Phoenix Suns 2011-12 Player Evaluation: Steve Nash

PHOENIX, AZ - APRIL 25: Steve Nash #13 of the Phoenix Suns high fives fans as he is introduced before the NBA game against the San Antonio Spurs at US Airways Center on April 25, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Spurs defeated the Suns 110-106. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Here at Bright Side of the Sun we take the words TOTAL COVERAGE pretty dang seriously.

While our beloved Suns are off taking nice vacations, we are still slaving away, attempting to provide you all with first class Suns coverage.

So friends, without further adieu, we present you with the Phoenix Suns Season in Review, 2011-12.

Up for discussion today is Steve Nash.

Defining the grading criteria for a player of Nash's caliber is a difficult task indeed. He is MVSteve. The Nash Rambler. Captain Canada. Nashional Treasure. Two-Time. PG-13. The One-Eyed Stevie Wonder.

He is a skilled soccer player (adept enough that he probably could have played professionally). He has displayed an aptitude for cinematography. In the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver he lit the Olympic cauldron. He is a philanthropist and a noble benefactor. He was just named the GM of Team Canada. He is the guy they keep talking about in all those Dos Equis commercials. When Steve Nash finally hangs up the high tops, it will not be the end, but merely the beginning for a person who is not just a hall of fame basketball player, but an exceptional person in many facets.

It would be easy to let all these things obfuscate the judgment of what I intend to be a one year report card; a snapshot in a hall of fame career. I will do my best to grade Nash on the season that just ended and not let his career as a whole interfere with my analysis. If you would like to see how I plan to scrutinize Stephen John Nash, as objectively as possible, take the plunge.

Allow me to start the process by detailing some of Nash’s accomplishments this year.

In February 2012, Nash was named to his eighth All-Star Game (in which he played approximately 13 seconds in the first half and did not return in the second - boo). It was his 6th selection as a Sun, which ties him for a franchise record with “Sweet D” Walter Davis.

On April 21, 2012, Nash passed Oscar Robertson for 5th on the all-time career assists list versus the Denver Nuggets. At 9,916 career assists, Nash sits 225 behind Magic for 4th and 418 behind Mark Jackson for 3rd (meaning if he stays healthy he’ll pass both of them next year).

Finished second in the NBA in assists per game (10.7)

Finished 11th in the NBA in field goal % (.532), 33rd in three point fg% (.390), and 4th in free throw % (.894) to narrowly miss extending his league record of 4 50/40/90 seasons.

Finished 21st in the league in eFG% (.581), 14th in TS% (.625), and 38th in PER (20.3).

Hit the game winning shot against the Milwaukee Bucks on his birthday with accompanying footage.

Then still managed to draw the curtains on the season (with the help of an inspired home crowd) with a horripilating scene that will probably cause the words “We Want Steve!” to be indelibly etched into my mind.

Steve was quite the industrious man.

Now let’s take a gander at some of Steve’s statistics (I have included all of his years since returning to the Suns).

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
2004-05 30 PHO NBA 75 75 34.3 5.7 11.4 .502 1.3 2.9 .431 2.8 3.2 .887 0.8 2.6 3.3 11.5 1.0 0.1 3.3 1.8 15.5
2005-06 31 PHO NBA 79 79 35.4 6.8 13.4 .512 1.9 4.3 .439 3.3 3.5 .921 0.6 3.6 4.2 10.5 0.8 0.2 3.5 1.5 18.8
2006-07 32 PHO NBA 76 76 35.3 6.8 12.8 .532 2.1 4.5 .455 2.9 3.3 .899 0.4 3.1 3.5 11.6 0.8 0.1 3.8 1.5 18.6
2007-08 33 PHO NBA 81 81 34.3 6.0 11.9 .504 2.2 4.7 .470 2.7 3.0 .906 0.3 3.1 3.5 11.1 0.7 0.1 3.6 1.4 16.9
2008-09 34 PHO NBA 74 74 33.6 5.8 11.5 .503 1.5 3.3 .439 2.6 2.8 .933 0.3 2.8 3.0 9.7 0.7 0.1 3.4 1.5 15.7
2009-10 35 PHO NBA 81 81 32.8 6.2 12.2 .507 1.5 3.6 .426 2.6 2.8 .938 0.4 2.9 3.3 11.0 0.5 0.1 3.6 1.3 16.5
2010-11 36 PHO NBA 75 75 33.3 5.3 10.8 .492 1.1 2.7 .395 3.0 3.3 .912 0.5 2.9 3.5 11.4 0.6 0.1 3.5 1.2 14.7
2011-12 37 PHO NBA 62 62 31.6 4.8 9.0 .532 0.9 2.3 .390 2.0 2.3 .894 0.4 2.6 3.0 10.7 0.6 0.1 3.7 0.9 12.5
Career NBA 1152 993 31.4 5.3 10.7 .491 1.4 3.3 .428 2.5 2.8 .904 0.5 2.5 3.0 8.6 0.7 0.1 2.9 1.6 14.5

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2012.

Nash’s minutes per game were down slightly, but I’ll explain later why this is misleading. His field goal percentage (.532) tied a career high. His rebounds (3.0) and assists (10.7) were still pretty commensurate with his career numbers as a Sun.

Where the noticeable dips can be seen are in field goal attempts (9.0), three point attempts (2.3), three point field goal percentage (.390), and points per game (12.5).

In fact Nash’s season turned out very much like I suggested in my early returns fanpost from January 14th.

Nash – Still playing at an all-star level, however, age is every man’s master. Steve isn’t as much of a scorer as he was in his prime and can’t take over games in the fourth quarter like years past. The area of his game that seems as sharp as ever, distributing, is hindered by the lack of dynamic finishers on the team. Nash’s talent is not being maximized by the current roster.

Season Age Tm Lg G MP PER TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg OWS DWS WS WS/48
2004-05 30 PHO NBA 75 2573 22.0 .606 .557 2.5 7.6 5.2 49.2 1.4 0.2 20.3 20.5 123 111 9.7 1.2 10.9 .203
2005-06 31 PHO NBA 79 2796 23.3 .632 .583 1.9 11.1 6.6 44.4 1.1 0.3 19.0 23.3 121 109 10.3 2.1 12.4 .212
2006-07 32 PHO NBA 76 2682 23.8 .654 .613 1.4 9.9 5.8 50.1 1.1 0.2 21.0 22.9 124 110 10.8 1.7 12.6 .225
2007-08 33 PHO NBA 81 2780 21.1 .641 .597 1.2 9.6 5.7 47.3 0.9 0.1 21.6 22.0 121 112 9.0 1.4 10.5 .181
2008-09 34 PHO NBA 74 2484 19.5 .615 .566 0.9 9.2 5.2 42.4 1.1 0.3 20.8 21.1 119 115 6.7 0.5 7.3 .140
2009-10 35 PHO NBA 81 2660 21.6 .615 .570 1.5 9.4 5.7 50.9 0.8 0.3 21.4 22.9 121 114 9.1 0.8 9.9 .178
2010-11 36 PHO NBA 75 2497 20.8 .601 .542 1.8 10.2 6.0 53.1 1.0 0.1 22.4 21.4 118 114 7.3 0.7 8.0 .153
2011-12 37 PHO NBA 62 1961 20.3 .625 .581 1.5 9.1 5.3 53.1 1.0 0.3 27.1 19.6 115 110 5.2 0.6 5.9 .144
Career NBA 1152 36129 20.2 .605 .557 1.9 8.7 5.4 41.9 1.2 0.2 19.5 21.2 118 110 109.9 15.4 125.3 .166

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/14/2012.

Looking at advanced statistics, we can see that Nash’s WS/48 was only .144, which was his second lowest in the last 8 years (the other year can be blamed on Terry Porter), and only good for 76th in the league. His PER was also his second lowest total. His ORtg was his lowest in the last 8 seasons, but his AST% was tied with last year for his highest mark (lending credence to the lack of surrounding talent/players that can score without him argument).

Delving deeper into the data it can be demonstrated that the first and second half of Nash’s season were far from pari passu. Allow me to illustrate.

Over Nash’s first 31 games he averaged 13.9 ppg. Over the last 31 that dropped to 11.0 ppg. In Nash’s first 31 games he scored 20 or more points 8 times. In his last 31 games he only reached 20 once. One time. In fact, he never reached 20 points in his last 24 games of the season. In that stretch he scored 9 points or less in 10 of the 24 games.

His field goals made per game slid from 5.4 to 4.1. His field goals attempted per game dipped from 10 to 7.9. His FG% slipped from .542 to .518 (but let’s face it, .518 is still REALLY good).

What was the reason for this declivitous descent in Steve’s scoring numbers? Here’s one possible excuse reason.

2011/12 Season 2010/11 Season
122 Days 170 Days
62 Games 75 Games
1961 Total minutes 2497 Total minutes
31.6 Min per game 33.3 Min per game
16.1 Min per day 14.7 Min per day
60 Days off 95 Days off
0.97 Days off/games ratio 1.27 Days off/games ratio

As depicted in this expertly crafted comparison, the frequency of Nash’s minutes was drastically increased. What might be the most salient, and telling, portion is the total days off and days off to games ratio. An older player like Nash benefits more from the rest days than a younger player. I believe that at the outset of the season at least one person may have suggested mandatory rest days for Nash (and other players) to help counteract hebetude and exhaustion.

Can we blame some (or all) of Nash’s second half decline on the schedule? I think it is reasonable to think it played at least some role. What this suggests to me is that Nash may be able to duplicate or even improve on his performance from this season next year despite the inexorable march of the calendar since he will face much less stringent demands on his body.

There are a lot of positives to look back on from the season, but a noticeable dip in production as the season whisked along at a frenzied pace. Nash just didn’t seem to be able to keep up.

When the team needed him most, he was unable to provide the offensive spark that could have propelled them into the playoffs. Not to imply that the team’s failures completely lie at his feet, but he is unquestionably the team’s leader and I believe that accountability goes to the top. I would have rather had Nash forcing shots and missing than seen his scoring decline the way it did based mostly on the simple concept of less shot attempts.

I give Steve an A for his first half, a B/B- for the second half, and an overall grade of a B+. What do you think?

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