Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Nash Bashing
By Zach

I want you to read a list:

Bob Pettit
Bob Cousy
Bill Russell
Wilt Chamberlain
Oscar Robertson
Wes Unseld
Willis Reed
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Dave Cowens
Bob McAdoo
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Bill Walton
Moses Malone
Julius Erving
Larry Bird
Magic Johnson
Michael Jordan
Charles Barkley
Hakeem Olajuwon
David Robinson
Karl Malone
Shaquille O'Neal
Allen Iverson
Tim Duncan
Kevin Garnett
Steve Nash

Those are the 26 men who have won MVP awards in the National Basketball Association. Here's another more exclusive list:

Bill Russell
Wilt Chamberlain
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Moses Malone
Larry Bird
Magic Johnson
Michael Jordan
Tim Duncan

Those are the eight men who have won the MVP at least twice. Now, apparently, I'll have to add Steve Nash's name to that list. And that's a goddamn joke.

Reports in various Arizona newspapers have Nash winning his second straight MVP this year. Now, last year I was against Nash winning. Sure, there were a dearth of candidates, but Phoenix's greatness last season had more to do with Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion than Nash. I was, and am, convinced you could swap him for five or so different guards in the league and get the same level of production. But there's no one in the league who can do all the things Marion does, which is the reason the falloff hasn't been as great for the Suns even without Amare this year.

But this is about Nash, and his place in history. A week ago, David wrote that he sees Nash as a future Hall of Famer. Certainly, the two MVPs will help, though not having made the Finals (let alone winning them) is a bit of a strike against him. But the biggest thing you see when you look at that list is how out of place Nash is. The MVP award traditionally goes to one of the top two or three players in the league. I defy anyone to claim Nash is even in the top 10 in terms of value. Basketball, in the end, is about guys who can score points, and Nash is by no means a dominant scorer. His sole asset is that he's a great passer. Fine, that's a valuable trait...but John Stockton was a better passer and he never won an MVP. Jason Kidd put up similar numbers, but was a far superior defender and rebounder and didn't win an MVP. Hell, Oscar Robertson is the greatest point guard ever, and he only won one MVP.

Or if you want to ignore position, you could think about how Shaquille O'Neal, one of the most dominant players in league history, a three-time champion and unstoppable force for most of his career, will have one less MVP than Nash in a couple of weeks. That, my friends, is more than a joke. It's a crime.

So why did Nash get the votes? Last year, it was easier to explain. Phoenix was a novelty, winning 60 games to everyone's surprise. Nash was seen as the instigator for that improvement, and besides, the rest of the candidates were underwhelming. Shaq was still good, but his numbers continued to decline as age and weight took its toll. Kobe was a great scorer, but didn't make the playoffs. Neither did the reigning MVP Kevin Garnett. Tim Duncan was good, but he clearly didn't "wow" voters like Nash did. LeBron and Dwyane Wade were too young (at least to some people).

This year, it's impossible to justify. LeBron and Kobe each carried vastly inferior teams to the playoffs. Kobe, in particular, turned in a season for the ages, while LeBron was the best 21-year-old in league history. Dwyane Wade carried the Heat even with Shaq hurt, Chauncey Billups led the Pistons to the league's best record, Dirk Nowitski became an almost unstoppable offensive force and led the Mavericks to 60 wins. In short, there were a ton of qualified options better than Nash. But since Nash's numbers (at least in points, rebounds, and field goal percentage) increased over last year, he's gotta be the MVP, right?

Wrong. Steve Nash being the 2005-06 NBA MVP is wrong on two levels. He wasn't the best, or the most valuable, player in the league this year. And there's no way he deserves to be the ninth man to win multiple MVPs. Saying he won back-to-back MVPs implies he dominated the league for two straight years. Nothing could be further from the truth.


Blogger David Arnott said...

Great points. It's a damn shame if it's true that he's about to win his second MVP. I think, basically, we're seeing the Scrappy White Guy Theory being taken to its logical conclusion. Yes, Nash is very very good. But it would still be a travesty because he fails too many MVP test questions: Was he the most indispensable player on his own team this year? (It's not clear. Marion is pretty damn good.) Was he the most dominant player in the league at anything? (No.) Would he be among the first five players taken in a leaguewide pickup game? (Kobe. LeBron. Duncan. Howard. Dirk. Carmelo. Wade... All would go before Nash.) That said, based on surface stats, he was the best point in the league for a team that everyone assumed would be helpless without Amare, and while it's understandable that he would get the award, it's only understandable in context; he probably shouldn't have won it last year, and the voters don't get that. As for his Hall chances, a second MVP has to make them exponentially better, because, unlike in baseball, where Roger Maris can be a great player for five straight years and win back to back MVPs in that time and still, rightly, be left out of Cooperstown, you're totally right that the NBA MVP (up 'til now) has always gone to a legitimately dominant performer. People will discount that Nash probably didn't deserve either MVP and hold them up as evidence. Steve Nash: future Hall of Famer. It is what it is.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

I can see it now Zach. In twelve or thirteen years we'll be arguing with some hotshot teen NBA fan who swears Nash was one of the greatest point guards of all time. When you bring up Gary Payton or I bring up Jason Kidd, the kid will say... "Yeah well Nash won back to back MVPs. What did they win?"

Its unfortunate, because the NBA had avoided the dreaded "MVP for other reasons than pure greatness" unlike the other sports (none worse than baseball) Nash is a very good player and probably the best PG currently in the game. But he is not the MVP and is borderline as a top ten player in this league right now.

11:05 PM  
Blogger mathesond said...

I never would have won my roto basketball league if I hadn't traded for Nash at midseason. Especially galling for the other owners is that I never watched a minute of hoops this year (or indeed, since 2001), but knew enough that adding Nash (and later, Ilgauskus) would put me over the top.

12:04 AM  
Blogger Bryan Koch said...

It's not even a question. Last year, by 82games standards, Nash was a legitimate MVP candidate. This year, he shouldn't have even been on the MVP radar.

What a joke.

12:12 AM  
Blogger twins15 said...

Great post. I had similar sentiments on my blog.

Last year, Shaq deserved it but it was a little justified because there weren't many good candidates. This year, Nash barely cracks my top 5, and even I thought that was a little generous. What a joke.

2:00 AM  
Anonymous justin said...

i think your post has merit, but to imply that nash shouldn't be on the radar is stupid. you made a point that shawn marion is the main reason for the success of the suns, but i really find it hard to believe that if nash got hurt and amare didn't - that the suns would have won as many games as they did. especially with the influx of so many new players/parts. he is what makes the suns go, and i think the only other PG that would be capable of doing the same in that situation is kidd (billups is a good PG, but a different type of PG in my opinion)

still, i also don't think he should win MVP and think lebron might be a more deserving candidate, but MVP qualifications, i think, are left vague intentionally - and i dont think it should be left to merely the best player in the league or most impressive (kobe). i do think nash as an mvp is legitimate and i do think kidd was robbed when leading the nets to the finals (doing similar things to nash). it's hard to see how shaq hasn't won more than once as well. shrug.

anyway, i wouldn't be upset if nash indeed has won again b/c i think he's a legitimate candidate.

3:45 AM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Justin: I agree that part of the confusion is that the term "most valuable" always causes confusion in whatever sport. But I usually use these guidelines:

1) Is the guy a dominant player?
2) If you replaced him with a slightly above-average player at his position, how would his team fare?
3) How many guys in the league would you trade him for straight up (without considering the contract situation)?

On Nash:

1) Depends. This was the biggest knock on Kidd I had in 2002-03. It's very hard to dominate a game when you're not a big-time scorer, because Nash can make as many great passes as he wants, but if the guys on his team aren't making the shot, they're nothing more than fancy passes. Plus, he's so bad defensively that it's not like he can really help you there.
2) I agree that Nash helps make the Phoenix offense work, but if you swapped him for, say, Jason Terry (like the Mavericks basically did), and gave him the freedom to run up and down the court like Nash, I think Phoenix is still a playoff team.
3) I wouldn't trade him straight up for Kobe, LeBron, Wade, Dirk, Duncan, Garnett, Yao, Elton Brand, Ray Allen, Shaq, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Chauncy Billups, Chris Bosh, and probably a few other guys. Now granted, part of that is because he's 32 (but Shaq is older, Allen is 31, Duncan and Garnett are getting up there, as is Billups), but it's also because of the previous two reasons.

Steve Nash is a good player, an All-Star when he plays at this level. But he's not an MVP, and certainly not a Hall of Famer.

11:34 AM  

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