The Mavericks aren’t an old NBA franchise, so when two of their former point guards go into the Hall of Fame at the same time, it’s a big deal.
Steve Nash and Jason Kidd were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this week and it was fitting that two one-time Mavericks point guards — who had vastly different styles — got to go in together. Between the two of them, they represent the greatest eras of Mavs history and also some of their lower points.
Kidd of course came to Dallas as a rookie in 1994. He was electric almost instantly but he only lasted two and a half seasons at first in Dallas. The Mavericks at the time were in a tailspin after a great run in the 80s, becoming one of the worst sports franchise of all time throughout the 90s. Bad draft picks, bad management, bad coaching, bad luck — just about everything that could go wrong for Dallas back then could and Kidd’s departure after a drama-filled spat with Jimmy Jackson and Jamal Mashburn was the cherry on top. Dallas finally had a core trio to build around and bring the team out of the muck, but the personalities clashed and Dallas had to reset yet again.
When Kidd came back in 2008 in the mega trade, he was a completely different player. He was 14 years older so he didn’t rely on the speed an athleticism he did as a younger player in Dallas and Phoenix. He was crafty, with a somewhat fixed jumpshot that helped extend his career. While Jason Terry was fantastic throughout his time in Dallas, the Mavericks really needed Kidd to stabilize their offense and make sure things didn’t bog down into a thousand Dirk Nowitzki isolations. Kidd’s presence allowed Terry more freedom off the ball and the two, while seemingly an odd backcourt pairing, balanced each other out really well. Kidd was bigger and guarded twos and threes to make up for Terry’s smaller height and Terry’s shooting gave Kidd room to work as a lead point guard if need be. Then Terry’s pick and roll excellence with Dirk gave Kidd a chance to work off ball, firing skip passes and hockey assists as a sort of “off-ball” point guard. It shouldn’t have worked on paper, but it did. The 2011 title team fit so well together, with Terry and Kidd’s synergy being a big part (after, you know, Dirk and Tyson).
It feels like Kidd has the longer legacy in Dallas, but both played in Dallas about the same time (Nash with six seasons and Kidd with six and a half).
That’s recency bias at play, since Nash left in the summer of 2004. While Nash last played a game for Dallas well over a decade ago, he’s one of the most popular players in franchise history and it’s not hard to see why: Nash — along with Dirk and Michael Finley — brought the Mavericks back to relevance.
It was that trio that dragged the Mavericks into the new century with a winning culture. They quickly expunged the foul taste of the 90s from fans memories and brought with them not only winning, but fun as hell basketball. Don Nelson gave this team the freedom to basically shoot whenever they want and the Nash-Dirk two-man game was one of the deadliest plays in the NBA during Nash’s tenure in Dallas. It’s crazy to think two of the greatest shooters of all time played next to each other for over a half decade. After his first season in Dallas, Nash never shot below 46.5 percent from the field or 40.3 percent from three. He was a machine, one that Nelson pleaded with to turn on more often. Nash was selfless, almost to a fault — whenever he scored and shot the ball a lot, Dallas typically won. But the most shots per game Nash averaged in Dallas was 13.3 per game. That’s almost criminal for how good he was, but the fact that he shot even that much was a testament to Nelson getting through to him and helping unlock his potential.
I’ll never forget a regular season game with the Spurs after the All-Star break, with the Mavs trying to hold off the Spurs for first place in the division. My Dad leaned over to me in my chair and said “Nash needs to get at least 28 for the Mavs to win tonight.” The Mavericks won by eight. Nash’s point total? 29.
It’s a shame his era ended when it did, with Mark Cuban betting on Nash’s back not holding out. We all know how that went, as Nash won two MVPs with the Phoenix Suns. It’s considered one of Cuban’s biggest blunders, but in a way, Nash’s departure let Dirk grow into the MVP world-eater that he came to be during his prime. Who knows how many titles Nash and Dirk would have won if they played together for their entire primes, but there’s not a guarantee that both players become the Hall of Famers they are today without learning who to be without the crutch of the other. Nash will never be forgotten for helping Dirk and the city of Dallas, really, for getting the basketball back on track.