Can Steve Nash thrive without Amare?
There are plenty of people out there who think that Amare Stoudemire is a good player who was made great by playing alongside future Hall of Famer Steve Nash his entire career with the Phoenix Suns. Some of those people even expect a downtick in production for Stoudemire after he signed with the New York Knicks during the offseason. Personally, I don't buy it. Back running the floor in coach Mike D'Antoni's offense, I think Stoudemire could challenge for the scoring title.
Nash made things easier for Stoudemire, but STAT is a stud in his own right. Of course, Nash is a stud, too, so it would be equally ludicrous to say that Stoudemire took Nash from good to great in fantasy. On the other hand, it would be shortsighted to not consider what effect losing a player of Stoudemire's caliber might have on Nash's performance this season. Amare may be the Association's best finisher around the rim, and with his steady midrange jumper, he's arguably the best at completing the pick-and-roll, too. So just how much will Stoudemire's absence dig into Nash's stats this season?
When Stoudemire missed nearly all of the 2005-06 campaign, Nash averaged 10.5 assists per game. That was a full dime lower than the seasons before and after, when Amare was healthy. Another small sample of games played by Nash without Stoudemire came during the last couple of months of the 2008-09 campaign. Sans STAT in March, his assists average dropped to 9.3, the only month from January on in which he failed to average double-digit dimes. It appears that Stoudemire's absence could take a bit off Nash's assist totals, unless he can find new teammates to finish his dimes this season.
In the aforementioned samples, Nash was running with the likes of Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, Leandro Barbosa and Shaquille O'Neal, none of whom is on the team now. Do Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Hedo Turkoglu, Josh Childress, Hakim Warrick, Robin Lopez and Channing Frye have what it takes to finish Nash's passes? I think they do, mostly because Nash will continue to put the ball in the right spot at the right time for them. He certainly did for his former teammates. We'll see how Barbosa fares without Nash, but the other four ex-teammates have been shells of their former statistical selves since being separated from him.
The bottom line is that Nash is too great not to put up terrific stats. When his dimes dipped in 2005-06 without Stoudemire, his scoring jumped from 15.5 points per game the season prior to a career-high 18.9 points per game. And two seasons back when his assists dropped to 9.3 in March, his scoring popped from 14.4 points per game in February to 20.7 points per game.
We may see a slight diminishment in overall production, but remember that Nash is 36 years old. On the other hand, he remains in terrific shape and his game is based on fundamentals and rhythm, not athleticism, so it's unlikely his stats will fall off a cliff. My guess is that he maintains his overall value, losing a little in assists and gaining some in points. Probably 17.5 points, 10.2 assists and close to two triples per game.
Tom Carpenter is a fantasy basketball analyst for ESPN.com.
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