Stat of the Day (4/10): Nash is League’s “Best” Shooter

Stat: Steve Nash ranks first among point guards and third among all backcourt players in true shooting at 63.1 percent, despite being assisted on a guard-low of 16.3% of his baskets.

Take: That Nash is the best shooter in the NBA is an idea that’s received more attention over the last few years as his gaudy overall numbers were supposed to decline with his aging body.  Some have even taken it a step farther and suggested that – statistically, at least – Nash might be the best shooter the league has ever seen.

Apr. 01, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Suns guard Steve Nash (13) puts up a shot against the New Orleans Hornets during the second half at the US Airways Center. The Suns defeated the Hornets 92-75. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE.

There’s no point in arguing either point as it’s theoretically impossible to actually prove who the “best” player in the league is or was at any particular facet of the game.  There are just too many – an infinite number, really – exterior factors that contribute to better or worse advanced statistics for a given player compared to another, and relying only on the proverbial eye-test leads to talking points like, “Carmelo Anthony is the best pure scorer in the NBA, bar none,” that was so popular in 2009.  So it’s necessary for some combination of ideas perpetuated by stat-heads and purists to come to conclusions like “best shooter” while acknowledging and considering differing opinions.

For proclamations like this, though, we don’t need any acknowledging, considering, or even politely heated discourse: what Nash is doing as a shooter in 2012 – at age 38, in his sixteenth year as a pro, with perhaps the least talented supporting cast he’s ever had, and in a shortened, condensed schedule – is absolutely incredible.

It shouldn’t surprise that Nash leads PGs and is third among all guards in true shooting; he’s been in this elite range of efficiency for years.  Yes, previously mentioned factors like age and the breakneck pace of this season in addition to a nagging back injury suggested slippage in Nash’s game, but by this point in his career we should know he wasn’t going to let that happen.  It certainly should be a matter of “when” and not “if” when it comes to Nash slowing down as he approaches 40, but it’s long overdue that we discontinue expecting it .  This season is as good an indication as any that he might very well remain this elite offensively until he retires (which we hope, of course, isn’t any time soon).

What makes this season so note-worthy statistically for Nash (finally putting age/injury/lockout talk aside) is the correlation between true shooting (TS%) and baskets assisted (%ASTD).  Consider, for example, that James Harden – enjoying an awesomely efficient season as previously chronicled at StS – ranks second among guards in TS% but has a %ASTD rate of 49.1.  That’s three times Nash’s %ASTD mark of 16.3 while playing alongside offensive luminaries like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Harden isn’t a point guard, though, so he’d naturally be assisted on fewer baskets than Nash.  Chris Paul, the only player universally considered on Nash’s level of point guard genius, is a better comparison.  Paul ranks seventh among point guards in TS% at 57.9 and has a %ASTD mark of 17.7.  Those numbers pale in comparison to those of Nash, and what makes that fact even more impressive is no other point guard comes close to matching even Paul here.

Let’s italicize, bold, and bullet for effect:

  • Nash and Paul are the only point guards in the NBA with a %ASTD mark below 20.7, at 16.3 and 17.7 respectively.
  • Among the top 17 point guards in TS%, none come within five percentage points of Paul’s %ASTD.  Eighteenth place Russell Westbrook %ASTD is 22.3.
  • Nobody can touch Paul’s TS% and %ASTD correlation, and he’s not close to touching that of Nash.  
  • Nash has arguably the least talented supporting cast of any star in the NBA.
You get the point.
He has big time warts defensively, has a relatively low usage rate, is 38 years-old, and might come just short of willing Phoenix to the playoffs this, but Steve Nash is not only the NBA’s “best” shooter, but also its “best” overall offensive player.  Now let’s hear those differing opinions.