S.S.O.L-AR Eclipse

“There are good shots, and there are better shots.”

– Jack McCallum, Seven Seconds or Less (S.S.O.L)

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Steve Nash is the quintessential ‘good guy’: he’s down to earth, he’s a supportive teammate, he’s an incredibly unselfish basketball player, etc.  That’s all true.  But, I don’t think writing hundreds of articles saying the same clichéd crap about Nash’s chill bro legacy does him justice as a player.  He’s not retiring from being a nice guy so, presumably, he’ll continue being a nice guy even after his retirement from basketball.

It’s easy to forget that he was the crown jewel of a Suns team that revolutionized the game.  The fast paced, 3 intensive, explosive team was not considered a viable option.  In a USA Today interview with former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, he had this to say of the experimental team:

“Well you know I think we both kind of pushed the envelope a little bit. It was so new back then, and everybody was really against it. Other coaches around (were against it). We were kind of going against the wind and against the prevailing philosophies. So being a newer coach here, and having a team, thank God I had the backing of the Colangelos when we first started. And we just kind of pushed it together, in the sense of, ‘Well maybe we can do that. Maybe yeah, let’s go.’ I kept gaining more confidence in him, and vice versa. And we were able to play off each other.”

-Sam Amick, Mike D’Antoni says he and Steve Nash Pushed the Envelope

For those of us that watched the Suns during the Steve Nash era, we bore witness to a whole new style of play which has now been adopted by nearly half the league.  “7 Seconds or Less,” written by Jack McCallum described his experience watching the Suns from the sidelines as director of public relations for the Suns.  The 7 Seconds or Less playbook described 6 operative principles:

1. There are good shots and better shots.

2. It takes only one second to make an extra pass to the player who is more wide-open and better prepared to release his shot in rhythm.

3. We want an open shot most of the time.

4. This offense has several plays that are very similar, but each has a slight variation. You should always receive an open shot with these sets.

5. You play offense before the defense can get set, that is the value of the up-tempo game.

6. If you play fast then you will be a low-turnover team and not high-turnover team. If you don’t throw too many passes then you can’t throw it away as much.

-Jack McCallum, 7 Seconds or Less

You might notice that this describes both the 2014 championship Spurs and this year’s league-leading Warriors.  The level of efficiency this offense permits has been further validated by the current emergence of basketball analytics.  Mike D’Antoni is generally understood to be the man who exported this style of play into the NBA.

Steve Nash was the perfect floor general to command this offense, simultaneously capable of hitting players for open 3 point shots as well as high-efficiency points at the bucket. He’s mostly remembered as a passing wizard, but his incredible accuracy from anywhere in the offense was equally valuable to this style.

He is one of only 6 members of the highly exclusive 50-40-90 club – 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from the 3 point line, and 90 percent from the foul line. Evaluated on a per season basis, the 50-40-90 mark was reached 4 times during the course of his career.  Larry Bird is the only other player to reach the mark on multiple occasions, but he tallied just 2 seasons to Nash’s 4.

It’s easy to forget that he was considered to be the best player on earth for 2 years.

 

House of the Rising Suns

 

Consider this: In the 2003-04 season, the Phoenix Suns were 29-53 in the Western Conference….  Lest we buy into the idea that they had no players that year, I would remind you that Stephon Marbury, the shining light of Coney Island, was leading the charge there. And this wasn’t even the Starbury days when he played unusually bad. This was still the 21 points and eight assists per game player who dazzled, even when it didn’t always translate to wins. Amare Stoudemire was on the team, averaging almost 21 points and nine rebounds per game. Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion were both on the team as well, and Leandro Barbosa and Antonio McDyess came off the bench to provide key minutes. What is my point? That next season they won 61 games and led the league in offense, not caring about defense because defense is for suckers.

-Chris Cruz, Steve Nash is a Top 5 Point Guard in NBA History, RantSports.com

The “Small Ball” phenomena that currently dominates the NBA stylistically was wrought from the game that Steve Nash created.  In the East, the Hawks back-court of Paul Milsap and Al Horford would never have materialized without Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire.  The Kyle Corver and DeMarre Carrol 3-point-chucking fest would be laughed out of the league without Joe Johnson and Raja Bell doing it first.   In the West, the Warriors mirror the Suns even more profoundly:

“I imagined it with Steve Nash. Steve was kind of the original Stephen Curry,” Kerr said from the podium as NBA champion, his shirt still drenched in Champagne. “Slightly different, but similar mindset in terms of — and similar skillset of passing and the ball handling. And the Suns were so close. Things didn’t go their way. But I imagined it. And I was there with Steve as general manager, and I thought it was going to happen for him. But he set the stage for Steph.” -Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk, Steve Kerr credits Steve Nash, Mike D’Antoni for laying foundation that became Warriors title

Steve Nash = Stephen Curry

Raja Bell = Klay Thompson/ Andre Igoudala

Joe Johnson = Andre Igoudala/ Harrison Barnes

Shawn Marion/ Boris Diaw = Draymond Green

The outlier is the divide between Amare and Bogut.  This difference makes all the difference – Golden State ended the 14′-15′ regular season with the best defense in the NBA, while the Suns never much cared for the defensive arts. At the top of the key, leading both the transition and half-court offenses of their respective teams, Stephen Curry and Steve Nash were constant threats off the dribble, deft passers, and above all, frightening snipers from long-range, especially off the dribble:

The closest current facsimile is Warriors point man Steph Curry, who Kerr scouted while he was Phoenix’s GM before taking the reins in Golden State. Curry’s dead-eye shooting from deep is the first major point of comparison, but his ability to toss one-handed runners high off the glass and watch them teardrop through the hoop is another carbon copy of Nash… The comparison isn’t one the potential MVP shies away from. “S/o to @SteveNash hanging it up for good!” Curry wrote on Twitter when the news became public. “Inspired me to play the way I do and paved the way. Congrats on all your success and enjoy life!”.

-Donovan Bennet, SportsNet.ca, Steve Nash and the Making of the Modern Point Guard

On the wings of both teams were capable 3 point shooters with size and defensive chops, ready to catch-and-shoot on offense and then lock-down scorers on defense.

BothAt the power-forward position, Draymond Green represents the new-style NBA iteration of Shawn Marion.   Chronically under-sized, Green and Marion both relied on savvy, physicality, and explosiveness to re-imagine the 4 position.  The pre-modern NBA typically featured two forwards whose roles were essentially the same on offense and defense, but the dominance of power forwards like Barkley or Malone created an NBA in which the 4 position was manned by a center ‘lite’ whose bulk and size was more suited to post play than wing play.  D’Antoni and his Suns asked the league a powerful question, seen to your right:

The result was an astoundingly fast-paced offense.

Tantalizingly fast-paced.

Mesmerizingly.

Sexually stimulatingly:pace

over the eyarsOver the course of the next few seasons (’04-’05 to ’11-’12) the Suns went on a statistical balling spree, dominating offense categorically as well as aesthetically.  Few teams have ever been more fun to watch: even fewer have been as offensively stupefying.

The first year Nash was on the Suns, the team was 31 and 4 by mid-January – all this after a year that the Suns tallied only 29 wins across the entire season.

Since D’Antoni’s Suns, average assists per game and team pace have increased significantly.  The Spurs implemented high-pace play to win their most recent titles, as did the Warriors.

 

“Bad Luck”

We know all about the “bad luck.” About that head-bump with Tony Parker in 2007. And the “nudge” that Robert Horry gave him a few days later.

-Editorial Board, AZCentral.com

It takes a little bit of luck to win an NBA title — such as Amar’e Stoudemire staying on the bench at a pivotal moment and not getting suspended. Those kinds of breaks eluded the Suns.

-Kurt Helin, NBC Sports, Steve Kerr Credits Steve Nash, Mike D’Antoni for Laying Foundation that Became Warriors Title

Steve Nash’s retirement solidifies his membership in one of the saddest clubs in the NBA: The No Ring Club. This fact is one of the great atrocities in NBA history.  On numerous occasions his Suns should have reached the summit, but a bunch of bullshit knocked them back down.  Nash was a ferocious competitor, not giving a shit during the 2007 Spurs playoff series when he broke his nose:

Throughout the series, Nash was bullied, pushed, knocked into the scoring table, got his junk knocked around (no, seriously), but he just kept balling.  Despite suspensions levied against the Suns bench for entering the court to check on their injured Canadian teammate, the Suns slugged it out. In 2010, the Spurs once again injured Nash’s face, this time as a result of a Tim Duncan elbow to the face.  Take a look at these pictures of his injury:

6a00d8341c506253ef013480b40789970cHorrifying.

Nash’s legacy doesn’t deserve the stain of failure.  Each time that the Suns fell short of The Big Show, it was due to circumstances both out of the team’s control and downright unfair.  But, as Bill Simmons of ESPN.com notes, the Suns made some crucial mistakes:

They also deserve to be raked through the coals for screwing up what could have been a once-in-a-generation team. The D’Antoni-Nash alliance should have lasted for as long as Nash’s back held up — maybe six years, maybe eight, maybe even 10 — and instead, D’Antoni seems like a mortal lock to either resign or get canned this summer. (In fact, I thought it was happening this week, which was the main reason I wrote the column. Whoops.) Just don’t blame the Shaq trade for cutting D’Antoni’s reign short. If you’re playing the blame game, look at the front office/ownership mistakes from 2004 to 2007. Had the Suns made two different choices (just two!) and not been so concerned about the luxury tax, they could have given us six to eight years of wildly entertaining basketball and maybe even a dynasty. Collectively, the mistakes made by the Suns were staggering. Check out the last four years of Phoenix teams, season by season, and how they screwed up what should have been a historically good run.

Harping on the failures of Nash’s career is a pointless exercise.  He was a great player who revolutionized the game.  But, it needs to be mentioned, even by the man himself:

“It will always hurt that Phoenix Suns fans didn’t get the championship they deserved during our run,” he wrote. “Yes, we had some bad luck but I always look back at it and think, ‘I could’ve made one more shot, or not forced a turnover, or made a better pass.’ But I don’t regret anything. The arena was always sold out and rocking. It was the time of my life. Thanks, Phoenix.”

– Steve Nash

Also, Steve Nash is the Funniest MVP Ever

There’s more where that came from.
the prophet