Don Nelson shaped Steve Nash into a pro with Mavs
Steve Nash’s first stint with the Phoenix Suns wasn’t at all what they first expected after drafting him with the 15th pick in the talent-filled 1996 NBA Draft. Nash lacked the smaller aspects about being a successful player in the league, and it took a move to the Dallas Mavericks and a stint with former Mavs coach Don Nelson to change his outlook and ultimately prepare him for a Hall of Fame-worthy career.
“When Steve was in Phoenix the first time, he hadn’t made himself the best athlete,” former Suns player Rex Chapman, who was Nash’s teammate during the 1996-97 season, told Bob Young of The Athletic. “He was still a little pudgy. I remember Cotton (Fitzsimmons) put him in an exhibition game and Steve got beat back-to-back times down the floor. Cotton looked at Danny (Ainge) and said, ‘Ah, the rook’s awful slow. I don’t know. I don’t know.’
“But you could see how well he shot the ball, and he could get wherever he wanted to on the court. He got some tough love in Dallas from Nellie (Don Nelson), and made himself a pro. He was a worker, changed his diet and became as athletic as he possibly could. The efficiency with which he played, his use of his off-hand, his footwork, it was amazing.”
Nash was never the most athletic person in the room, but stories of his professionalism still make the rounds through NBA circles as one of the most fundamentally sound players of his era.
Even after ranking 13th overall in 3-point shooting in the league during his second year in the league, Nash would soon realize that it wasn’t enough to excel in some areas, but also to be proficient in others, even if they weren’t his main strength.
Following six years in Dallas, Nash would return to the Suns, this time equipped with the tools to flourish into a back-to-back MVP under Mike D’Antoni, an offensive-minded guru with the vision to make Nash the playmaker he’s now remembered to be.