The Mike D’Antoni Effect: Transforming Steve Nash Into An MVP

stephendataviz

News broke this morning that Steve Nash hired recently ex-Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni to join the Brooklyn Net’s coaching staff. This staff will comprise of Steve Nash (head coach), Mike D’Antoni, Ime Udoka, Amer’e Stoudamire, & Jacque Vaughn.

For casual NBA fans this may not mean much but holy moly this is a STACKED coaching roster. Steve Nash may be legitimately the 4th best head coaching option. Obviously Mike D’Antoni is a legend & may not get enough credit for evolving the game into what it is today, Vaughn has been the top assistant for the Nets since 2016 & an assistant coach that will step into a head coaching spot soon, & Ime Udoka is the hot flavor of the month. Many thought all 3 of these men would man their own bench, but somehow someway Nash has convinced this Avengers like cast to join the Nets.

Obviously with this many cooks in the kitchen it will be a very difficult job navigating this kitchen – especially as a first time head coach combined with the sky high expectations that come with coaching a KD/Kyrie lead squad – but I will not be diving into that today. Instead, I want to focus on how Mike D’Antoni transformed Steve Nash into an MVP & how Kyrie Irving will benefit from the Nash/D’Antoni combo.

The similarities between Nash’s game & Kyries are staggering. Both control the ball/court very well & have an uncanny feel for the court many do not have (s/o JR Smith). They also have 2 of the purest 3 point strokes of all time. Nash played in an era that did not demand the point guard to shoot as much as today, so Nash always focused on setting up his teammates before getting buckets. This doesn’t mean that Nash was not more than capable – if he played in today’s game would his comp be a young man named Wardell Curry? I think so. The last similarity I will point out is both players desperately need their teammates to step up and play up to their levels. The way these two players play forces the other members of the team to step up & the Nets appear to have the perfect roster for that task.

This visual takes a look at Steve Nash’s on-court +/- (per 100 possessions) under different head coaches. We will focus mainly on the Don Nelson lead Mavs, the Mike D’Antoni lead Suns, & the various head coaches that came after him for the Suns. For the sake of comparison I did not use his early or late career stats – only 1998-2012.

The results of this graph are actually more staggering than I expected. As seen in the top graph, his avg +/- dropped 6.1 points before and after Mike D’Antoni. Nash’s lowest +/- under the Suns lead D’Antoni was 8.7 – which would be his 2nd highest for the rest of his career. He only had a higher +/- than this under a different coach once (2002-2003: 9.6).

Growing up as a Mavs fan I watched almost every game from 1998-2004. That was right in the sweet spot for my life where I was old enough to care about things but not old enough to actually have any real obligations. I remember those Dirk, Finley, Nash teams as being very very good – so naturally I expected Steve Nash’s +/- to be much higher than they actually are. I would have expected more seasons like the 2002-2003 (+9.6) but that actually appears to be the anomaly and not the norm.

The other thing that stood out was how his game DROPPED after D’Antoni left. I’m sure some people would argue Nash was already on his way out of the league but don’t forget he won his 2nd of his b2b MVPs in 2006 & was runner-up for his 3rd consecutive in 2006-2007. He still had a lot left in the tank but D’Antoni was the reason Nash couldn’t keep this type of pace up.

Nash was a very good player & even a multiple time All-Star before he joined up with Mike D’Antoni, but now he is viewed as one of the best point guards of all time, a 2x MVP, & one of the smartest brains in the league. Straight up and very simply put – Steve Nash would not be viewed in this demi status if it wasn’t for D’Antoni. Put in even more straight forward terms, Stephen John Nash would not be the head coach of the Brooklyn Nets if it wasn’t for D’Antoni.

This leads us to present day & how will this combo lead this Nets (Kyrie in particular) to the promise land. We have already seen Kyrie & KD win championships so we know that can get to that level, so how much improvement can we really expect?

Below shows Assist% for Kyrie Irving & Steve Nash – particularly take a look at the jump from Don Nelson to D’Antoni.

As you can see Kyrie Irving’s assist% has been getting better the last few seasons but is not even close to Nash’s prime under D’Antoni. Kyrie is not the same player as Nash so we cannot expect such a drastic jump but what is a realistic number? In my opinion if Kyrie can get that number up to 43% – this gives the Nets the best chance of being a legit contender for multiple years. I’m talking dynasty type shit.

Kyrie has the skillset and the teammates to take a leap into an all-time great, it appears he now has the coaching staff and support system around him to make this jump a reality. I would not be surprised if Nash becomes what D’Antoni was for him for Kyrie. Kyrie can legit be a 2x MVP, 1st ballot HOFer, & go down as one of the greatest NBA minds on this flat flat earth.

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Image Sources: Getty | USA Today | Hoops Rant

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