Steve Nash as a 40 Year Old Point Guard: Why Not?

Sure, Steve Nash can hit game-winners like this for another three seasons. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

When Steve Nash told ESPN's Marc Stein he'd like to sign a new 3-year contract this summer and then possibly another contract after that, jaws dropped at the thought that Nash believes he can still be a productive NBA point guard up to and past age 40. The list of players who have played effectively into their late 30s and early 40s is short, and mostly includes big men.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Dikembe Mutombo and Robert Parish are among the legendary post players who were able to extend their NBA careers past age 40, with Abdul-Jabbar and Parish each starting over 70 games during the seasons started when they were 40. The iconic Abdul-Jabbar went on to start 74 games as a 41-year old in his last NBA season, and Parish completed his 21st and final season as a bit player at age 42.

None of these players, of course, had games that in any way resemble Nash's. However, there is one Hall of Fame player who retired at age 41, a player who started and produced at point guard until the end, a player with whom Nash has been compared for much of his career: John Stockton.

If ever there was a chance to put that comparison to the test, a look at superstar point guards at the end of their careers is it. And the good news is that Stockton saw almost no decline in production as he played into his golden years.

Let's dive into some data after the jump.

The goal of this research is to assess the Suns current situation and whether Stockton's late-career performance can act as a guide as we estimate what Nash will be able to accomplish in the next three years. The topic of which player is/was better between Nash and Stockton will be discussed for years and is best left for another day, after Nash's playing days are over.

It's easy to see the similarities between the players, with both drafted in the middle of the first round from mid-major west coast colleges (Nash from Santa Clara, Stockton from Gonzaga) and then going on to star in small to mid-market NBA cities Phoenix and Salt Lake City.

But there are significant differences in their games. While Nash's play can be described as a work of art, filled with spectacular passes in a run and gun scheme, Stockton was a tough as nails, bring your lunch pail to work type. This is not a knock on Stockton whatsoever. He produced more than Nash by most measures, and his teams won big and won consistently, making the NBA Finals twice but unable to overcome Michael Jordan's Bulls each time.

Stockton is the NBA's all-time leader in assists and steals, and that assist record isn't going to be broken any time soon. In sixth place, Nash is nearly 5000 behind Stockton's 15,806 and even second place Jason Kidd is well behind at under 12,000.

Durability, along with sustained excellence, was what allowed Stockton to put up such numbers. Incredibly, he played all 82 games in 16 of his 19 seasons (all 50 in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign) and only missed 22 games total out of a possible 1,526, meaning he played in 98.5% of the games he possibly could have over his career.

Nash hasn't missed many games either, starting over 70 in every season since 1999-00 and not hitting his career peak until his early 30s. Stockton got a head start on Nash, but the production of the two has been similarly steady through their 30s, as can be seen in this chart.

Nash_and_stockton_medium

{Some notes about this chart: First, the usual disclaimer that no single stat can tell a player's overall value, but win shares is about as close as it gets. Age is defined as the age of the player at the start of the season used, and I used total win shares per season rather than WS/48 since durability is important here. The ability to dependably produce is key, so bottom line production matters. I also adjusted Stockton's 98-99 season to prorate for the games missed due to the lockout, and adjusted Nash's in the same way for this season.}

Each player had a bit of a mid-30s dip, as Nash suffered through the Porter/Shaq phase and Stockton his one major injury that took 18 games from him in his age 35 season. Nash also hasn't produced at his peak levels of the "7 Seconds or Less" Suns since the pieces of that team have moved away around him, but has still been close to his career average over the last four seasons.

Look at Stockton's final five seasons. But for a slight dip in the last year, he produced much as he had for the rest of his career. Here's a look at those seasons in basic stats, compared to career averages.

Season Age Tm Lg G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1984-85 22 UTA NBA 82 5 18.2 1.9 4.1 .471 0.0 0.1 .182 1.7 2.4 .736 0.3 1.0 1.3 5.1 1.3 0.1 1.8 2.5 5.6
1985-86 23 UTA NBA 82 38 23.6 2.8 5.7 .489 0.0 0.2 .133 2.1 2.5 .839 0.4 1.8 2.2 7.4 1.9 0.1 2.0 2.8 7.7
1986-87 24 UTA NBA 82 2 22.7 2.8 5.6 .499 0.1 0.5 .179 2.2 2.8 .782 0.4 1.5 1.8 8.2 2.2 0.2 2.0 2.7 7.9
1987-88 25 UTA NBA 82 79 34.7 5.5 9.6 .574 0.3 0.8 .358 3.3 4.0 .840 0.7 2.2 2.9 13.8 3.0 0.2 3.2 3.0 14.7
1988-89 26 UTA NBA 82 82 38.7 6.1 11.3 .538 0.2 0.8 .242 4.8 5.5 .863 1.0 2.0 3.0 13.6 3.2 0.2 3.8 2.9 17.1
1989-90 27 UTA NBA 78 78 37.4 6.1 11.8 .514 0.6 1.4 .416 4.5 5.5 .819 0.7 1.9 2.6 14.5 2.7 0.2 3.5 3.0 17.2
1990-91 28 UTA NBA 82 82 37.8 6.0 11.9 .507 0.7 2.0 .345 4.4 5.3 .836 0.6 2.3 2.9 14.2 2.9 0.2 3.6 2.8 17.2
1991-92 29 UTA NBA 82 82 36.6 5.5 11.5 .482 1.0 2.5 .407 3.8 4.5 .842 0.8 2.5 3.3 13.7 3.0 0.3 3.5 2.9 15.8
1992-93 30 UTA NBA 82 82 34.9 5.3 11.0 .486 0.9 2.3 .385 3.6 4.5 .798 0.8 2.1 2.9 12.0 2.4 0.3 3.2 2.7 15.1
1993-94 31 UTA NBA 82 82 36.2 5.6 10.6 .528 0.6 1.8 .322 3.3 4.1 .805 0.9 2.3 3.1 12.6 2.4 0.3 3.2 2.9 15.1
1994-95 32 UTA NBA 82 82 35.0 5.2 9.6 .542 1.2 2.8 .449 3.0 3.7 .804 0.7 2.4 3.1 12.3 2.4 0.3 3.3 2.6 14.7
1995-96 33 UTA NBA 82 82 35.5 5.4 10.0 .538 1.2 2.7 .422 2.9 3.4 .830 0.7 2.1 2.8 11.2 1.7 0.2 3.0 2.5 14.7
1996-97 34 UTA NBA 82 82 35.3 5.1 9.3 .548 0.9 2.2 .422 3.4 4.0 .846 0.5 2.2 2.8 10.5 2.0 0.2 3.0 2.4 14.4
1997-98 35 UTA NBA 64 64 29.0 4.2 8.0 .528 0.6 1.4 .429 3.0 3.6 .827 0.5 2.0 2.6 8.5 1.4 0.2 2.5 2.2 12.0
1998-99 36 UTA NBA 50 50 28.2 4.0 8.2 .488 0.3 1.0 .320 2.7 3.4 .811 0.6 2.3 2.9 7.5 1.6 0.3 2.2 2.1 11.1
1999-00 37 UTA NBA 82 82 29.7 4.4 8.8 .501 0.5 1.5 .355 2.7 3.1 .860 0.5 2.1 2.6 8.6 1.7 0.2 2.2 2.3 12.1
2000-01 38 UTA NBA 82 82 29.2 4.0 7.9 .504 0.7 1.6 .462 2.8 3.4 .817 0.7 2.1 2.8 8.7 1.6 0.3 2.5 2.4 11.5
2001-02 39 UTA NBA 82 82 31.3 4.9 9.5 .517 0.3 1.0 .321 3.4 3.9 .857 0.7 2.5 3.2 8.2 1.9 0.3 2.5 2.5 13.4
2002-03 40 UTA NBA 82 82 27.7 3.8 7.8 .483 0.4 1.0 .363 2.9 3.5 .826 0.6 1.8 2.5 7.7 1.7 0.2 2.2 2.2 10.8
Career NBA 1504 1300 31.8 4.7 9.1 .515 0.6 1.5 .384 3.2 3.9 .826 0.6 2.1 2.7 10.5 2.2 0.2 2.8 2.6 13.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2012.

Now, Nash vs. Stockton at the same age of 37, AKA current Nash.

Rk Player Season Age G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
1 Steve Nash 2011-12 37 50 50 32.5 4.9 9.2 .538 0.9 2.4 .398 2.0 2.2 .883 0.4 2.7 3.1 11.2 0.7 0.1 3.6 0.9 12.8
2 John Stockton* 1999-00 37 82 82 29.7 4.4 8.8 .501 0.5 1.5 .355 2.7 3.1 .860 0.5 2.1 2.6 8.6 1.7 0.2 2.2 2.3 12.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/5/2012.

Current Nash is outperforming a 37-year old Stockton in assists and shooting percentage and, while it's true that Nash has never had the amazing durability of Stockton and has been hindered by occasional flare-ups of his back and groin, Nash has a lot less mileage on him than Stockton did at the same age.

Heading into his age 38 season, Stockton had played 46,448 minutes. Pending the final 12 games of this season, Nash has played 40,023, a difference of about two full seasons. So Nash should theoretically have more left in his tank. Watching him play this season, but for a couple of bumps in the road, he passes the eyeball test.

All of which is to say that, while what Nash will attempt to do is rarely achieved, it's not unprecedented. Nobody can tell the future, especially with regards to injuries, but there are no obvious reasons he can't continue his current level of play for at least another couple of seasons.

It would be easy to say that Nash won't be able to produce effectively in three years at age 41, but how many thought he'd be able to play three more good years when he was 35? Or even 30? Just ask Mark Cuban.

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