Steve Nash’s Defense: A Compilation of Thoughts

Oct 6, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson (3) is defended by Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Nash (10) during the first half at Valley View Casino Center. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Sam Vecenie: I think part of it is obviously on Nash, but we’ve seen bad defensive point guard be built around before. For instance, I don’t think Tony Parker has ever been particularly good on that end, but the Spurs have done an excellent job of insulating him with length in the paint like Duncan, Splitter, even Elson and Oberto on those mid-2000s years.

Nash never really had that luxury. The Suns killed themselves by not going out and getting a defensive center to pair with Amare that could help cut off the penetration of opposing point guard that were consistently blowing by Nash.

Andrew Lynch: Here’s my thing on Nash’s defense: it’s not like the man was a matador. He wasn’t out there just letting guys blow by him because he didn’t care about defense. He wasn’t a turnstile. He wasn’t saloon doors.

Nash tried to force you into the path of most resistance; he just wasn’t all that great at it. And when he was able to channel his man to the help defense on the backline, well, the help defense wasn’t all that great, either. But those Suns weren’t as bad on defense as you probably remember, and that perception trickles down to Nash. He always made the effort to be in the right place at the right time, even if he couldn’t quite get there. He understood the concepts of the team defense, as nebulous as they were at times, and he worked faithfully to execute them.

Would they have been better defensively had Nash been a better defender? Indubitably. Would they have won a title? Maybe. That’s a hard thing to do. Would they have been the Phoenix Suns that helped revamp the modern NBA?

That one, I’m not so sure about. And to me, that’s really the one that matters.

Matt Cianfrone: I think there were a lot of factors that cause everyone to kill Nash’s defense and like Andrew and Sam I don’t think it is all his fault.

He wasn’t James Harden who just doesn’t care at times or makes decisions that are incomprehensible. But when he did make a mistake there wasn’t ever a guy to bail him out. That is what I regret most about the Dwight to LA thing not working out. If he was the Orlando Dwight in LA and Nash stayed healthy I think the perception of him changes a bit. He still would have been bad, but Dwight would have helped eliminate the mistakes so it wouldn’t have seemed as bad.

Also people trying to invalidate his MVP’s definitely is part of this. He was so good on offense there really wasn’t a way to pick apart things on that end, so people got so focused in on the defense that it got to where we are today with the criticisms.

At a certain point if you are as good as Nash was on one end and giving effort on the other it shouldn’t matter how bad you were. I can’t wait until we get to the point in discussing Nash that it doesn’t anymore.

Kevin McElroy: Nash was a bad defensive point guard but plenty of bad defensive point guards get away with it because they have good defensive bigs behind them, something that Nash never really benefited from during his prime years. The irony of Nash’s defense is that the same rules that set him free as a miraculous offensive player made it nearly impossible for someone with his limited length and burst to be a good defensive PG. The system that he made the league’s most popular offensive approach was the same one that he didn’t have a prayer of defending.

Jared Dubin: I never cared that Steve Nash was bad at defense, because for a good long while, his offense was more than good enough to make up for it. He led the most efficient offense in the league every single year for a decade. That is not a misprint. A lot of times it’s going too far to give the point guard that much credit, but when you do it like Nash did, it’s not.

In a lot of ways, his offense worked as a conduit for defense. Because those Phoenix teams pushed the ball so relentlessly, and because Nash always had the ball in his hands and kept his dribble for longer than any point guard I’ve ever seen, he got his man more tired than other point men might. Those Suns teams were mostly just slightly below average on defense, it’s not like they were getting killed, but it may have been worse had Nash and the rest not be so diligent about pushing all the time. If teams had more energy, they might have been able to score more efficiently, especially given the aforementioned (by Kevin) lack of back-line defensive talent on hand.

Kevin McElroy: If you look at those Suns’ defenses, they were actually passable in terms of eFG% allowed and the number of fouls they committed. They were bad at forcing turnovers. Those are the 3 things I’d expect the PG to have some effect on and they scored pretty good, quite good, really bad.

They were awful — AWFUL — at preventing second chances. Which is not his fault.

Fun fact: the 2010-11 Knicks were also awful at preventing second chances. Weird coincidence, huh?

Amin Vafa: Nash running the SSOL offense in Phoenix mad basketball really fun to watch. And after having to endure Rileyball for an extended period of time at some point in our lifetimes, we deserved it.

As Kevin said before a lot of Nash’s defensive woes were actually exacerbated by the failure of the secondary defensive options. Mo Williams isn’t hanging 40+ points on Nash in 2009-10 if someone else is there preventing him from scoring, too.

Regardless, as a general NBA fan, it was kind of fun to play the “Who’s gonna put up a triple-double on Nash tonight?” Game. Invariably, the answer was Rajon Rondo. I mean, I love Steve Nash, but it was also always fun to see other PGs excel against a mediocre Suns defensive structure.

Kevin McElroy: I mean nothing makes basketball games more fun than a point guard who is 1) Transcendently great on offense and 2) Kinda crap on defense, right? Legacies aren’t just about “how many wins did you make for your team.” That’s what I was trying to get at with that Jeter thing I wrote last month. Of course that matters when you’re evaluating someone’s career value but can’t you say that Nash’s legacy is actually MORE fun because of how much he increased the odds that both teams’ point guards were going to have a great game on a given night? It doesn’t make him “better” it just makes his legacy cooler in that respect.

Jared Dubin: Good to know, Allen!

Jared Dubin

Jared Dubin is a New York lawyer and writer. He is the co-editor in chief of Hardwood Paroxysm and the HPBasketball Network.

  • elcocotero

    Lol someone there said that the suns killed themselves by not getting a defensive center to pair with Amar’e. DUDE BORIS DIAW!!! WOULD YOU SERIOUSLY CHANGE BOBO IN THOSE TEAMS FOR SOME BORING, SLOW GUY WHO GRABS REBOUNDS AND PLAYS PHYSICAL D??? NO WAAAAY!!!

  • Perhizzle

    Steve Nash lead the league in charges drawn 1 year with Phoenix, clearly, not a liability on defense as many suggest.

  • Seems to be a lot of, “Nash sucked on defense, but at least he tried”. I agree that’s its always better to try and fail, than to just fail, but the end result’s the same.

    Regardless, Nash was a great offensive player, and his O more than compensated for his lack of D.