Monday, April 19, 2010

The Other MVP: Steve Nash

Head on over to Ed the Sports Fan to check out my case for Steve Nash as the NBA's other MVP (not named LeBron), like I did last year for Kobe. Here it is in its entirety:

So yesterday Kenny gave me a call to ask me if I'd be interested in being a part of the Ed the Sports Fan NBA MVP series with Kenny, Ed and I each promoting a candidate, just like last year. Of course I said yes, but here’s the catch – no LeBron. Everyone knows King James will wear the MVP crown for the second straight season. That’s a given. Going over why is just pointless. If you watch the NBA at all, you know exactly why. So to make this compelling, we each had to endorse another candidate.

Kenny and Ed each already had their choices, which you’ll see in the coming days, so I was left with the rest of the pack. Last year, I had the unenviable task of endorsing Kobe, an extra burden given my Philadelphia roots and die-hard Sixers fandom. There was no way in hell I was throwing my support behind him again. Much like a John Calipari point guard, that was a one-and-done situation. Plus, given the finger injury and the lackluster individual season given his track record, Kobe didn’t really deserve to be in the conversation (though, contrary to what Ed might believe, Kobe is the Lakers’ MVP, not Pau). The next logical choice was Dwyane Wade, and there isn’t a person alive who would argue against him. But, you know, Ed already made Wade’s case over at SLAM (big-timing us!).

That left me with a really tough decision. Do I go with Deron Williams? Excellent choice and worthy candidate no doubt, but Kenny’s been tooting Deron’s horn for over a year now. I’m trying to bring something fresh to the table. Or at least I thought I was. Because the more I tried to introduce the world to someone new and/or underappreciated (hello, Gerald Wallace, Al Horford, Josh Smith, et al), the more I kept coming back to a familiar face.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, I’m talking about two-time (and back-to-back) MVP Steve Nash. Sure, he doesn’t play a lick of defense. No, he doesn’t score 20 points per game or display a physically imposing style. But Steve Nash makes every single player he takes the court with better. And not just a little better, a lot better. He brings the game to new heights, gets the most out of his teammates, keeps everyone involved, runs the show. Each and every time he takes the court, Nash is the one dictating the pace, orchestrating the offense, making the Suns go.

Even at 36, the man hasn’t slowed down a lick. This season, he averaged 16.5 points per game, led the entire NBA with 11 assists per night and shot ridiculous percentages across the board: 50.7 percent from the field, 42.6 percent from three and an NBA-leading 93.8 percent from the line. Just one year after the failed slow-it-down Shaq experiment under Terry Porter, Nash rediscovered his game under Alvin Gentry and led one of the biggest turnarounds in the NBA – to the tune of a 54-28 record, good for third in the stacked Western Conference. And make no mistake about it, the Suns would be nowhere near the playoffs, let alone sitting nicely with home-court advantage in the first round, without Nash at the helm.

He’s the one that throws the picture-perfect lobs to Amare and Jason Richardson. He’s the one who has helped Grant Hill find the fountain of youth (along with the miracle-working Phoenix training staff), setting him up with mid-range jumpers and letting him run the floor. He’s the one who feeds Channing Frye for those wide-open threes no one even knew he could make before getting to Phoenix. He’s the one who busts on Robin Lopez and saw him become more than just an Anderson Varejao lookalike. He’s the one who makes Louis Amundson and Jared Dudley worth a damn. Without Nash running the show, those players just wouldn’t be the same.

Beyond that, he’s a real, true leader. Just check out how tight the Suns are, how much these guys genuinely get along, how much fun they have together, so much so that they put their shenanigans on film:

That’s Nash’s humor, Nash’s personality rubbing off on his teammates and becoming a staple, bringing the Suns together. You certainly can’t question this team’s chemistry. That’s mainly due to Nash. He’s the glue on the court, getting everyone involved and keeping them involved. And off the court, he leads the way with his jovial antics.

Steve Nash is the Phoenix Suns, and the Phoenix Suns are damn good. They have been ever since he returned to the team that drafted him out of Santa Clara. And that’s largely, mainly due to his play and his presence. I mean, can you even imagine what the Phoenix Suns would look like without him? I can’t, and I don’t think there’s another point guard alive that could run this team and get as much out them. Not Deron Williams. Not Chris Paul. Not Jason Kidd. Not Derrick Rose or Rajon Rondo. Certainly not the young bucks Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry. That’s not to say Steve Nash is the best point guard in the league, or the most dominant, or the most compelling. But he’s the only one who could make these Suns go, make them a 50-plus win behemoth that actually has a chance to make some real noise this postseason. He’s not a product of Mike D’Antoni. If anything, D’Antoni was a product of Steve Nash (how’s New York working out for ya, Mike?). He isn’t even a product of the 7 seconds or less offense. Remember, he was a star in his days in Dallas, helping to rejuvenate a dormant franchise along with Dirk Nowitzki and Mark Cuban, years before 7 seconds or less ever entered the NBA lexicon. Steve Nash isn’t a product of a system, he’s simply a unique, one-of-a-kind player that plays a style that no one else can quite pull off.

And at age 36, when people were beginning spread the whispers that he was getting too old, losing a step, couldn’t get it done anymore, he put forth arguably his best season yet. He played in more games (81) than he did in either of his MVP seasons, playing 75 in 2004-05 and 79 in 2005-06. And his numbers measured up across the board:

2004-05: 15.5 ppg, 11.5 apg, 50.2 fg%, 43.1 3pt%, 88.7 ft%

2005-06: 18.8 ppg, 10.5 apg, 51.2 fg%, 43.9 3pt%, 92.1 ft%

2009-10: 16.5 ppg, 11.0 apg, 50.7 fg%, 42.6 3pt%, 93.8 ft%

He still averaged over 30 minutes (32.8) a game. He still made passes few others could even see. He once again led the Suns to the playoffs, to the top half of the conference, doing it all amongst trade rumors revolving around his lone current all-star teammate. Now the Suns are rolling into the playoffs as one of the hottest team in the entire Association. They ended the regular season winning their final three games, with Nash notching double-digit assists in all three contests (11, 10, 11). From the All-Star break on, the Suns went 23-6, and in those games, Nash averaged 12.9 points and 10.9 assists, pacing himself as the Suns continued to win to get ready for the postseason. And it worked to perfection. The Suns finished the season strong, headed into the playoffs with a full head of a steam and roster full of confident players thanks to Nash integrating every last player on the team into the flow of the game.

If that’s not MVP-worthy, I don’t know what is.

BallHype: hype it up!

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