Presence of Selfless Nash Has Made All of the Suns Better
East Valley Tribune
Nov. 28, 2004
Steve Nash is the last of the Phoenix Suns to emerge from the shower and get dressed.
He puts on a pair of old, battered blue jeans and a plain, white T-shirt, which he leaves untucked. He tops off the ensemble with a charcoal-colored, pinstriped suit jacket that has threads hanging from each lapel.
Nash looks like he bought off the rack at a thrift store. Fortunately for Phoenix, clothes don’t make the point guard.
Nash has been a tailor-made fit for the Suns, who were 29-53 a year ago but now have the second-best record in the NBA (11-2) and are off to their second-best start in franchise history.
Phoenix needed a leader in the locker room and a choreographer on the floor, and it got both in Nash, who has silenced talk that the Suns paid too much — $60 million over five years — to steal him from the Dallas Mavericks.
"When people talk about overpaying somebody they don’t factor in what he’s worth to your team," said David Griffin, Phoenix’s director of player personnel. "We knew what Steve would be worth to us. He’s been just what we needed."
Nash, who will turn 31 in February, is having his best season statistically in years. He’s averaging 15.7 points per game, he leads the NBA in assists, with 11.2 per contest, and he’s shooting a career-high 56.3 percent from the field, third best in the league.
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But measuring Nash by the numbers is like admiring Michelangelo for all the nice colors he used on the Sistine Chapel.
Nash’s value lies not in what he does, but what he does for others.
Last year, the Suns were a ship without a rudder. Rookie point guard Leandro Barbosa — who became a starter when Stephon Marbury was traded — didn’t have the skills or the instincts to bring out the best in Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson.
Nash, on the other hand, is the consummate point guard, a player who knows how to do his job so his teammates can better do theirs.
He lent a helping hand to Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley in Dallas; now the Suns are benefitting from his largesse.
Nash does something that sounds so simple yet is a skill that eludes most NBA point guards: He gets players the ball in position to score.
It’s no coincidence that Stoudemire, Marion and Johnson have improved their shooting percentage from last season, and the Suns, after averaging 94.2 points per game in 2003-2004, lead the NBA with 104.6 points per contest.
"We needed somebody whose sheer presence on the floor makes people better," Griffin said. "That’s what Steve does.
"Last year Leandro didn’t know how to get everyone involved, and it made everybody jones for their shot. Nobody joneses on this team. They share the ball because they know they’re going to get another opportunity."
Nash spreads the ball around so efficiently that no Suns starter is averaging more than 17.5 shots per game, and all five are averaging at least 10.9 shots per contest. Nash, not inconsequently, has taken the fewest shots among the starters.
"He dishes the ball so well he’s keeping everyone happy," said Joe Johnson.
A perfect example of Nash’s unselfishness — and ingenuity — came in last Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He drove the lane and looked for Stoudemire, who was under the basket. But Stoudemire was being fronted by 6-foot-11 Bucks center Dan Gadzuric.
Nash, who could have taken an uncontested jumper, came up with a better solution: He threw a perfect bounce pass between Gadzuric’s legs to Stoudemire for an dunk.
"His creativity is incredible," Stoudemire said.
Marion, who played against Nash the past five seasons, said he has a greater appreciation for the point guard now that they’re teammates.
"He’s a lot better than I thought he was," Marion said.
What makes Nash special is that he’s not just an unselfish point guard. He can take a game over offensively when he needs to, yet his shots always come within the rhythm of the offense. Against the Bucks, for example, he scored 22 points on just 16 shots.
"Steve is not a volume shooter but every shot he’s going to take is going to count," Griffin said. "That means he takes less and is going to get other people involved. That’s a real big issue on a young team with a lot of scorers, like we are."
Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, who lobbied hard for Nash, said, "Steve can somehow be dangerous but still distribute the ball. That’s not easy to do."
Nash’s contributions have not been confined to 94 feet of hardwood. He has become a quiet and trusted voice in a locker room that includes nine players 25 or younger.
Nash is not a vocal leader in the mold of, say, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. But he’s like E.F. Hutton. When he speaks, people listen.
"He’s proven himself. He’s an all-star in this league. You’ve got to respect that," said guard Quentin Richardson.
Nash has led the Suns to their second-best start in franchise history (11-2).
Five days into training camp Nash bought out a movie theatre in Flagstaff at a cost of more than $1,000 so his teammates could watch the movie Friday Night Lights.
Suns chairman Jerry Colangelo eventually picked up the tab, but the gesture further endeared Nash to his teammates.
The degree to which Nash is respected in the locker room and on the court is significant. A battle of egos was brewing between Marbury and Stoudemire before Marbury was traded.
That won’t happen with Nash because he doesn’t have a selfish basketball bone in his body. He’s content to let Stoudemire be the alpha male.
"He just wants to win," D’Antoni aid. "That’s all he concerned about, and the players know that."
Just as importantly, so do the people who have the players’ ears. Stoudemire and Marbury were feuding, in part, because Stoudemire was being told Marbury was a me-first player.
The worst someone can say about Nash is that he’s a lousy dresser.
"There’ll never be an issue where guys go in the locker room and feel Steve has iced them out," Griffin said. "When you have a point guard that that’s true of, that’s very special. Guys want to play for him because of that."
Last March, D’Antoni was sitting in his office before a game and talking about what the Suns needed to become an NBA power again.
The Mavericks were on television, and a visitor mentioned the point guard with the bad haircut.
D’Antoni smiled and said one word.
His wish came true, and now Nash has the Suns all dressed up with someplace to go.
COPYRIGHT 2004, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.