Thursday, January 10, 2013

Steve Nash and Mark Messier: Basketball for Canadian Dummies

If Steve Nash were the type of person that required a lot of attention, he would have quite a dilemma.  As a skinny, white Canadian incapable of dunking, he commands an undeservedly miniscule amount of fanfare in the NBA.  Meanwhile in Canada, where the reverse is true, the average sports enthusiast's puck-riddled brain wants to, but cannot properly, appreciate his genius.  Yours truly, included.

So when the Lakers point guard became the fifth player to record 10,000 career assists on Tuesday night, I scrolled through the NBA record books pretending to know exactly how prestigious it was to be in the company of one Mark Jackson (third all-time).

While the other three players to reach 10,000 helpers – John Stockton, Jason Kidd and Magic Johnson – yield a significantly higher profile than Jackson, those names simply do not mean much in Canada.  They don't, at least, to me.  So rather than continue feigning NBA expertise, I gave into my 2 a.m. stupor and... wait for it... turned to the NHL record books in hopes of understanding the basketball milestone.

A hockey-based analysis of an NBA achievement.  In honour of the the country's greatest basketball export, it was the most Canadian response I could think of.  If Nash's statistical ranking were applied in an NHL context, where would he rank?  Is he an Adam Oates?  Dare I suggest, a Ron Francis?

Well, at fifth overall, his hockey doppleganger appears to be Paul Coffey at 1,135 assists.  For those of you appropriately questioning the validity of this endeavour, I propose to you that 10,000 assists in the NBA are uncannily akin to 1,100 in the NHL.  (One-thousand would be a nice, round number, but the extra 100 seems to account for what appears to be longer careers in the NHL.)  An elite passer in the NBA should boast somewhere around a 10.0 assists-per-game pace, while the same such player in the NHL hovers at about a-tenth of that rate.  Meanwhile, both leagues typically operate on an 82-game schedule. 

Five players in the NBA's 10,000-assist club.  An equal five in the NHL at 1,100.  And just as Wayne Gretzky put his record-setting total permanently out of range, so too has John Stockton.  Way to help this ridiculous comparison along, sporting gods. 

Unlike Coffey, however, Nash is still pluggin' away at his trade.  With 8.9 assists per game at 38 years old, his current output remains three-tenths above his career average.  (Forget Paul Coffey; Nash is clearly the NBA's response to Gordie Howe.)  At that rate, he will have passed Johnson and Jackson by the end of the season for third overall.  Depending on how many years Kidd has left, Nash has an outside chance at second-best all-time... better known as Ron Francis stature.  Unfortunately, third means Mark Messier for Canada's basketball legend, a fate no one even remotely from Vancouver deserves.

But nevermind that (or any of this, if you lack a sense of humour).  Point is, we need to celebrate Nash as we would any of hockey's equivalents.  The reasons are exactly 10,014 and counting.


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