Top 50: Steve Nash, no. 21

by October 16, 2012

by Yaron Weitzman | @YaronWeitzman

There really is no explanation for Steve Nash being No. 21 on this list.

It’s not that he’s undeserving of this honor; any point guard who can average 12.5 points and 10.7 assists per game while shooting 53 percent from the field, 39 percent from behind the arc and 89 percent from the charity stripe most certainly does. Rather, what I mean is that, well, he’s old. Like really old.

Steve Nash is currently 38 years old. On February 7 he will turn 39, which is exactly how old Jalen Rose and Chris Webber are, and I’m pretty certain I’ve been watching the two of them analyze the game they used to play for the past 10 years.

Thirty-eight-year-old professional basketball players are supposed to be in the decline phases of their careers. Actually, they’re not supposed to be in the midst of any career phase; when an NBA player gets to his upper 30s, his career is supposed to be something that was, not is.

The few anomalies that are able to hang on usually do so by serving as a contending team’s veteran presence on the bench. They certainly aren’t supposed to be the best players and focal points of their teams, and they certainly aren’t supposed to put up near historic shooting numbers like Nash did last season.

What’s most incredible about Steve Nash, though, is that his ability to combat the undefeated foe of father time in a way that few ever have may not even be the most impressive line on his resume. In fact, the most impressive line on his resume is probably the fact that it’s so hard to choose just one impressive line.

Think about this: Steve Nash may be the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA. Only seven players in the sport’s history have shot at least 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from behind the arc and 90 percent from the free-throw line for a season. Nash has accomplished that feat four times, and nearly hit those marks again last year. No one else has done so more than twice. Yet shooting is rarely the first skill that someone mentions when talking about what makes the two-time MVP so great.

How many players can that be said about it? How many players in the history of the sport have done something on the court better than anyone else ever has, only to see that skill constantly relegated to the bottom of the list when factors behind said player’s greatness are being discussed? It would be like not mentioning defense when trying to explain what made Bill Russell so great. That just doesn’t happen, yet with Nash, the conversation—rightfully so—always starts with his passing and court vision and leadership, not with his historic ability to efficiently shoot a basketball.

This year, though, things will be different. This year, Nash will be wearing purple and gold and playing in Los Angeles and sharing the court with Kobe Bryant. This year, Nash will not be handed the keys to the car, or at least not as frequently as he was during his eight years in Phoenix. This year, Nash will have to defer to Kobe and throw the ball into the post and spend time spotting up on the wing.

But what makes Nash so great is that he’s not just a system point guard—a la Raymond Felton or Jeremy Lin—who only thrives when allowed to play a certain way. When you can shoot and pass and dribble and think like Nash, you become the rare piece that can smoothly fit into any puzzle.

Nash’s shooting will give the Lakers some much-needed spacing when Pau Gasol and Bryant are posting up. His brilliance in the pick-and-roll will give Dwight Howard—statistically, the best pick-and-roll finisher in the NBA last season—and the Lakers more easy baskets than either had all of last year. His uncanny ability to elevate the play of those around him—last season, Nash’s Phoenix teammates shot 47.4 percent when he was on the floor and 41.6 percent when he wasn’t—may be the only chance the Lakers have of winning a title while they have players like Steve Blake and Jordan Hill getting minutes off the bench.

As the ‘12-13 NBA season approaches, many seem to be under the belief that the Lakers can be a Championship contender and one of the best offensive teams in the League if Nash can figure out how to play with Bryant and Howard and Gasol. That line of thinking is backwards.

The Lakers will be a Championship contender and one of the best offensive teams in the League because Nash is playing with Bryant and Howard and Gasol. There’s no if.

Not when an offensive wizard like Steve Nash is involved.

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Greg Monroe Pistons C 8
49 Tyreke Evans Kings PG 14
48 Brandon Jennings Bucks PG 13
47 Stephen Curry Warriors PG 12
46 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 11
45 Al Jefferson Jazz PF 14
44 Anthony Davis Hornets PF 13
43 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 12
42 Al Horford Hawks C 7
41 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 10
40 Danny Granger Pacers SF 6
39 Tim Duncan Spurs PF 11
38 John Wall Wizards PG 9
37 Monta Ellis Bucks SG 8
36 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 10
35 Roy Hibbert Pacers C 6
34 Tyson Chandler Knicks C 5
33 Eric Gordon Hornets SG 7
32 Kevin Garnett Celtics PF 9
31 Manu Ginobili Spurs SG 6
30 Amar’e Stoudemire Knicks PF 8
29 Marc Gasol Grizzlies C 4
28 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 3
27 Paul Pierce Celtics SF 5
26 Andre Iguodala Nuggets SG 5
25 Rudy Gay Grizzlies SF 4
24 Josh Smith Hawks PF 7
23 Derrick Rose Bulls PG 8
22 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
21 Steve Nash Lakers PG 7

• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.