There was never, in my lifetime, a more free-flowing style of game than the one Steve Nash played. Forget the arguments over the two MVPs, the debilitating injuries near the end; recall the patented finger-lick-to-hair-swipe over the ears, the off-the-dribble threes on nights where defenses felt safer granting him space to shoot than pass, and the constant motion between him and his teammates creating the game's fastest and easiest offense ever. Steve Nash's peak ended years ago, even before his last couple years with the Phoenix Suns, when he sprinted to the end of the bench into a child's pose position after every substitution. It finally came to a slow and painstaking conclusion on Thursday morning when it was announced he was done for the 2014-15 NBA season with back problems. Gone was one of the greatest dual shooter-passers we've ever seen at the point guard position. The next closest?
I love writing about Steve Nash. (here's a shameless plug!). Having watched Stephen Curry up close for a year and following his career as closely as any crazed fan could for the past half-decade, the similarities lie more between the unadulterated love off the court and the qualities on the court. Beside the incessant need to compare and contrast the trajectory of Nash's career and use his accolades as an indictment of his overrated-ness, he's beloved by everyone. The only controversial on-court altercation occurred when Robert Horry stiff-armed him into the scorer's table, causing an absurd suspension of Amare Stoudamire and the Phoenix Suns a chance at the championship. Curry is just at about the same level of adoration around the league. Since LeBron James' "hezzies" comment made the ESPN rounds, Drake's "Chef Curry" line, and as the elder statesman on the Splash Brothers moniker, there's no end in sight. But that's sort of the boring stuff.
What made Steve Nash great was every stereotypical trait one could muster up: excellent shooting, instinctual passing ability, gorgeous jumper, and an uncanny command of the floor. But what lurched Nash's greatness into overdrive was the extrapolation of everything about that. The excellent shooting wasn't merely that, it was a sustained eliteness that cowered as Plan B to what came next. His legendary ability to set players up often annihilated defenses to the point where that jumper, the one with perfect form, was the preferred option when attacking Nash. The command of the floor wasn't simply that, it was the innate ability, and almost inexplicable power to visualize what the audience theoretically hoped to see. So often players are unable to witness what goes on the other side of the floor because there's no angle or awareness from the spacing. What Nash could accomplish with his eyes was akin to a quarterback surveying the entire field. Except in a basketball game, most of that field is usually darkened by the different structural stations for every person. Nash played like he was functioning from five different stations, tossing dimes to his teammates from places unseen and unanticipated.
Stephen Curry doesn't nearly do the same thing in terms of angles but takes chances with passing lanes that would make Nash proud. Manipulative with his eyes, Curry is turnover-prone in that there's chances that necessitates risky takes. Keeping with awful football analogies: while Nash is the quarterback that shifts safeties and cornerbacks to his liking, Curry is the rocket arm that tries and fits 100-mph fastballs between the defensive backs. It's a different style, yet effective. The real similarity comes in the cratering of a team's defense to Nash and Curry's respective transcendent ability. Teams used to cower around Nash's teammates, forcing him to jack up open threes. In 2014, Curry is forcing teams to sprint their two best perimeter defenders the second he dribbles the ball past halfcourt. The San Antonio Spurs, a championship-level squad essentially allowed Nash to bomb away to success, and to failure. The Los Angeles Clippers, a championship contender, sent Blake Griffin or Matt Barnes and Chris Paul at Curry all 48 minutes and Paul even took offensive possessions off to chase Curry through and around screens. It destroyed their entire scheme.
The two point guards nurture two vastly different and similar styles. While Steve Nash has no choice but to walk away from the game he so fluently dominated for nearly two decades, it's Stephen Curry's time to ascend - at least in name - to the throne as the predominant dual shooting-passing guard in the NBA.