"If you study yourself, like I have, and, for example, you see your hip go way out over your ankle, you know you have to correct that," says Nash. He and Celebrini also discovered that the best way for Nash to shoot from the perimeter and preserve his back is with a long stroke and a high finish, initiating more movement with his core muscles. (That the stroke happens to be technically perfect is a bonus.) So Nash has worked on shooting his jumper the same way every time. Part and parcel of that is his especially slow practice stroke at the free throw line, where through Saturday he led the league with 93.8% shooting.
So that's the biomechanically perfect, ultramotivated package Phoenix got in Nash in the summer of '04. But it still doesn't explain the MVP thing, does it? Taking a cue from Celebrini, we may find the answer by breaking down Nash's game, and the point guard position, into five aspects.
If a lead guard is deadly from the outside, opponents have to play up on him, and that increases his opportunities for what the Suns call "blow-bys." There are nights when Arenas, Iverson and Davis are unstoppable, but opponents can always play off them and make them hit a few outside shots. Nash, like the Detroit Pistons' playmaker, Chauncey Billups, must always be crowded. The Phoenix assistants joke that they want to rebound for Nash when he works on his jumper before and after practice. "You just stand under the basket, and it comes right to you," says Alvin Gentry.
?Drive and determination
That's Nash and always has been Nash. He concedes that last season he wanted to show the Mavs--whom he torched for a career-high 48 points in Game 4 of the conference semifinals--that they'd made a mistake in not re-signing him. Now he's playing to win a championship.
In this regard Nash is as good as anyone since Utah Jazz star John Stockton. "Certain players are predisposed to creativity and decision making, and I guess I'm one of them," Nash says. "I do believe that, to an extent, point guards are born, not made. But you have to make yourself better. You have to take those natural gifts and expand them. You hear about so-called tweeners, guys who aren't quite point guards and aren't quite shooting guards. What do they usually become?"
Mediocre shooting guards?
"Exactly," says Nash.
It's not absolutely necessary that coach and quarterback be on the same page, but it helps. The 2003-04 Pistons didn't start playing like champions, for example, until Billups and Larry Brown reached an agreement on Billups's role in the offense. Nash and Mike D'Antoni aren't just on the same page--they're in the same sentence. D'Antoni is convinced that Nash is always trying to do the right thing for the team, and it goes without saying that Nash buys into D'Antoni's go-go-go philosophy on the break and his dribble-dribble-probe philosophy in the half-court. "There are times when Steve dribbles too much," says D'Antoni, "and times that he tries stuff that is too outlandish. But why would I say anything to him? Nine times out of 10 he makes it work."
Physically gifted point guards go around (the speedy Iverson), through (the powerful Billups) or over (the spring-loaded Davis) their opponents. It's obvious that Nash isn't that powerful or blessed with much lift. But here's news: He's not all that quick, either--not from a standing start, anyway. Nash and his teammates and coaches shake their heads when they hear testimonies to his quickness, for within his own team Bell, House, Stoudemire and All-Star forward Shawn Marion are all quicker, never mind backup guard Leandro Barbosa, who's twice as quick. Yes, the Suns are one of the league's quickest teams, yet Nash feels he can be outquicked by most of his opponents.
But not outjuked. "I'm more elusive than quick, and people confuse the two," says Nash. "I'm really good on the move, which involves coordination, timing and balance. Once I get going, I can do a lot of things. But I'm painfully bad at explosiveness." What Nash has done, then, is to master ways to be always moving. The Suns' offense is predicated on that principle, even in the half-court. Nash gives it up on the run and gets it back (by a pass or a dribble handoff) on the run. But what else would you expect?