Nash Makes His Point; Now He Deserves Votes

Dec. 20, 2001

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    By Tim Cowlishaw
    Dallas Morning News

    DALLAS, Texas -- Three years ago, I didn't like Steve Nash's chances of making all-city at point guard. Robert Pack scored more points in less playing time, moved the team at a quicker pace and averaged more assists and steals per minute than the player Don Nelson had boldly sacrificed a future lottery pick to obtain.

    Nash said the shortened 1998-99 season marked just the first few months of a six-year contract. Nash said to be patient. That was the smart thing to say for someone who shot 36.3 percent from the field in his first season in Dallas.

    "There were some tough times there," he said Wednesday. "Physically, I just wasn't able. My confidence wavered some, but I didn't ever doubt that I would one day get here."

    Here is ... where exactly? Well, NBA Western Conference Player of the Week for one. More surprising to anyone who watched Nash labor with his shot in the spring of 1999 is that he is shooting 50 percent, the best of any starting point guard in the league.

    And Nash is doing it while jacking up 3-pointers on a regular basis. Among point guards, only Denver's Nick Van Exel has made more 3s than Nash (52-50), and Van Exel has had an extra 41 attempts.

    Steve Nash, the best shooter among NBA point guards. You can look it up.

    Steve Nash, NBA All-Star. Is there any question about it?

    He's only 10th among guards in the voting, understandable considering the larger national profiles of Dirk Nowitzki and Michael Finley. Still, it's criminal to see the entertaining but greatly overrated Jason Williams of Memphis ahead of Nash.

    Seattle's Gary Payton will be the likely starter for the West, but Jason Kidd has gone East, Houston's Steve Francis has been hurt, and even the ageless John Stockton is showing signs of reaching the end for a pretty average Utah team.

    "Gary's a great player, but everything has to go through him in Seattle," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. "Steve doesn't have to be the first option here. He tends to be the third option, but he can score when we need it like when he got nine in a row [in Minnesota] to keep us going.

    "And on the defensive end, Nellie's not afraid to put him on anybody."

    Nash grew accustomed to being the answer to his team's prayers at an early age. On Canadian national teams, he could easily recognize that he was the best option. At Santa Clara, Nash knew he had to be king.

    But entering the NBA in 1996 and serving basically as Kidd's backup for two years altered Nash's perception.

    "I probably wasted a lot of time trying to see where I could fit in," said Nash. "But that's always been my nature, to get the ball to other people. There's always been a conflict there."

    There is with any good point guard, really. But somewhere along the line during the 1999-2000 season, Don Nelson convinced Nash that to go from being a good player to a very good one, he had to shoot the ball.

    Now he does, not shamelessly but quite accurately. When the Washington Wizards upset the Mavericks here two weeks ago, Michael Jordan was quick to point out that the visitors were fortunate that Nash's shooting touch had disappeared for a night.

    "He's playing the way I always pictured that he would," said Nelson. "It was the same way when I had Timmy [Hardaway] in Golden State. When he's shooting, he's a dominant player. That was a natural thing for Tim, but Steve had to be convinced.

    "He's deserving of whatever accolades he's getting. I think after Gary Payton, you can take Steve in there against anybody."

    If the Mavericks maintain their current winning pace and Nash continues his shooting pace, it should happen. For a guy who struggled to look better than Robert Pack three seasons ago, a guy who was supposed to have to fight to hold off Howard Eisley for the starting job last year, the NBA All-Star Game would be a fitting reward.

    The best point guard in Canada has his sights set on North America. Considering the distance he already has traveled, it's not that great a leap.