Shawn Marion & the “Nash Effect”

When I wrote about Steve Nash’s pair of somewhat controversial MVP selections last week, I held up the decline of Shawn Marion’s game after leaving Phoenix as an example of the way Nash helped his teammates put up offensive numbers that were beyond their “true” ability level. However, a reader was quick to point out that while Nash had an effect on Marion, the inverse was also true, and that Marion’s decline was probably due more to age, injuries, and 2 different teams than Nash’s absence.

So today I decided to use Roland Beech’s great stats at to take a closer look at Marion’s numbers with and without Nash to try and show even more clearly how much he benefited from the terrific synergy they developed together in Phoenix.

2003-04 was Nash’s last year in Dallas; Stephon Marbury and Leandro Barbosa were the PGs of note alongside Marion for Phoenix.

Age Tm G Min ORtg %Pos Floor% T/Min %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
25 PHO 79 3217 106.5 22.2 0.495 0.90 42 45 8 5
P/36 2P% 3P% FT% TS% %Astd %FGA AsR ToR PPR FTr 3Ptd OR%
16.3 46.5 34.0 85.1 51.3 60.0% 24.7% 11.7 11.3 -0.41 20.0 19.8 7.5
Shot Att. eFG% Ast’d Blk’d Pts
Jump 70% .404 61% 3% 9.5
Close 20% .548 52% 8% 3.6
Dunk 8% .951 80% 1% 2.5
Tips 3% .450 0% 0% 0.5
Inside 30% .640 59% 6% 6.6


This was Nash’s first year as Marion’s point guard; the two played 2266 minutes together and were one of the league’s top player pairs at +14 pts/100 of efficiency while on the court together.

Age Tm G Min ORtg %Pos Floor% T/Min %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
26 PHO 81 3146 116.2 20.6 0.532 0.77 36 51 9 5
P/36 2P% 3P% FT% TS% %Astd %FGA AsR ToR PPR FTr 3Ptd OR%
17.0 52.6 33.4 83.3 55.6 73.0% 23.1% 7.5 9.7 -0.71 21.3 26.5 8.4
Shot Att. eFG% Ast’d Blk’d Pts
Jump 64% .438 75% 3% 8.9
Close 22% .552 70% 9% 3.8
Dunk 12% .935 80% 1% 3.5
Tips 3% .361 0% 0% 0.3
Inside 36% .662 72% 6% 7.7


In ’06, Nash won his 2nd consecutive MVP award and Marion set a career high with 15.4 Win Shares.

Age Tm G Min ORtg %Pos Floor% T/Min %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
27 PHO 81 3263 118.1 21.3 0.551 0.77 32 51 12 5
P/36 2P% 3P% FT% TS% %Astd %FGA AsR ToR PPR FTr 3Ptd OR%
18.4 57.7 33.1 80.9 59.1 76.0% 23.3% 6.8 9.0 -0.91 21.8 21.2 8.7
Shot Att. eFG% Ast’d Blk’d Pts
Jump 60% .433 80% 3% 8.7
Close 22% .663 71% 10% 5.0
Dunk 15% .922 84% 0% 4.7
Tips 3% .487 0% 0% 0.5
Inside 40% .748 74% 6% 10.1


Another strong year for Marion, although he began expressing more and more displeasure about the fact that Nash and (especially) Amare Stoudemire received more credit for the Suns’ accomplishments than he did.

Age Tm G Min ORtg %Pos Floor% T/Min %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
28 PHO 80 3010 117.6 18.5 0.547 0.71 36 48 11 5
P/36 2P% 3P% FT% TS% %Astd %FGA AsR ToR PPR FTr 3Ptd OR%
16.1 58.7 31.7 81.0 59.4 78.0% 20.7% 6.7 10.2 -0.82 23.2 23.5 7.0
Shot Att. eFG% Ast’d Blk’d Pts
Jump 57% .442 74% 3% 6.7
Close 24% .605 77% 8% 3.9
Dunk 17% .923 88% 2% 4.2
Tips 2% .318 0% 5% 0.2
Inside 43% .717 81% 5% 8.3

2008: Suns

Unhappy about his contract and his perceived role on the team, Marion finally requested a trade at midseason & was shipped to Miami for Shaquille O’Neal.

Age Tm G Min ORtg %Pos Floor% T/Min %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
29 PHO 47 1713 119.0 16.8 0.550 0.73 44 45 7 4
P/36 2P% 3P% FT% TS% %Astd %FGA AsR ToR PPR FTr 3Ptd OR%
14.9 59.9 34.7 71.3 59.4 85.0% 19.7% 8.4 8.4 0.95 18.7 28.9 6.2
Shot Att. eFG% Ast’d Blk’d Pts
Jump 50% .471 86% 2% 5.8
Close 28% .537 90% 12% 3.7
Dunk 20% .920 84% 3% 4.4
Tips 2% .455 0% 0% 0.2
Inside 50% .684 84% 8% 8.4

2008: Heat

Upon going to the Heat, Marion’s numbers slipped precipitously — he went from 11.9 WS/3K in Phoenix to merely 4.4 in Miami.

Age Tm G Min ORtg %Pos Floor% T/Min %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
29 MIA 16 602 99.3 21.2 0.479 0.88 45 40 7 7
P/36 2P% 3P% FT% TS% %Astd %FGA AsR ToR PPR FTr 3Ptd OR%
14.0 49.4 25.8 69.0 50.3 69.0% 21.7% 12.1 15.5 -1.72 20.1 14.8 9.8
Shot Att. eFG% Ast’d Blk’d Pts
Jump 51% .355 74% 4% 5.1
Close 29% .475 66% 16% 3.9
Dunk 14% .867 85% 3% 3.5
Tips 5% .636 0% 0% 0.9
Inside 49% .608 66% 11% 8.3

2009: Heat

In his second half-season with Miami, Marion became more passive than ever on offense, and was dealt at the deadline to Toronto.

Age Tm G Min ORtg %Pos Floor% T/Min %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
30 MIA 42 1516 108.8 16.9 0.526 0.69 44 43 7 5
P/36 2P% 3P% FT% TS% %Astd %FGA AsR ToR PPR FTr 3Ptd OR%
12.2 51.0 20.0 78.8 52.2 67.0% 17.7% 8.2 11.7 -0.31 19.1 9.0 8.4
Shot Att. eFG% Ast’d Blk’d Pts
Jump 54% .386 64% 3% 4.4
Close 26% .517 72% 10% 2.9
Dunk 14% .887 80% 2% 2.6
Tips 6% .400 0% 0% 0.5
Inside 46% .615 70% 6% 6.0

2009: Raptors

Acquired mainly for monetary reasons, Marion played out the string as a mere shadow of the player he’d been in Phoenix.

Age Tm G Min ORtg %Pos Floor% T/Min %Pass %Shoot %Fouled %TO
30 TOR 27 954 105.4 20.2 0.514 0.85 45 42 7 6
P/36 2P% 3P% FT% TS% %Asth %FGA AsR ToR PPR FTr 3Pth OR%
14.5 50.2 15.4 80.6 52.3 64.0% 21.3% 11.1 13.2 -0.73 18.1 3.8 9.1
Shot Att. eFG% Ast’d Blk’d Pts
Jump 44% .315 57% 6% 3.5
Close 42% .559 66% 7% 5.9
Dunk 11% .919 82% 8% 2.5
Tips 4% .538 0% 0% 0.5
Inside 56% .627 67% 7% 9.0

So, what do we learn about the Nash-Marion relationship from these numbers? Look at the % of made field goals by the Matrix that were assisted, before, during, and after his days alongside Nash:

Without Nash, Marion doesn’t enjoy anywhere near as much of the benefit of being set up for his baskets, even when playing 454 minutes alongside Jose Calderon, a passer almost on the same level as Nash. And he cannot operate on the same level of efficiency without those high assist rates: look at the precipitous decline in his offensive rating as he left Phoenix for supposedly greener pastures. It’s no coincidence that he peaked at 119 pts/100 possessions when he was assisted on a career-best 85% of his field goals.

In fact, we can even see this in action when we plot his eFG% vs. his %Ast’d:

This relationship is true for all players to a degree, but for Marion the slope of the trendline is particularly steep, meaning his offensive efficiency falls off a cliff if he’s asked to create more shots on his own, without the benefit of someone like Nash (in concert with coach Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system) setting him up. It’s certainly true that Nash’s assist ratio has dropped with Marion’s departure, so the relationship was symbiotic, but the fact that Nash’s overall numbers have not dropped off nearly as much as the Matrix’s (Nash’s OWS/3K fell from 12.6 at his peak in ’07 to 8.5 in ’09; Marion’s fell from 8.4 in ’06 to 2.2 in this past season’s stint with Toronto) suggests that Marion needed Nash a lot more than Nash needed Marion.

About Neil Paine

I work for I've been a freelance writer for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, and Basketball Prospectus.

Posted on May 13, 2009, in Analysis, BBR Mailbag, History. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. Terrence Howard

    Isnt it great when the #’s back up reality.

  2. I love your work! I have an idea for a public misconception that would be interesting to see delved into deeper. For so many years Kobe Bryant was known as the best player in the game but did not win the MVP because he “did not make his teammates better.” Instead the award went to Nash (which you have tried to support and lended some credibility to that selection). I think it would be interesting to look at Kobe Bryant 2005-2006 season in which he averaged over 35.4 pts per game. That season there were six Lakers who started over 6 games: Kobe Bryant (80), Lamar Odom (80), Smush Parker (82), Chris Mihm (56), Kwame Brown (49), and Brian Cook (48). I don’t think it is a coincidence that the Kobe Bryant’s most aggressive season happens to coincide with career highs in FG% and/or PER from all of those players. That season Kobe’s aggresiveness lead to him constantly seeing double and even triple teams and because of the focus on Kobe his teammates got wide open shots often and converted at a higher rate than they had in any year before that. While Kobe was not always the recipient of the assists (often he had a hockey assist where he drove, the defense collapsed, he kicked out to a shooter, the shooter made an extra pass and then the Lakers scored), he was the reason his teammates got such good looks.
    Also, if you look at every player that has come to the Lakers or gone to another team after playing with the Lakers since it became “Kobe’s team” has had a higher FG% than they did with ANY previous team. Isn’t that a sign of Kobe making his teammates better… unless of course I am really mistaken and it is Luke Walton who is having the significant impact.

  3. Excellent post, now this is sports statistics done well, to explain rather than ordain.
    I wonder if Marion will try to rejoin the Suns when his contract expires.

    Walter, Kevin Pelton at 82games looked at Kobes effect on his team mates in that exact season and found that he did indeed help them significantly.

  4. I don’t disagree with this post, because there’s no doubt that the Nash / Marion synergy was outstanding, but I do disagree with the Nash / Calderon comparison.

    Steve created a fast tempo better than any other player in the league and got Marion plenty of great easy scoring opportunities in transition (either layups or those corner 3s he likes). Nash is also always looking for backdoor lobs and drive and kick passing angles while he probes the defense with his dribble which really played to Marion’s strengths as a finisher / shooter but not a creator.

    Jose plays an incredibly conservative game and rarely pushes the pace. He does not probe the defense the way Nash does and offers far fewer kick out opportunities. He also doesn’t break down the d off the dribble as much and offers fewer offensive rebounding opportunities. I think his high assist / turnover ratio gets him put into discussions with guys like Nash that aren’t really indicative of their skill levels or play styles.

  5. Walter – That’s a great point about Kobe. I wish we had a little more data without Phil Jackson and the triangle in the mix though, because that offense is designed to create good scoring opportunities (well all offenses are designed that way I guess – Winter’s version of the triangle just happens to have 9 titles tied to it), and it may also have impacted guys like Cook, Smush, and Kwame. You can’t even look back at the triangle in Chicago to try to determine if it was effective at making players more accurate shooters because if it was, how much of that credit goes to MJ and Scottie?

  6. Yeah, here’s that old article from Kevin:

    The basic gist is that everyone on L.A. averaged more points per possessions used with Bryant on the floor with them than they did without him. He made them more efficient by allowing them to pick their spots and not forcing them to create as much on their own. Somebody like Lamar Odom went from taking upwards of 23% of Miami’s shots when on the floor (assisted on only 41% of his FGs) to taking less than 20% in L.A. and being assisted on almost 50% of his made baskets, and it was no coincidence that his eFG% went up 40 points and his offensive rating spiked upward by 5 pts/100 poss.

  7. That’s a good point about pace — Marion went from one of the league’s fastest teams to the 22nd-fastest in Miami and the 14th-fastest in Toronto, and he obviously thrives the more open-court opportunities there are.

    The Calderon comp was basically to say that while Calderon isn’t a Nash clone by any means, his passing ability isn’t that far removed from Nash — peak Nash is assisting 50% of his teammates’ FGs, Calderon is assisting something like 40%. But Marion still can’t take advantage of that; it may have been part of the system in Phoenix as well, but he needs someone at PG playing Nash’s style to be at his best. So I think we’re kind of saying the same thing… It’s not even enough that he’s playing alongside one of the best PGs in basketball again in Calderon, on top of that he needs a specific type of elite PG to flourish.

  8. I also did a similar analysis with Nash, and the results on Marion were mixed:

    I do think Marion ultimately benefited from playing with Nash, though maybe not as much as Amare Stoudemire, but I think the situation the last year-plus has been set up to exaggerate that effect. The other thing mentioned in the previous comments thread was position, and the numbers there are pretty striking. Nash’s arrival coincided with Marion playing more power forward, and he’s played relatively little of it in Miami in Toronto. Then there’s pace too and the missing transition opportunities Marion got in Phoenix.

    The big difference between Calderon and Nash, as I see it, is that Calderon primarily sets up his teammates for jumpers while Nash creates more looks in the paint. It’s easy to see how that would work better with Marion’s game.

  9. That’s a great point about position (Eddy brought it up the other day, but I forgot until just now)… Even with all of the various trades and changes in overall performance, one thing has remained constant for Marion: he’s much more effective as a PF than a SF. I mean there’s consistently a huge split, even going back to the Nash era.

  10. Yeah, I was just going to bring up the position factor again but Kevin beat me to it. There’s no doubt that Marion benefitted from playing alongside Nash. That’s no surprise (and you did a great job of detailing the specifics, Neil), but I think another factor that needs to be taken into account is the position change that’s been alluded to. Marion playing SF rather than PF has played a role in his decline as a player, also. It’s puzzling that coaches are trying to play Marion conventionally, ignoring the fact that Marion thrived unconventionally in D’Antoni’s SSoL system.

  11. When is somebody going to point out that Marion has been a great power forward his whole career and a subpar small forward…with or without nash. His PER is into the mid 20s as a power forward this season. That is on par with what his PER was in Phoenix last year. The guy just needs to play power forward to be very productive.

  12. Just revisiting some of the old Nash posts…I noted that in 2010 (when Shaq was off the Suns and they went back to more of their old style) Nash’s assist numbers were right back up where they were before. Nash actually had the highest Assists/36 min rate of his career (12.1). His assist numbers were down a bit in 2009, but not out of his normal range for recent years.

    More evidence that it was more Nash helping Marion (or whoever he’s playing with) than the other way around. Although I will concede that my eyes tell me Marion helped Nash too. Marion was a nearly perfect 3rd fiddle in the Suns’ system.

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