No Game Is an Island: Objects in the Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

Posted by Rob Mahoney on March 10, 2009 under Previews | Be the First to Comment

The Dallas Mavericks visit the Phoenix Suns
9:00 CST

Something is wrong with Steve Nash.

Terry Porter’s system, Shaq’s presence, and D’Antoni’s departure all weighed on him, to no one’s surprise.  But it’s time that we all face the grim reality that this is not the same Nash we’ve seen the previous four seasons in Phoenix, or in the previous four seasons in Dallas.

But let’s go back for a minute.  One of the critical things to understand about Nash’s departure was that it was more of a perfect signing for Phoenix and less of a huge mistake for Dallas.  The Mavs made their offer, a reasonable one, and Nash chose the extra contract year and extra money over a chance to continue to build upon the foundation with the Mavs and play with his pal Dirk.  “It’s a business,” I’ll have you know.  Nash was a cricial part of the Mavs’ success up until that point, but there was still enough talent on the team to move forward without him, and enough cap space to hedge his loss.  Think about Phoenix, though.  Nash was perfect champion of D’Antoni’s offense, and no other point guard in the league would even compare as a substitute.  Think of the point guards of 2004-2005; was there any point guard in the league (aside from, ironically, Jason Kidd) who could have even approached what Nash did for the Suns that year?  And even if the Suns had somehow landed Kidd, the Phoenix cast-off, wouldn’t his inability to score have crippled him in a way that Nash never was?  Nash wasn’t just a great acquisition for the Suns, he was the perfect acquisition for the Suns.  That’s why I’m sure it’s devastating for Suns fans to witness what Nash is becoming.

Nash’s deciline has been subtle, especially in contrast with the doomsday scenario that prevented Mark Cuban from re-signing Nash that summer (I hear it involved Nash’s back bursting into flame).  He was already an underwhelming defender, but is rapidly approaching the worst defensive points in the league.  Of course it’s not an issue of effort for a player of Nash’s caliber and work ethic, but the odds just aren’t in his favor against opposition that is routinely faster and stronger than him.  His defensive fall-off hasn’t bothered me, probably because I never expected him to excel on that end.  Where Nash has suddenly become mortal, however, is on the offensive end, where he once made his living as a wizard.  No more are those nifty runners or fadeaways, which seem to find more rim every time I watch the Suns.  The half step that Nash has lost with age has been a silent enemy of his game, denying him the space he needs to fully utilize his magic touch.  Bounce passes are picked off, he shoots more spot-up shots than ever, and though Phoenix is returning back to their old ways under Alvin Gentry, Nash isn’t coming back.

If you’ve glanced at the box scores of Nash’s recent efforts, you probably think I’m insane.  In the last five games, he’s scored over 20 points, shot over 50% (70%+ twice), and averaged 9.4 assists.  Same ol’ Steve, and all that.  But watch him tonight.  He’ll push the ball up and down the floor, but you’ll see him force one too many passes, fail to beat his man off the dribble en route to the basket, and sigh when the break slows and he feeds Shaq time after time.  For all the fuss that was made over Nash’s work on the break, some of his most beautiful passes and incredible plays were made in the half-court or on the secondary break, where he would feed a trailer coming down the lane, thread a needle between three sets of limbs, or effortlessly float a fadeaway jumper just over the defender’s outstretched arms.  That’s where the Suns have changed, and in turn, where Nash has changed.  As long as the Suns continue to run, the numbers will be there to make me look like a moron.  But watching the games, Steve Nash has the look of an aging star who has has been broken one too many times, by the Spurs, by the institution, and by the fates themselves.

Nash still has plenty of basketball left, and I’ve seen him smile more in the past half month than in the season’s first three combined.  That doesn’t mean that what’s done can be undone, whether the villain is the changes around him or the changes within.