Please welcome Jevan Pradas, aka The Basketball Philosopher, as a paid contributor to Chasing 23. While in graduate school Jevan cared more about winning his University’s intramural basketball championships than cramming for finals. Despite this, he managed to graduate with honors while studying Philosophy and Statistics. He now uses this unique analytics background to come to surprising and often counter-intuitive basketball opinions.
Skeptics : Steve Nash is the greatest offensive player ever? And you call yourself the basketball philosopher? I think you need to put down the hash and get back to your job serving me fries! Haven’t you ever heard of Michael Jordan? Magic Johnson? Wilt ‘freaking’ Chamberlain?
Of course I have. And they are all fantastic players. But Steve Nash is a better offensive player than all of them (though the wisdom of his loyalty at times might be questioned). And by the end of this post, you are going to agree with me.
I won’t even beat around the bush. I have not one, but TWO knock down, airtight arguments.
Here is number one. Neil Paine of basketball-reference fame did a great analysis of the best offenses in NBA history. He used the stat offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) including regular season and playoffs for every team dating back to 1951. Of course eras are different, rules change, some that favor offense, some that don’t. So to make things equal, offenses are rated compared to their own era, by Z score (the number of standard deviations above or below the average a team was on offense).
The Greatest Offenses in NBA History
1. 2007 Phoenix Suns
2. 2005 Phoenix Suns
3. 1971 Milwaukee Bucks
4. 2010 Phoenix Suns
5. 1982 Denver Nuggets
6. 2004 Dallas Mavericks
7. 1975 Houston Rockets
8. 1987 Los Angeles Lakers
9. 2004 Sacremento Kings
10. 2006 Phoenix Suns
11. 2009 Phoenix Suns
Do you notice a pattern with the above teams? Other than the fact that, you know, I put certain teams in bold font? Of course you do. The top 2, 3 of the top 4 and 6 of the top 11 offenses of all time (2002 Mavs also had 18th best offense ever) were led by a 6’1 white Canadian by the name of Steve Nash.
That’s not a coincidence. I feel like I could take off my boots and put my feet up on the desk, the case is closed as far as I’m concerned.
Skeptics: But wait a second! All that shows is that he played on great offensive teams. He did play with Amar’e Stoudemire after all!
So did the 2011 New York Knicks.
Are you also forgetting the 2006 Phoenix Suns? The year Amar’e had micro-fracture surgery on his knee and missed the entire season? That team was the 10th greatest offense in the history of the NBA. The team that featured a starting lineup of Steve Nash, Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw and Kurt Thomas. That lineup produced a better offense than any team Michael Jordan or Wilt Chamberlain ever played on. That lineup had a Z-score of 2.31 SD’s above the league average. The 1987 Lakers had a Z-score 2.33 SD’s above the league average. Almost identical. Tell me how is it possible that these two starting lineups are equivalent offensively unless Steve Nash is an offensive God?
2006 Phoenix Suns vs. 1987 Los Angeles Lakers Starting Lineups
Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Skeptics: It was Mike D’antoni’s system!
D’antoni’s system? Sure MD is an offensive minded coach, but that really hasn’t helped the mediocre Knicks team the past 4 years has it? During the last 3 years as coach of the Knicks, D’Antoni’s teams have never led the NBA in scoring and were as low as 10th (for the 2009-10 season). Additionally, the 2009 and 2010 Phoenix Suns are also two of the 11 greatest offenses of all time – and MD wasn’t the coach those years.
Skeptics: Enticing evidence I admit, but we are still not convinced. What else you got?
Knockdown, airtight argument #2.
There is a stat, my favorite, called Adjusted Plus/Minus. It breaks down plus/minus stats into individual contributions, and produces a number that tells you how many points a player adds to a given team’s offense (and defense) per game. Here are the league leaders of the last few years using a variant of adj. Plus/Minus called Ridge Regressed Adj. Plus/Minus (RAPM) which has less absolute validity (the point estimates are conservative) but more reliability. Even last year, Nash was still the best in the game.
2011 RAPM Rankings
But it was in the years 2005-2008 that Nash was truly head and shoulders above everyone else in the league. A quick sampling of one of those years:
2008 RAPM Rankings
3.B. Davis 5.4
No one meant more to their team’s offense than Steve Nash. And it wasn’t even close.
*Unties boots, kicks feet up*
Case is closed fellas.