If you thought the Steve Nash lovefest was complete after Seth's story extolling Nash's virtuoso performance so far this season, and Wil's respect for Nash the philanthropist, you were mistaken. Those things are all great, and appropriate as we celebrate the man on his birthday, but let's get down to business here. Steve Nash has had a tremendous playing career in Phoenix, and my position is that he's the franchise's best player ever.
When he returned to Phoenix from Dallas, the Suns were a 29-53 team, with the 21st rated offense in the league. In his first season back, 2004-2005, the Suns won 62 games with the NBA's best offense, making the Western Conference Finals only to lose to the eventual league champion San Antonio Spurs. Another 60-win season, two 50-win seasons and two more conference finals appearances followed as Nash won league MVP twice.
As regular readers here know, I've been following the Suns since I was a child and the team featured Paul Westphal and Walter Davis. No offense intended to those who are only Suns fans due to Nash being on the team, but that is not me. I saw the MacLeod teams, the Cotton teams, the Westphal as coach teams. In short, I'm not throwing this "greatest ever" label around lightly.
Nash has earned it through consistently excellent production, steady and solid leadership, loyalty and international star quality. With all due respect to Kevin Johnson, Charles Barkley, Amare Stoudemire and Walter Davis, Nash is the gold standard among all Suns players, past and present.
The criteria I'm using for this title is accumulated greatness. While Nash is the only Suns player to win two league MVP awards, I'd rate Charles Barkley's 1992-93 season as the greatest individual season by a Suns player. After joining the Suns, Barkley won an Olympic Gold Medal on the Dream Team, then made the All-Star team, won league MVP and led the Suns to the 92-93 NBA Finals as he averaged 25.6 points, 12.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game that year. That was amazing, and also the most fun I've ever had as a Suns fan.
Barkley burned brighter, but he didn't burn as long in Phoenix. Players like Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire were spectacular in their own rights. Sadly, in the end, they chose not to be members of the team. Nash measures well in individual success, team success, longevity, loyalty and leadership. Among them all, he is the total package. Let's look at some numbers, courtesy of Basketball Reference:
Suns career achievements, ranking among NBA's best all-time
- Two-time NBA MVP, finished second another season
- Thrice 1st-team All-NBA, twice 2nd-team All-NBA
- 5 All-Star game appearances
- 10th all-time in made 3-pointers
- 8th all-time in 3-point %
- 2nd all-time in FT%
- 6 times led the league in assists
- 11th all-time in true shooting % (accounts for 2-point, 3-point and FT shooting)
- One of only five players in "50-40-90 Club". Only Nash and Larry Bird have achieved 50% FG shooting, 40% 3-point shooting and 90% FT shooting in more than one season.
I used only Nash's 9+ seasons in Phoenix for the annual honors (all-star games, etc.) but his entire career for his total career achievements. It's easy to see that he is the best passing point guard of his era and one of the best of all-time. A strong argument can also be made that Nash is the greatest shooter of all-time. He's certainly at least in the conversation.
When looking at Suns career leaders, it can be tricky because you have sheer volume stats (games played, total FGs made) and then you have stats like win shares/48 minutes which reward a player such as Charles Barkley, who had a spectacular but relatively short (four seasons) career in Phoenix.
There are cases to be made for several other former Suns players for the "best ever" label, Barkley among them, but also more contemporary players like Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion, all-time franchise leading scorer Walter Davis, and Kevin Johnson.
Here's how Nash rates among Suns' franchise leaders:
- 1st in offensive rating
- 2nd in total offensive win shares (KJ is 1st, but Nash will pass him soon)
- 3rd in total win shares (Shawn Marion is 1st, KJ is 2nd)
- 5th in win shares/48 minutes (behind Barkley, Stoudemire, KJ and Marion)
- 3rd in effective FG %, which takes 3 point shots counting for 3 points into account. The only players ahead of Nash here are Mark West and Shaquille O'Neal, both of whom scored nearly all of their points around the basket.
- 1st in made 3-pointers
- 1st in 3-point %
- 5th in Player Efficiency Rating, PER (behind Barkley, Stoudemire, Westphal and KJ)
- 1st in total assists
- 3rd in assists per game (narrowly behind Jason Kidd and KJ)
- 7th in total points scored. Walter Davis is far ahead of him here, but Davis was known as a pure scorer. He's also the franchise leader in field goal attempts while Nash is only 6th.
What we see here again is that Nash is an elite shooter and passer, but doesn't stack up to the rest as a pure scorer or defender. I'm going to look at this as a process of elimination. I simply cannot call Barkley the greatest player in franchise history when he played only four seasons before forcing his way out of town, as fantastic as he was during those seasons.
Marion and Stoudemire also left Phoenix under less than ideal circumstances and burned some bridges on the way out. Additionally I would say, of those three players, Nash is the one whose production continues at closer to the same rate than the other two since they've parted ways. I will confidently say Nash is the best player of those three.
Walter Davis was phenomenal, but if I'm including leadership and loyalty, Davis' exit from the Suns in the disgrace of a drug scandal earns him a major demerit.
This leaves me with Kevin Johnson vs. Steve Nash. I can't find much negative to say about Kevin Johnson, but if there is one criticism it's that he had injury problems during the middle to late part of his career, and those compromised his production and consistency. I loved KJ as a player, and he stacks up the closest to Nash in all areas.
Still, I give the edge to Nash. KJ wasn't as consistently dominant throughout his career, making only three All-Star games and finishing no higher than 7th in MVP voting. In his second stint in Phoenix, Nash has been one of the league's best point guards every season, even with a revolving cast around him. Now, at age 38, he remains the best passing point guard in the NBA. Phenomenal.
So, there we have it: Steve Nash, elite shooter, elite passer, elite team leader, 2-time MVP,
Greatest Phoenix Suns Player Ever