yeah. Steve Nash was good. Third all-time in assists, retired as the all-time leader in free-throw percentage (Stephen Curry currently leads him, but Steph’s not done and he may give up the .0013 advantage he holds), 18th in True Shooting and most of the guys ahead of him are big men…

…so what’s he doing here? Why examine the career of a guy who is so obviously worthy of every accolade he’s ever been given?

Because we’re going to talk about Kobe Bryant.

The biggest controversy in the NBA in 2006 and ’07 was whether Kobe got robbed in the MVP voting, and whether Steve Nash deserved two cherries on the sundae of his Hall of Fame career.

So bust out the ice cream scoop on a hot summer day and let’s reopen a conversation from over a decade ago that still sticks in the craw of millions of Lakers fans.

The Counting Stats

If we’re going to limit this discussion to two guys across two seasons, let’s get right into the meat of it.

Nash ’06: 18.8 points, 10.5 assists, 4.2 rebounds, 51.2/43.9/92.1 shooting splits, led the league in assists, True Shooting, and free throw percentage, all for a Suns team that went 54-28 and had the second-highest Offensive Rating in the league.

Kobe ’06: 35.4 points, 4.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 45.0/34.7/85.0 shooting splits, won the scoring title, led the league in free throws made, set an NBA record for usage rate that stood until Russell Westbrook broke it in his first triple-double-average season in 2017, all for a Lakers team that went 45-37 and probably would’ve won about 15 games if Kobe hadn’t been on the squad and oh by the way lost to the Suns in 7 in the first round of the playoffs that year. Also scored 81 points in a game.

Nash ’07: 18.6 points, 11.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 53.2/45.5/89.9 shooting splits, led the league in assists, eFG%, and True Shooting, all for a Suns team that went 61-21 and led the league in Offensive Rating.

Kobe ’07: 31.6 points, 5.4 assists, 5.7 rebounds, 46.3/34.4/86.8 shooting splits, won the scoring title again, again led the league in free throw makes, all for an even bigger Dumpster fire of a Lakers team that went 42-40 and lost in 5 to the Suns in the first round of the playoffs. Kobe’s salvation would come the following year when Pau Gasol showed up, but Smush Parker, Luke Walton, and Kwame Brown all started on this team at points during the season. The Lakers, again, probably would’ve struggled to win 15 games without Kobe.

So the MVP voters had a choice. Volume scoring or preternatural efficiency? Great team that was a legitimate title contender when the voters turned in their ballots after the regular season or garbage fire with one good player dragging them to the playoffs by himself only to be a prohibitive underdog and a first-round out? Steady, consistent very good performances that put the team first or one man, knowing what a bunch of dogs his teammates were and tearing up the league with the kind of screw-this-I’m-the-only-one-here-who-doesn’t-suck attitude we’d see from Westbrook a decade later?

This is getting us nowhere. So on to…

The Advanced Stats

Nash ’06: .212 WS/48, 5.7/-0.7/5.0 BPM splits, 4.9 VORP, led the league in AST% at 44.4, and had that aforementioned league-leading TS% (.632.) 10.3/2.1/12.4 Win Share splits.

Kobe ’06: .224 WS/48, 7.4/0.2/7.6 BPM splits, 8.0 VORP, as mentioned set a record for USG% at 38.7, and had a .559 TS%. 11.6/3.7/15.3 WS splits.

Nash ’07: .225 WS/48, 6.7/-0.8/5.9 BPM splits, 5.3 VORP, 10.7/1.7/12.5 WS splits, led the league again in AST% at 50.1, and improved his TS% to .654, a truly astonishing number for the era and so good that even today it’d be good for 8th in an efficiency-obsessed league. Along the same lines, that league-leading eFG% of .613 would rank 11th in 2020. Considering the NBA’s league-average eFG% was .496 in 2007 while it’s .528 today, that just makes it even more impressive.

Put simply, Steve Nash’s 2007 campaign was, relative to its era and to his position, one of the most efficient shooting seasons of all time.

Kobe ’07: .199 WS/48, 6.4/-0.5/5.9 BPM splits, 6.1 VORP, 10.8/2.2/13.0 WS splits, an improved but nowhere near Nash’s level .580 TS%.

There is absolutely no question—none, at all—that Nash deserved the second MVP award, ironic considering a lot of folks at the time complained that winning back-to-back MVP over Kobe was anything from “do they even watch the games” to “they only voted for Nash because he’s white.”

Look, I refuse to make political comments on this site. Around here, we hew to Sheed’s Law. And ball don’t lie—Nash put up one of the best offensive statistical seasons relative to league averages by a point guard in the history of the NBA, all for a team that won 61 games compared to Kobe’s garbage fire Lakers that won 42. Steve Nash’s second MVP was absolutely the right call, so utterly no-brainer in how obvious it is that anyone who voted for Kobe if those two seasons happened today would be called out as a fool.

It’s the first MVP that’s the bigger controversy, and it largely hinges on the same argument we went through when talking about James Harden and Russell Westbrook in 2017. One player put up more efficient numbers on a better team, while the other did things with counting stats that so thoroughly blew everyone’s mind that “c’mon, nobody’s done that in 55 years, you gotta name him the MVP!”

But it wasn’t so cut-and-dried that you could dismiss it out of hand. Kobe had a disaster movie of a team he was on, took the whole team onto his own shoulders, and went full selfish when selfish was the only choice he could make.

But then again, in hindsight, James Harden was the 2017 NBA MVP, getting robbed by voters wowed by counting stats. By that logic, Nash was the right choice in 2006 and he’s the right choice now.

THE VERDICT!

So there you go! Was Steve Nash worthy of those two MVP awards he won? Absolutely beyond any reasonable attempt at controversy in 2007. It’s not even close.

And in 2006? It’s a lot more debatable…but a decade later we faced the same question, made the choice that would’ve denied Nash the MVP in ’06, then collectively decided three years later that was a mistake.

Which suggests that again, Nash deserved that MVP nod in ’06.

That’s 2-for-2. Confirmed. Sorry, Kobe.

NEXT: Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson.