NBA 75: Steve Nash, from lightly recruited college star to standout NBA rookie

The NBA is celebrating players from the NBA 75 list almost daily from now until the end of the season. Today’s honoree is Steve Nash, who first appeared in The Sporting News as a lightly recruited “crown jewel” at Santa Clara in the West Coast Conference in the spring of 1995. Three years later, TSN was giving readers an up-close look at one of the NBA’s dynamic young guards in the Jan. 19, 1998 issue.

The book on Steve Nash

Suns G 6-3/195

Nash is proving to be one of the steals of the 1996 NBA draft. In fact, Suns coach Danny Ainge believes Nash is among the top dozen point guards in the league right now.

The problem is, Nash is playing behind a couple of All-Stars — Jason Kidd and Kevin Johnson. However, Nash’s role has increased now that KJ is sidelined until the All-Star break —  and Nash has shown that Ainge’s evaluation may be correct. Entering this week, he leads the team in 3-point accuracy and is one of the best in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio.

“Without a doubt, he’s the best shooter on our team,” KJ says.

Although Nash has proved to be a tenacious defender, he is still beaten too often off the dribble by quick point guards. But he’s an excellent ballhandler, passer and floor leader who is not afraid to direct a team loaded with veterans. His greatest strength, though, may be his hard-nosed attitude.

“We liked him (in the ’96 draft),” Seattle coach George Karl says. “We don’t usually like small guards, but we thought he could play in our system because of his toughness.”

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Nash makes good decisions in the open court or halfcourt, and he has proved to be a good player without the ball. He doesn’t mind setting tough picks on the baseline, and he has played alongside Kidd in a shooting guard’s role, working off picks and hitting the catch-and-shoot jumper. In fact, Nash put to rest any questions about his scoring ability during the preseason when he scored 25 points in a half against Houston, finishing with 35 in that game.

“That little sucker can play,” Ainge says. “Everybody else is just finding that out now.”

The question no longer is whether Nash can be one of the league’s best point guards; it’s whether he can be a floor leader with the Suns. Kidd is clearly the guy in that department. Nash’s value and Kidd’s presence have generated trade rumors since the Suns acquired Kidd a day after Christmas last season. But Nash insists he’s not eager to go anywhere and isn’t expecting a trade to happen.

“I think I could be part of the Suns for a long time,” he says.

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