The list of great point guards in the NBA is a short one but Steve Nash is what I consider to be the league’s consummate point guard. His floor vision is second to none and he is a pass first, shoot second type of guy. He has the ability to make a variety of passes and shots with either hand and you would be hard-pressed to find a better pick-and-roll guard in the NBA today.
Putting aside his defense, let’s take a further look at what makes Nash one of the best in the game.
Nash has a game in which he’s allowed himself to have “solutions.” He is able to use both his right and left hands effectively in every situation. When watching Nash on film you see that he can make almost any pass at any angle with either hand. He is just as efficient going right as he is left. Because of this ability, Nash is able to go anywhere on the floor he wants, any time he wants. This creates great passing angles and leads to easy buckets for his teammates.
He also has the ability to finish around the basket with either hand. He has a plethora of shots he can easily flick up to the rim and his ambidexterity allows him to get shots off that most people would have thrown into the fifth row of seats. It leaves opposing big men flummoxed. They simply cannot seem to get to Nash’s shots because they come from different angles and different spots.
Admission to the NBA’s 50-40-90 club is hard to come by; only four players in the history of the league have been able to achieve it. Steve Nash is one of those four. Over the last five years Nash has shot better than 50% from two-point range, over 40% from three-point territory and over 90% from the charity stripe. The other three guys in the club: Larry Bird, Mark Price, and Reggie Miller. Yeah, I think it’s safe to say that Steve Nash can shoot a little bit.
For little guys it is imperative they have a second pivot finishing move and Nash has mastered the art. A second pivot finishing move basically allows you to get yourself out of a jam. For example, Nash will haphazardly drive the lane and find that he cannot get his shot off. Instead of throwing an ill-conceived shot up toward the rim he will pivot away from the defender and use a fake before making a second pivot back toward his original starting point for an easier shot. It is an elementary concept but one that is used very little at the higher levels of the game. This makes it even tougher to defend against Nash because he has a vast array of weapons in his offensive arsenal.
Moving without the ball is another area where Steve Nash excels. Nash can come off screens for easy shots and he can also make all of the necessary types of cuts in order to get open. One of Nash’s best tricks is what we call a “stop cut.” He will break hard toward an opening to receive a pass but he will abruptly come to a stop while placing his trail leg between the defenders legs. The defender has to stop as well, or risk an off-the-ball-foul, and once the defender stops Nash explodes toward the opening again creating an easy separation.
Simply put, Nash is just too good at reading the pick-and-roll. His ability to shoot the ball so well means a defender cannot go under the screen or he will give up an open three. If the defender goes under the screen then Nash will keep his dribble alive and find Stoudemire on the roll to the basket. Nash’s success on the pick-and-roll is also attributed to his ability to pass the ball with either hand. The opposing teams have scouted the Suns’ offensive sets. They know exactly what Nash likes to do off of the screen. However, Nash plays it with a poker face so, as a defender, you simply have no idea what move is coming next.
Another key to Nash’s success is being well-versed in the intangibles. On the floor, a point guard should be an extension of the head coach or, as we like to say, the point guard needs to know the coach’s playbook. To call Nash an extension would be to vastly understate his importance and ability. He is a maestro at directing his team and getting them into their offensive sets.
My old high school principal used to say he was so tough that he told his coach to feed him some nails. Steve Nash is that tough. In this past year’s playoffs alone, Nash suffered a broken nose and had one eye that was so badly swollen he couldn’t see out of it. How did he respond? Against the Spurs with a swollen eye he knocked down a crucial three that helped the Suns finish off the Spurs in route to a four-game sweep. After the shot to the nose from the Lakers’ Derek Fisher, Nash responded by knocking down clutch free throws and continued to make plays off of the pick-and-roll. If you want another player’s respect, particularly that of your teammates’, then being tough is a sure-fire way to earn it.
I believe one of the most underrated aspects of Steve Nash’s game is his ability to make his teammates believe in themselves. It’s contagious. You can see it in the number of high-fives Nash hands out on a nightly basis. When a major sports publication such as Sports Illustrated features you in an article about high-fives then there is something to it. Nash’s upbeat personality, along with his penchant for giving up the ball, keeps his teammates running the floor and playing hard.
As you can see, Steve Nash has “solutionized” his game. He has given himself a chance to be successful by creating solutions to problems often found on the court. Add in the fact that Nash is built for the Suns’ up-tempo style and the pick-and-roll and you have all the ingredients necessary for not only an all-star point guard but a MVP one as well.