As a Phoenix Suns fan, I’ve lived through some great, great point guards. Since 1995, when I first started watching Suns games, I have watched the tail end of Kevin Johnson’s career, Jason Kidd at his very best, Penny Hardaway in a few vintage Penny Hardaway seasons, and Steve Nash, both as a rookie and in his prime (I refuse to acknowledge that Stephon Marbury was in any way associated with the Suns). Of all of them, Kidd and Nash are obviously at the forefront. Both were the best point guards of the time when they played for the Suns. So, the question remains: who was better?
If you ask me who my two favorite players of all time are, I’ll say Steve Nash and Jason Kidd before even processing the question. You know how you know what 2+2 is before thinking about it? That’s the way I am. I can’t speak for all Suns fans, but Kidd and Nash represent more to me than I could ever possibly justify to people who don’t get it. The Suns mean so much to me that at the age of 9 I was driven to tears by a bad call in a meaningless regular season game in December. Hell, they mean so much to me that I was almost driven to tears when Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were suspended in 2007. Friends still tell me that, when asked why I looked so sad at the beginning of summer that year, I responded with, “Stoudemire and Diaw were suspended… I don’t know what to do.”
Looking back at the Jason Kidd era, I can honestly say that there were maybe 5 games per year that I either did not watch on TV or listen to on the radio (that’s right, I actually listened to them on the radio when I wasn’t near a TV). And since Nash has landed in the valley of the sun, I’ve been almost as dedicated, watching every national televised game (and some not nationally televised), reading every game recap, and not doing well on finals during the playoffs. I’m sure there are people more qualified than I am to compare the two, but unless you were watching with me when the ’97 Suns almost beat the number 1 seeded Sonics, crying with me when Kidd was traded for He Who Must Not Be Named in 2001, or celebrating with me when Nash was named the 2005 MVP, your opinion doesn’t mean anything to me.
In order to really decide who was the better point guard, we’re going to have to look at a few specific skill sets. Good point guards have to be good ball handlers, good passers, good defenders, good scorers, and, above all, good teammates. Great point guards have to be all that and more. I’m going to rate their ball handling, passing ability, scoring, and defensive prowess and these are obviously going to factor in to my decision of who was better. However, at the end of the day I’m going to go with my instincts when rating the two.
I’m also only going to analyze these two when they were at their best. For Kidd, that means from the 1997-1998 season (his first full season in Phoenix) to the 2003-2004 season (right before his skills started declining). For Nash that means from the 2004-2005 season to right now (because let’s be real, Steve Nash is still one of the three best point guards in the game).
In today’s media frenzied world, it would be very easy for me to write, “Steve Nash was easily the better ball handler,” post my favorite youtube video of his best passes and be done with it. 80% of people would agree with me because they remember that Nash won 2 MVPs, was the best point guard in the league, and that point guards are good ball handlers. But let’s break it down a little.
Statistics: A ball handler’s primary job is to bring the ball down the court and take care of the ball. In the primes that I defined above, Kidd averaged 3.4 turnovers/game while Nash averaged 3.54 turnovers/game. However, according to 82games.com Kidd’s teams had an average pace factor of 91.6 while Nash’s had an average of 95.7. What does that mean? To tell you the truth, I have no idea. But I do know that Kidd’s teams were around 8th-12th in the league in pace factor while Nash’s teams were always top 5. Since I don’t have an advanced degree in statistics, I can’t really analyze the advanced stats which are used in basketball and make inferences once I see them. But I can tell you that while Kidd averaged less turnovers/game, Nash played at a much faster pace (keep in mind the league has gotten significantly faster since Kidd played).
Personal account: I’ve watched both players and while both are great ball handlers, I believe Kidd was a hair better. Nash does some amazing things with the ball, maybe more so than Kidd, but he also tries to make passes he shouldn’t at times. Kidd always took great care of the ball and, in my opinion, had a slight advantage.
Final Verdict: Jason Kidd
I might be old school in this, but I’ve always believed that elite point guards should be elite passers. Point guards like Tony Parker and Chauncey Billups, great players who were better at scoring than passing, never did it for me. It’s no coincidence that my two favorite players are two of the best passers of all time. Both Kidd and Nash grew up playing point guard the right way, passing before scoring. Every Suns fan who grew up in Phoenix in the late 90’s heard the story about a young Kidd having to pass the ball to get the older kids to allow him to play. Nash, on the other hand, learned how to pass while playing soccer and hockey in Canada, two sports where being a good passer is not only a skill, it’s necessary.
Statistics: Instead of just posting assists/game in each of their primes and then deciding how pace affected each of their careers, I’m going to post APG and the assist:turnover ratio to help us out. In Kidd’s prime, he averaged 9.6 assists/game with an assist/turnover of 2.82. Nash averaged 10.9 assists/game with an assist/turnover of 3.1. Since I don’t want to make this article 25,000 words long, I’m going to end it here and say that statistically, Nash was the better passer.
Personal account: I watched Jason Kidd for many years. Nobody was better at getting a rebound, going the other way, and finding an open teammate on a fast break. Few were better at penetrating and dishing to an open teammate for a 3. With that said, he was never as good at Nash. Steve Nash is an absolute magician with the basketball, and the best pure passer I have ever seen play. One of the most ambidextrous players in league history, Nash was a better passer with his left hand than most were with their right. Normal rules like “don’t jump into the air unless you know what you’re going to do with the ball,” didn’t apply to him because he could usually make the right play. On the biggest stage (2007 Western Conference Finals) he made two behind the back passes with his left hand in the middle of the lane on consecutive possessions to win game 4. I honestly believe that before all is said and done, Nash will go down as the greatest pure passer in league history.
Final Verdict: Steve Nash
While I could take this space to write about how Steve Nash, one of the best shooters in league history, was a better scorer than a man nicknamed Ason (get it? No J), I won’t. Instead, I want to stress how historically great a shooter Nash is. In Nash’s career he has shot 90.38% from the free throw line (either number one or two in league history with Mark Price), 43.2% from 3 (5th best in league history), and 49% from the field. He has had 5 seasons of shooting at least 40% from the three point line, 50% from the field, and 90% from the free throw line (the 50-40-90 club) which only 4 other players have done, only one of them more than once. A 2010 statistical analysis by ESPN columnist John Hollinger rated Nash as the greatest shooter in history, and nobody else was even close. In fact, the other players on the list (Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Jeff Hornaceck, Chris Mullin, Peja Stojakovic) were all spot up shooters, not point guards. Take a note that many of Nash’s three’s are pull up jump shots from a fast dribble, and you’ll realize that Nash is a historically good shooter.
Personal account: I’ve witnessed Nash hit so many big shots over the years, both in the regular season and the playoffs, that I almost get confused when he misses a three pointer in the fourth quarter.
Final Verdict: Steve Nash
Like scoring, it is undebatable who was a better defender/rebounder. Steve Nash plays what some call a matador defense. He always brings effort, but he’s not very good. Kidd, on the other hand, is almost as historically good at defense and rebounding as Nash is at shooting. Great point guards have at least one trait that separates them from good point guards. For Nash it was scoring, for Stockton it was longevity, for Magic it was the ability to play multiple positions, and for Jason Kidd it was his rebounding and defense. In his prime, Kidd averaged 6.4 rebounds/game, one of the best marks ever for a point guard. In fact, for his career, he has averaged 6.5 rebounds/game- as the rest of his game declined after 2003, his rebounding improved. In addition, Jason Kidd was one of the best on ball defenders of his generation. He made the All-Defensive First Team 4 times and the All-Defensive Second Team 5 times. Look at that stat: he made an all-defensive team 6 times in his 7 year prime. Along with Walt Frazier, Dennis Johnson, and Gary Payton, Kidd is one of the best defensive point guards of all time.
Personal account: During Kidd’s tenure with the Suns, he was so good at getting triple doubles that a downtown McDonalds named a burger after him: the Triple-Double Burger. It had 3 beef patties and 2 slices of cheese. In the commercial, the song “Everything You Want” by Vertical Horizon was playing. Suffice to say that Jason Kidd’s ability to defend and rebound, in addition to his passing and scoring, was not lost on Suns fans.
Final Verdict: Jason Kidd
So far, I’ve come to the decision that Nash was a far superior shooter/scorer and a better passer, while Kidd was a far superior defender/rebounder and a marginally better ball handler. Basically, they’re tied. So, after about 15,000 words, this article comes down to my instinct:
Final Verdict: Steve Nash
I watched both players play throughout their primes and both have given me great memories over the years. While Kidd was a joy to watch and was implemental to any team he was on, my opinion is that Steve Nash was better and more important to his teams. I honestly believe that Nash did everything possible to win a title, should have won a title, and had some very bad luck from 2005-2008 (Joe Johnson injury, Amare out for the season, Donaghy, Amare/Diaw suspensions). Nash always raised his game in the playoffs and made some of the clutchest plays in Suns history. He was the perfect teammate, and a great ambassador for the Suns. Not one former player or coach ever had anything bad to say about Nash.
Kidd, while also great on the court, was not as good a player off the court. Throughout his career, Kidd was called a “coach-killer.” This reputation started at UC Berkeley and has continued on to his career in the NBA. Then, there is the fact that he was traded in the middle of his prime at 28 years old. Many believe that this was because of a domestic abuse charge he was arrested for earlier in the year, but I don’t buy it. You don’t trade the best point guard in the league unless he really has become a problem in the locker room and with the front office. Then coach Scott Skiles did not resign with the Suns until Kidd was traded. Kidd was obviously a much bigger problem than the Suns let on at the time, especially if they believed Stephon Marbury was a better option.
I believe public opinion, for the most part, says that Kidd was better because Nash was a terrible defender. I would counter that the fact that Kidd was a terrible shooter, with a career field goal percentage of 40%. What are your opinions? Post in the comments!