As the Suns and Warriors prepare to tip-off for the second time this week tonight in Phoenix, it’s worth noting how similar the point guards for both teams are. Stephen Curry isn’t quite Steve Nash, of course: Nash has substantially better true shooting, assist+, and assist-to-turnover ratio numbers. Both players attempt the plurality of their shots from 16-23 feet while attempting less than two shots per game at the rim. There are some rather divergent numbers, such as their total assisted shot percentage, but Curry is on the right track toward being the efficient point guard that Nash is. For a second year player who shares the backcourt with the always-inefficient Monta Ellis, this is impressive.
Curry and Nash also share a similar style of attacking defenses. Since Nash came to the Valley in 2004, we’ve heard tales about his unique court vision and the unique way in which he moves about the court, all because of soccer. Watching Nash, there is some truth to this – much of his motion on the court seems to come in big, swooping arcs with few straight lines or direct drives to the basket. This is artfully illustrated by our friends over at 48 Minutes of Hell in diagramming a play from 2010:
As much as we’d like to believe this way of moving about the court is a once-in-a-lifetime superpower bestowed upon Steve Nash during his days playing soccer in Canda, he’s not unique. According to Coach Macri over at HoopsWorld, Stephen Curry and Nash both fit into a specific archetype of point guards that he labels “S’s & C’s.” Macri says,
“While capable of quick, darting movements into the lane, guys like Nash typically prepare for such a move with broader probing actions, dribbling in curves, almost lulling defenders to sleep before moving into action. Their heads are constantly swiveling around, locating defenders and their teammates, and using the arc of their movement to draw attention and lure defenders out of place. They do not pick up their dribble often without having made a decision on where to go with the ball, instead keeping the bounce alive and embarking on a new curve.”
This goes a long way toward explaining the lack of shots at the rim by both Curry and Nash. When they attack the basket, they do so almost as a decoy, rarely picking up their dribble in the lane and looking for a shot. As Macri notes, the specialty of “S & C” type point guards is finding open shooters on the opposite end of the court. Any Suns fan can close their eyes and envision the kind of play Macri is talking about – Nash probing the defense, taking the ball under the basket, and threading a pass back through the lane to a wide-open shooter at the top of the key, usually for three.
Contrast this with “V’s and Z’s” – guys like Tyreke Evans, Derrick Rose, and Russell Westbrook. These players attack the defense (and the lane) in straight lines and at sharp angles. I’ll once again defer to Macri:
“These types of players are utilizing jump-stops and step-hops more often because it allows them to coil muscles in preparation for an explosive finish while avoiding help defenders and remain in control. They tend to have more tunnel-vision and see less of the floor, but their focus gives them a unique ability to find gaps toward the rim. Finally, largely as a result of being more focused on action in and around the lane, they tend to find cutters toward the rim more often than they find players to kick-out to for open jumpers.”
A look at the numbers backs up this assessment in some ways: Evans, Rose and Westbrook all attempt more than six shots per game at the rim. The data on finding cutters more often is less clear, however. Nash registers more assists to players at the rim per game than any of the 4 other named players, and Curry trails Derrick Rose in this metric by a mere half of an assist per game.
Which style is more successful? It depends more on the players around the point guard than his own performance and skills, as Macri notes. As the Suns seek to reach .500 on the year, here’s hoping their complementary pieces outperform the Warriors once again.