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Looking at Steve Nash (oh, and Chris Paul Obviously)

With New Orleans taking on a red hot Phoenix tomorrow, I guess this is timely.

One of the early trends of the season has been the revival of Steve Nash. The Suns completed one of the more impressive Eastern swings recently, with wins over Philadelphia, Miami, and Boston easily offsetting a loss at Orlando. And Nash, for sure, has been very solid. A lot more solid than some may have expected. Consider, for example, some of his trends the last three years:

Season PER TS% eFG% AST% ORtg
2007 23.8 65.4 61.3 50.1 124
2008 21.1 64.1 59.7 47.3 121
2009 19.5 61.5 56.6 42.4 119
2010 22.8 65.8 61.1 56.5 123

Considering the trends from 2007-2009 (universally downwards in PER, TS%, eFG%, AST%, and ORtg), Nash has had a very impressive start to 2010. Couple that with team wins, a statistic that people very often use to overrate individual players, and Nash's value seems to inherently increase. But is Nash's pace- which, by the way, is just a shade shy of his "MVP" years, a.k.a. Chris Paul's rookie and sophomore years- sustainable?

My initial inclination is no. The primary driver of Nash's overall efficiency is his assist rate right now. He leads the league, right ahead of Paul, in assists per possession. A huge reason for this is that his team is shooting outlandishly from the field right now. Jason Richardson, a career 37% three point shooter, is shooting 58% on nearly 40 attempts. Grant Hill and Goran Dragic have put down 50% of their attempts. Channing Frye, who had made 20 threes in 4 years prior to this, has made 22 in 8 games. And even Jared Dudley has nearly attempted 30 threes. The Suns are shooting over 47% as a team from three. As a team, their eFG% of 57% is far and away the best in the league, and is totally unsustainable. Last year's leaders- also the Suns, unsurprisingly- shot 54.5 eFG%, a significantly lower figure. Last year's three point leaders- the Kings, surprisingly- were far and away the NBA's best at 40.6%.

The Suns will cool down, and it will affect Nash's assist numbers. So his overall efficiencies will go down. However, there may be a good case that he will sustain his own shooting figures. Last year's lower numbers (Nash's "lows" obviously being highs for anyone else) may very well have been anomalous.

Of course, I need to talk about Chris Paul at this juncture.

These numbers have earned Nash early MVP and All-Star starter buzz and Paul... nothing:

Player PER TS% eFG% Reb% AST% TOV% USG ORtg
Nash 22.8 65.8 61.1 4.8 56.5 25.0 23.4 123
Paul 36.0 74.0 69.3 6.2 54.5 11.3 26.8 145


Are Paul's shooting rates as unsustainable as Nash's assist rates? Oh, absolutely, probably more so. But over the first two weeks of the season, they're not even playing the same game! By Win Shares, Paul has been twice as valuable as Nash!

Lately, I've been hearing a lot of commentators say "you know, I'd just put Chris Paul a hair above Deron Williams. Just the slightest of tiny edges on Steve Nash." We've finally seemed to reached the point where Paul is acknowledged to be better than his competition by most people, but most are reluctant to state it firmly. Tomorrow, we'll see the announcers talk about how this is a matchup of the league's two best point guards. That's probably true... but it's also a matchup of the league's second best lead guard and league's best player.