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Empire of the Suns round table: Remembering Steve Nash

Joining in on this week’s edition of the Empire of the Suns round table are Vince Marotta, Jon Bloom, Kellan Olson, Bryan Gibberman and Kevin Zimmerman.

Which Nash-led Suns team was the best, and why?

Vince Marotta: I’m going with the 2006-07 team. They won 61 games, averaged 110 points per game and had four players average 17 or more points per game. It will go down as one of the many “what ifs” in Phoenix sports, but what if Robert Horry hadn’t hip-checked Nash into the scorer’s table at the end of Game 4 of the Western Conference semis? And “what if” Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw would have just stayed on the bench? The Suns have been close to a championship many times, but that might have been their best chance considering the Spurs went 8-1 over the next two rounds to win their championship.

Bryan Gibberman: I’d have to go with the first incarnation of Seven Seconds or Less in 2004-05. They didn’t have the big depth they had later on, but having Joe Johnson in the mix with Shawn Marion puts this squad over the top. Joe Johnson shot 48 percent from three this season! Outside of logical reasons, this one gets the nod because of the shock value of the team. When the Suns brought Steve Nash back during the summer leading into the season no one saw 62 wins coming. All the teams that followed had some sort of expectations hanging over them, with the only other squad close to being considered a surprise being in 2009-10.

Jon Bloom: For a couple of reasons I’m giving the nod to the ’04-05 group. Not only was it an amazing turnaround from the 29 wins the previous season, but the amount of points that team scored (110.4 per game, a number that’s only been bested once since then) was astounding and the best the league had seen in a decade. The entertaining and unpredictable way that the points came, and the fact that they came from a team that nobody expected to be good, made that remarkable 62-win season one to remember.

Kellan Olson: It has to be the 2004-05 team right? Amar’e Stoudemire was well on his way to becoming one of the best power forwards ever before his knee problems, averaging 26 points, 9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game as a 22-year-old. The Suns paired that monster with Shawn Marion in his prime and some tremendous three-point shooting. Nash (43%), Joe Johnson (48%), Quentin Richardson (38%), Jim Jackson (46%), Casey Jacobsen (38%), and Leandro Barbosa (37%) were all threats from deep. That juggernaut starting five had every member average at least 15 PPG. I still can’t believe that group didn’t go on to win a title.

Kevin Zimmerman: While I believe the 2010 playoff team was closest to winning a championship and was the best equipped to do it, I also have to pick the original 2004-05 squad. There’s a reason that, after the Golden State Warriors won the title last season, even the national NBA writers were connecting the dots back to those SSOL teams and Alvin Gentry was telling Mike D’Antoni that he’s vindicated. This team changed the landscape of the NBA.

What is Nash’s most impressive statistic or accolade?

Marotta: It’s not exactly creative, but it’s Nash’s domination of the 50-40-90 club. There have only been ten seasons in NBA history in which a player has reached those lofty shooting statistics — Nash did it four times!

Gibberman: I’ve brought this up before, but the most impressive accomplishment Nash had was dragging the 2010-11 team to 40 wins and 2011-12 version to 33. These teams were not good and Nash helped them be mediocre. This was when I grasped an understanding of how good Nash was — the moment he was no longer surrounded with elite talent.

Bloom: Since I like to color outside the lines a bit, I’m going to focus on his durability and unparalleled health regiment during his second tour of duty here in Phoenix. Many people know about the shooting percentages, assists, All-Star games and MVP honors, but did you know that in the eight seasons he started at point guard here, he missed a grand total of 53 games? The “TSM” (Training Staff Mafia) gets a lot of credit for that, but Nash was hands down the most disciplined athlete I’ve ever been around when it comes to diet and health. Let’s not forget he was 30 when he got back to PHX and 38 when he left, and 20 of the 53 games he sat out came in that final season.

Olson: His shooting percentages are ridiculous and why he’s the best shooter ever. The 50-40-90 club for FG%, 3P%, and FT% has only been done 10 times in league history. Nash did that in four separate seasons, two more times than anyone else. In fact, Nash’s career totals are incredibly close to having a career line of 50-40-90. He finished with 49 FG%, 42.8 3P%, and 90.4 FT%. To reference how absurd that is, Larry Bird’s career line was 49.6-37.6-88.6 and Stephen Curry currently has a 47.1-44-90 line.

Zimmerman: I wanted to pick his 10,335 career assists ranking third all-time or his 50-40-90 club appearances. But his nickname is Two-Time for goodness sake. Even though some didn’t think he was worthy of one of those (or both), his role in any Suns offense was as imperative to a team’s success as any other player I can remember watching. While Scottie and the Bulls could could hang without Jordan, the Suns teams looked like their powers were stolen by Space Jam Monstars when Nash was hurt.

What is one of your favorite memories of Steve Nash?

Vince Marotta: How do you pick out just one? It’s impossible, so I’ll go the other way. In the second game of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, the Suns hosted the Philadelphia 76ers. Quite frankly, Phoenix stunk up the joint, losing by 20 to a very mediocre team. The reason why I’ll remember this game is simple: Nash was terrible. I covered the game for Arizona Sports and it was alarming to see the two-time MVP play that badly. “That was about as bad a game as I’ve had personally, and team-wise it obviously was as well,” he said after the game. This doesn’t really qualify as a fond memory, but this anomaly of a game proved to the Suns fan base just how spoiled they were watching such an amazing point guard night in and night out. That was Nash’s last season in Phoenix, and despite turning 38 before the end of the year, he still averaged 12.5 points and 10.5 assists per game and he tied his career high by shooting .532 from the field.

Gibberman: I’m gonna go with this random regular season game. I’ll let the video be my words.

Bloom: Again hard to choose just one as he gave us so many as fans and some more on top of that to those of us lucky enough to share some time with Steve off the court. If there is a game that stands out for me, it has to be his 33 point effort in the Western Conference Semifinal opening win against the Spurs at home in 2010. At age 38, he absolutely dominated a game that had so much meaning for Suns fans, hitting 13 of 19 from the floor and 2 of his 4 threes, adding 10 assists, but most importantly setting the tone for what would be one of the more enjoyable playoff series the Valley has ever experienced. That series also put Goran Dragic on the map, and we all remember his unreal performance in Game 3, but I don’t think we ever would have seen that happen if it wasn’t for No. 13.

Olson: It’s not one specific memory, but Steve Nash taught me how to really watch basketball. I never looked much at things like spacing, how the defenses moved, and the geometry of the floor until I saw Nash. I was fortunate enough to go to a lot of games when Nash was in Phoenix and I learned so much about basketball during that time. Watching Nash run the pick-and-roll and/or the “midget” — when he would continue his dribble after going under the basket — was pure bliss. I tend to overemphasize basketball IQ when I talk about players and that’s probably from watching so much Nash in person.

Zimmerman: I think a lot of people who watched the Suns got used to expecting greatness when Nash played. We knew he was competitive, too, but the 2010 playoff sweep of the San Antonio Spurs seemed to have washed away all the bad luck and missed opportunities Phoenix faced against that team. So of course, Nash’s eye swelling shut as he shut out the Spurs in Game 4 became something bigger than just another performance. It felt like the Suns had exorcised their demons while half-blind.


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