Posted Oct 11 2010 12:00PM
Sam Cassell is probably the answer to a lot of trivia questions, but none as interesting as this one: Who was the last point guard, other than Steve Nash, to run the No. 1 offense in the league?
In 2000-01. Cassell, with Ray Allen and Glenn Robison at his sides, guided the Milwaukee Bucks to a 52-30 record behind the most efficient offense in the NBA. The Dallas Mavericks ranked fourth offensively that season, the last time a Nash-run offense would rank anywhere but first.
For the last nine seasons, three in Dallas and six in Phoenix, the No. 1 offense in the league has been run by the skinny point guard from Victoria, British Columbia. It's a pretty remarkable feat when you think about it. Even that season two years ago when Terry Porter and Shaquille O'Neal changed up the Suns' style, they still ranked fifth in the league offensively when Porter was fired, good enough to recover and finish first by the end of the season.
|Five best offenses since '91-'92|
|As compared to the league average|
Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions
Lg. Avg. = League average
|No. 1 offense, last 10 seasons|
|Off. Rat. = Points scored per 100 possessions|
Lg. Avg. = League average
So, can Nash do it again?
No team came close to challenging the Suns last season. The Orlando Magic finished second offensively by scoring 109.5 points per 100 possessions, but that was more than three points less than Phoenix. Only three times in the last nine years has a Nash team not finished at least a point per 100 possessions better than the second-ranked team.
But with Nash losing his No. 1 offensive weapon, and lots of rosters around the league undergoing major upgrades this summer, Nash's run at the top just might be over.
Here are the candidates to rank at the top of the league offensively this season, in the order they finished last year...
112.7 points scored per 100 possessions (1st)
Looking up: All you need to know is that Nash is still in Phoenix, he's healthy, and the Suns will be running the same offense that they ran last season. Nash still has teammates who can shoot, as well as another playmaker, Hedo Turkoglu, who has helped run a top-10 offense each of the last three seasons. And the Suns still had the best offense in the league when Amar'e Stoudemire missed all but three games of the 2005-06 season.
Looking down: The Nash-Stoudemire pick-and-roll was a thing of beauty, and Stoudemire also had the ability to shoot from 20 feet out. Defenses won't need to collapse as much with Robin Lopez or Hakim Warrick in the pivot, so the Suns' shooters will have a little less space on the perimeter. And of course, as Nash gets older, the likelihood that he misses time to injury increases.
109.5 points scored per 100 possessions (2nd)
Looking up: The Magic replaced Matt Barnes, a 32 percent 3-point shooter last season, with Quentin Richardson, who shot 40 percent with the Heat. They might actually have Jameer Nelson for a full season . And Dwight Howard, still just 24 years old, should continue to improve his post game.
Looking down: Vince Carter will turn 34 in January and the Eastern Conference is stacked with strong defensive teams. It will be easier to score in the West.
108.9 points scored per 100 possessions (3rd)
Looking up: Both Al Horford and Josh Smith became more efficient last year, and there's no reason why both can't take another step forward. New coach Larry Drew is also looking to move the ball more than the Hawks did last season.
Looking down: It's not clear that the Hawks need more ball movement. If they ranked third in the league, how bad could the offense have been? They had much bigger issues on defense, where they ranked 14th.
108.8 points scored per 100 possessions (5th)
Looking up: With George Karl back on the bench for a full season, the Nuggets should be more consistent. And with a year of experience, Ty Lawson should be able to provide more of a lift off the bench. Kenyon Martin is out for a while, but the Nuggets were better offensively without him last season.
Looking down: Carmelo Anthony may not be a Nugget for long. And even if he stays in Denver through the season, trade rumors are likely to be a distraction from now until February.
108.0 points scored per 100 possessions (7th)
Looking up: Despite their numerous injuries, the Blazers had one of the best offenses in the league last season. And just two years ago, with a full season from Brandon Roy, they ranked second in the league. Wesley Matthews gives them another shooter to spread the floor.
Looking down: The Blazers need to resolve the Rudy Fernandez situation. If he's happy in Portland, then he's a long-distance threat. If not, he's a distraction. No player in the league has been as durable as Andre Miller (he's missed five games in his 11-year career), but the point guard turns 35 in March.
107.8 points scored per 100 possessions (8th)
Looking up: When it's clicking, Jerry Sloan's offense can not be stopped. The Jazz have been a top-10 offensive team in 15 of the last 19 seasons. Deron Williams is a true triple-threat (drive, shoot, pass) at point guard and is only getting better.
Looking down: It remains to be seen if Williams and Al Jefferson can build the same offensive chemistry that Williams had with Carlos Boozer. And the departures of shooters Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews will give the pick-and-roll combo a little less space to operate.
105.9 points scored per 100 possessions (11th)
Looking up: With Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol dealing with injuries, the Lakers were rather mediocre offensively last season. That was the end of a 14-year run in the top-10, and they ranked third in the league each of the two seasons before that. If they're relatively healthy, they have too much talent to keep them off this list.
Looking down: It seems as if the fingers on Bryant's shooting hand will always be an issue. And having played so many games over the last three years, it's likely that the Lakers will hit cruise control once again this season.
105.2 points scored per 100 possessions (15th)
Looking up: The last time Mike D'Antoni had any real talent on his roster, he had the No. 1 offense in the league for four straight seasons.
Looking down: Raymond Felton is not Steve Nash. And once you get past Danilo Gallinari, the Knicks don't have the perimeter shooting to really space the floor for Felton and Stoudemire.
104.5 points scored per 100 possessions (19th)
Looking up: Both LeBron James and Chris Bosh were the focal points of top-10 offenses last season, and neither had the help of each other or of Dwyane Wade.
Looking down: Neither James nor Wade is comfortable as a catch-and-shoot guy playing off the ball. Joel Anthony doesn't give them much at center.
Here's an educated guess at how the rankings will look come April 14...
1. Orlando -- The addition of Richardson will have the Magic breaking multiple 3-point shooting records.
2. Miami -- They're more likely to be No. 1 defensively.
3. Phoenix -- It's difficult to pick against Nash, but Turkoglu doesn't seem like a great fit.
4. Portland -- The improvement of Nicolas Batum could be the key.
5. New York -- At worst, they'll be a top-10 offensive team for the first time in 19 years.
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