For lack of a better word, we've all seen a change in Nash's play. It's not that he isn't playing well or losing a step per se, it's just....changed.
Let me preface this blog by saying he is, by far, my favorite player of all time. It's rare to see someone so good, giving back to the community and being so selfless - something I personally respect more so than his actual play.
But I do admit we've seen a sharp change in Nash's play, so I set out to see why.
We haven't seen Nash distribute the rock on the fastbreak like we are accustomed to seeing. We haven't seen as many jaw-dropping passes and marveled at his vision as much as we used to. In fact, he's had only one game this year of 10+ assists. Being a Nash apologist, I wanted to see statistical evidence of who to blame and when this truly started happening.
My original hypothesis was that his change in play could be identified from the point we acquired Shaq (February 6, 2008). So, I compared Nash's numbers pre-Shaq and post-Shaq.
What I found surprised even me.
Let's start by looking at Nash's numbers before the Shaq trade (November 2007 - January 2008):
17. 3 points per game, 11.8 assists per game, 3.5 turnovers per game
Then, Nash's numbers after the trade (February 2008 - April 2008):
15.7 points per game, 10.3 assists per game, 3.6 turnovers per game
Sure, there was a small decline in scoring and 1 less assist averaged per game but there is no significant evidence that Shaq affected those numbers. More than likely, it was due to fatigue and playing the third highest minutes total of his career.
This surprised me. I expected to see a noticeable (but not necessarily drastic) decline in Nash's stats from the point we acquired Shaq. Obviously surprised that I didn't find this, my next step was to look at this year's stats to date. This is where I found the sharp decline.
Nash's numbers to date for the 2008-2009 season thus far:
13.7 points per game, 7.5 assists per game, 3.27 turnovers per game
At the same point last season, Nash was averaging close to 6 more points per game and over 3 more assists per game. However, last year, his stats didn't noticeably fluctuate throughout the year. Did Nash really get "worse" in only a few months in the same year? In April 2008, Nash had a spectacular month averaging 11 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, his turnovers were down from previous months, and he never missed a free throw. This was only 7 months ago. Did he age that much from the end of last season to this season?
These stats lead me to conclude that new coach Terry Porter and the new style of play, not Shaquille O'Neal, has had the biggest influence on the decline of Nash's stats thus far. This isn't necessarily unexpected, but I didn't think it would be as noticeable as early in the season.
This also got me thinking of how much I miss the old Nash. Sure, our team is built to make a long run in the playoffs. We have more depth, a better defense, and more scorers. But, selfishly, how much more fun was it to watch Nash create instead of dumping it into the post to Shaq?
I do recognize that a change probably needed to be made for us to advance in the playoffs. However, the type of change is (and was) debatable. Again, I'm not necessarily disagreeing with any of the personnel moves, it's just a weird feeling not to see Nash as relied upon - but it's probably a good thing.
Seeing D'Antoni's Knicks put up 19 made three pointers and 132 points this year certainly didn't help my nostalgia.
I also recognize it's early in the year and there are a ton of things that can change. I have written previously that we need to give Nash more credit as a point guard that he can adapt to new systems and still be effective, which he is.
What I didn't realize (or want to accept) is that by doing so, he is selflessly sacrificing for the "betterment" of the team. He never has, and never will, complain about a diminished role or his points/assists totals going down. All he wants is some clarification so he knows how to best lead this team.
And I'm confident that his leadership trumps any decline from a statistical point of view.
But, as evidenced by the video below, I sure miss seeing the ball in his hands and waiting for him to create.
*Statistical source: ESPN.com