Nelson was right, however: What makes Nash so effective is his ability as a scorer. After averaging only 8.3 points in his first two seasons with the Mavericks, he was averaging 16.4 points, along with 7.2 assists, through Tuesday for 20-12 Dallas. The Mavs ranked fourth in the league in shooting (45.9%), and Nash, the reluctant marksman, was hitting 49.7% from the field, 44.1% from beyond the arc and 92.0% from the line. "I've had half-hour games of H-O-R-S-E with Steve," says Vandeweghe, who was an elite shooter until his retirement in 1993. "Over the last year or two he's developed a little runner that he can make from 12 to 15 feet."
When Dallas traded for Jazz guard Howard Eisley and signed him to a seven-year, $41 million contract last summer, Nash wondered if Nelson might be having doubts about him. "It made me question what [management] thought of me, but I never for one moment questioned my own abilities," Nash says. After leading Canada to a surprising seventh-place finish in Sydney, Nash beat out Eisley for the starting job in training camp. Rather than become rivals, however, they have become backcourt mates. An early-season injury to power forward Gary Trent opened up a starting position for Eisley, whose talents for playmaking, shooting and defense have made him the perfect complement to Nash.
The close friendship of Nash, Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki—Dallas's so-called Big Three—should help the Mavs pull together while assistant Donnie Nelson takes over for his father, who was scheduled to undergo surgery for prostate cancer on Thursday and may not return until March. Finley concedes his close relationship with Nash may be a factor in keeping him in Dallas when he becomes a free agent this summer. "Trust in my teammates is definitely an issue," Finley says. "Steve is tough. I worked out with him two summers ago, and it was one of my toughest workouts. We lifted weights and shot jumper after jumper against each other. Every time you lost you had to do push-ups. I bet I still owe him 200."
The floppy-haired Nash is developing a reputation on both sides of the Atlantic, with British tabloid reporters calling to check on rumors of an affair between him and Geri Halliwell, the former Spice Girl who has been seen at Dallas games. Nash's friends say he was the one being pursued. "We're friends," Nash, who has a girlfriend, says of Halliwell.
It seems all types of celebrities are having trouble catching Nash these days. Now that he's healthy and scoring from long range, he's no longer hearing the criticism that he's too slow to play the point. "If you can hit the outside shot," says Vandeweghe, "nobody can guard you."
Outside the Box Score
A McKey Contribution
Pacers forward Derrick McKey had played only seven minutes in the five previous games when coach Isiah Thomas sent him in for the fourth quarter against the Magic on Christmas. McKey shut down Tracy McGrady, holding him to 1-of-9 shooting in Indiana's 103-93 victory.