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NBA taking notice of Steve Nash’s coaching strides with Nets

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Steve Nash knows he has a lot to learn. When he inherited the Nets as a rookie coach, there was more to the job than he could’ve imagined.

But basketball’s best minds have watched Nash guide Brooklyn to within half a game of the Eastern Conference lead. They say they’ve seen an improving coach who is better now than at the start of the season, and should be better still when he’s truly judged in the postseason.

“Most of the great players who become coaches don’t spend time as assistants. Now, you never know what kind of [head] coach they’ll be,” Hall of Famer Rod Thorn told The Post. “They take some time to determine that, exactly how good a coach is he going to be. To me, Steve’s done a very good job.

“He’s got some good assistant coaches with him. And, as he stated, early on it’s a learning experience for him, too. To have top-flight assistant coaches with you really helps. And you know those three players they have are so good offensively, that once they get rolling and people are healthy, they’re going to be a tough out.”

Nets
Steve Nash and Kyrie Irving
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Thorn built the last great Nets team, and was the 2002 NBA Executive of the Year as general manager of a squad that reached the first of consecutive NBA Finals. The expectations now are reaching another Finals. Or better.

“In-game and how they’re defending, you can see growth from Day 1 to now,” an Eastern Conference scout told The Post, with current GM Sean Marks echoing that sentiment.

“A lot of improvement. And [Nash would] be the first to say, ‘I have a long way to go,’ ” Marks said on YES Network. “But I’ve been thrilled.”

While Kyrie Irving made waves with an offhand offseason comment about the Nets not needing a head coach, Nash showed growth in gauging his team needed tough love, extra work and reinstituted shootarounds.

It helped turn a three-game losing skid to their current 10-2 streak.

That includes a win in San Antonio, when Gregg Popovich called Nash the player one of the game’s best thinkers and competitors. Still, coaching has been an adjustment.

“There’s [a lot] to be a coach in this league, connecting all departments and all people, trying to lead. All those things take up more time than coaching,” Nash said. “So early on I just tried to embrace everything that gets thrown at us and try to grow from it.”

Granted, while Nash is growing, Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden provided a safety net most rookie coaches don’t have.

But Nash has to get those stars to align, massaging egos and fostering chemistry. The Xs and Os are largely the purview of the assistants, leaning on Mike D’Antoni for offense and Jacque Vaughn and Ime Udoka for defense. D’Antoni has also contributed to the switching defense and on roster composition.

During his stint as a Warriors consultant, Nash saw the success Steve Kerr had facing similar challenges.

“The challenge is similar in that if you’ve never coached, you have a lot to learn. I definitely had plenty to learn that first year, just as Steve does this year,” Kerr said. “There’s a lot to this job for sure, but Steve would tell you just like I would I’ll take talent over a rebuilding situation any day. It gives you a chance to get your feet on the ground, learn the ropes but win games because of the talent while you’re doing that.

“That’s much easier than having to try to learn and lose every night.”

There were lessons in a 5-6 start, from timeout usage to maximizing Bruce Brown to navigating absences of Irving and Durant.

And Nash admits he still has a lot to learn — which is encouraging.

“It’s a natural progression to gain comfort on the sideline, comfort in practice, comfort in film sessions,” Nash said. “It’s not just coaching. There’s a lot of other stuff that goes into being a coach; that’s something that takes time to adapt to.

“I don’t say, ‘Man, I’m a way better coach than I was 10 days ago.’ I’m gaining comfort, I’m learning, I’m getting to know my team and our challenges. … [The players] deserve the credit. … But I don’t like to sit here and say, ‘Oh yeah, I’m just coaching the heck out of my team. I’m balling over here.’ Take it one step at a time.”

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