Mike D’Antoni’s coaching career really has been one of the most storied in the league currently. Since his first full year with the Phoenix Suns in 2004-2005, he has had some very mixed results under the teams he’s coached.
With the Suns, he was spectacular, coaching there for four years and coming out of Phoenix with a win percentage of 70.7% and 232 won games, only second in coaching wins to Gregg Popovich’s 236 wins (72% win percentage) with the Spurs.
With the New York Knicks (2008-2012) and Los Angeles Lakers (2012-2014), he experienced something completely different, with a 41.2% win percentage in 432 games. However, with the Houston Rockets this year, he has gone back to his previous success with a record of 48-22. So far D’Antoni has had a career similar to the popular film franchise, Star Wars, with his Phoenix Suns years being the original trilogy, his Knicks/Lakers years being the prequels and his current Rockets years turning out to be that of Force Awakens and Rogue One.
However, with that being said there is a trend to point out separating D’Antoni’s successful teams with his unsuccessful teams. The Suns and the Rockets both had incredible point guards to lead the team, in Steve Nash and James Harden, who accepted D’Antoni’s seven seconds or less strategy and led their teams terrifically using it. So because this is the internet, I have decided to compare both D’Antoni point guards on these five categories to establish which one of these two is the better D’Antoni point guard:
And just so we’re on the same page, these categories should not be treated as equal, so therefore, do not expect that the winner of more categories will automatically be the final verdict.
Category #1: Scoring
2016-2017 James Harden: 29.2 PPG, 44.6% FG%, 35.2% 3P%, 84.9% FT%, 62% TS%
2004-2008 Steve Nash: 17.5 PPG, 51.3% FG%, 45.1% 3P%, 90.4% FT%, 63.4% TS%
Looking at the points per game and basic percentages between James Harden and Steve Nash, one might think that the comparison between Harden and Nash scoring the ball could be a tough argument of quality versus quantity, as although Harden may average more points per game, Nash’s field goal percentage is 6.7% higher, his three-point percentage is 9.9% higher and his free throw percentage is 5.5% higher.
However, while it definitely is an argument of quality versus quantity, it is not very tough, as although their basic percentages might have Nash severely higher than Harden, due to the amount of times James Harden gets to the free-throw line compared to Steve Nash (Harden gets to the line 11 times and makes 9.3 free throws, compared to Nash’s 3.2 and 2.9), Harden’s true shooting percentage, the percentage which cumulates two-pointers, three-pointers and free throws appropriately, has Nash only outdoing Harden by 1.4 percent, and in that case, of course I am going to need to go with the guy who averages 11.7 more points than the other.
Verdict: Harden > Nash
Category #2: Passing
2016-2017 James Harden: 11.2 APG, 50.9% AST%, 1.9 AST/TOV, 14.9 AST/100 Poss
2004-2008 Steve Nash: 11.2 APG, 47.7% AST%, 3.2 AST/TOV, 16 AST/100 Poss
James Harden sure has altered his game a lot to be more of a point guard and team player. He is leading the league in assists per game and is second in assist percentage. However, with that being said, it is nearly impossible to beat the incredibly unselfish Steve Nash in a conversation about passing.
Although Harden may have the slightly higher assist percentage, due to his domination of the ball, Steve Nash is still much more of a clean passer, with a way better assist per turnover ratio, with the same amount of assists per game and if you adjust for the time period, being that Nash’s era’s average game was about five possessions slower than 2016-2017’s average game (91.4 to 96.4), Nash actually would have averaged more assists per game than Harden in this era. So this category is, of course, going to go to the two-time MVP himself, Steve Nash.
Verdict: Nash > Harden
Category #3: Defense
2016-2017 James Harden: .06 DWS/48, 1.5 DBPM, 1.5 SPG, 6.9 DRPG
2004-2008 Steve Nash: .029 DWS/48, -2.5 DBPM, .8 SPG, 3.1 DRPG
I’m going to be honest, and I don’t mean to offend people with this comment, but comparing James Harden and Steve Nash on their defense is kind of like comparing Beethoven and Mozart on their lyricism. Although they’re both great players, they’re not really known for their defensive prowess - And if there are any music geeks to correct me on it, feel free to talk about how dumb I am in the comments.
However, with that being said, the difference between Harden and Nash is that while they both weren’t necessarily great on-ball defenders, with more defensive win shares per 48 minutes, a better defensive box plus minus and significantly more steals and defensive boards per game, the only logical answer would be Harden, as though his defensive concentration and effort may be lacking, his defensive boards and steals per game separate him because he was more able to turn defense into fast breaks, something that a guy like D’Antoni very much respects, as his team is second highest in fast break frequency, at 18.1% and fourth in pace, at 99.3. So it looks like more offenders fear the beard than those long brown locks of Nash’s.
Verdict: Harden > Nash
Category #4: Team Value
2016-2017 James Harden: 36.5 MPG, 34.3% USG%, .255 WS/48, 10.4 BPM
2004-2008 Steve Nash: 34.8 MPG, 22.2% USG%, .205 WS/48, 2.7 BPM
Although Steve Nash very much was the hands down leader of the Phoenix Suns during their D’Antoni era, both the stats and the respective names on the roster would suggest that James Harden was more important to his team than Steve Nash to his.
During the time period between the 2004-2005 and 2007-2008 seasons, the Phoenix Suns were flat out stacked at times. They had one of the best two-way players in the league, Shawn Marion, for all three and a half of those years (traded to the Miami Heat for Shaquille O’Neal at the 2008 deadline), one of the best big men in the league, Amar’e Stoudemire for three of those years (missed all but three games in 2005-2006 with a right knee injury), and other terrific role players like Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, Joe Johnson, James Jones and Kurt Thomas scattered throughout the era.
James Harden, however, has not seen that much help so far this year in Houston. Sure, the Rockets might be a bit deeper, with guys like Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson, Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Eric Gordon, Nene and Lou Williams on the roster, but Harden simply has not been given the same star power as Nash, who was supported with two more All-Stars in Marion and Stoudemire. As well as this, Harden definitely has the edge on Nash statistically, with a usage percentage 12.1% higher than Nash’s, .05 more win shares per 48 than Nash and a box plus minus almost four times the size of Nash’s.
Verdict: Harden > Nash
Category #5: Team Success
2016-2017 James Harden: 48-22, 68.6% W%
2004-2008 Steve Nash: 232-96, 70.7% W%, Lost in Western Conference Finals Twice, Lost in Second Round Once and Lost in First Round Once
Being that we have four full seasons of Nash and just 70 games of Harden so far, I am going to need to go with Steve Nash, who also has the slightly higher win percentage of the two.
Verdict: Nash > Harden
Do you know how I said that the scoring argument between James Harden and Steve Nash was one of quality versus quantity? Well, the same argument is applicable to the final ruling, just with the roles flipped, as although Harden has played better so far under D’Antoni, Nash’s full tenure, which includes two MVPs, has definitely been more valuable as a whole. And so, therefore, this final ruling is a bit of a two-parter.
If we are talking about the play on average so far, the winner is James Harden, as he has played better on a per game basis than Nash.
However, if we are talking about the comparison of total output, you would need to go with Nash, who has simply played longer under D’Antoni than Harden.
However, if Harden maintains this level of play under D’Antoni for the rest of his D’Antoni years, Harden would be declared the winner.