A Vote Against Nash
Clearing up the MVP Debate
By Adam Hoff
The MVP race is winding to a close and the discussion is heating up. It seems that many experts and pundits have fallen under the spell of Steve Nash and are casting their ballots for the Suns' point guard. It's easy to see why. Nash is playing the exact same style of ball he played in Dallas and is only receiving this kind of hype because the Suns are successful and fun to watch. People like what they see in Phoenix, they want to keep it rolling, and they figure that voting for Steve Nash as the MVP might further that cause. Itís a nice thought, but thereís only one problem: heís nowhere near the MVP.
The reasons are many:
1) Heís surrounded by the best starting lineup in the league, which makes it hard to pinpoint who is entirely responsible for all the Wís. Joe Johnson flourished at the end of last season and came into the year as one of the rising stars in the league. Marion is a beast. Quentin Richardson was signed in the offseason (imagine how good Denver would be if theyíd signed Q?). And then thereís Amare Ö
2) Amare Stoudemireís ability to stay healthy and his continued growth are just as responsible for the turnaround. Granted, Nash has aided that growth, but had Stoudemire been healthy last year, the Suns would have been very good and they never would have made the big trade with New York, and it might be Marbury racking up 12 assists a night (although you can be sure thereíd be no MVP talk). Nobody wants to believe that because they hate Marbury, but itís not a crazy concept. Just try to think way back to the 2003 playoffs when the Suns were running wild with Marbury, Marion, a shaky Johnson, and a rookie version of Amare, taking the eventual champion Spurs to seven games. Had Amare not missed the first half of 2003-2004, Nash wouldnít even be here; heíd be going for 17 and 9 every night in Dallas and getting absolutely no consideration for the MVP award.
3) People love to point to that 0-4 early season road trip Phoenix suffered without Nash as the reason heís so valuable, but they were also missing backup Leandro Barbosa. When they play with Barbosa and no Nash they are 3-0. All that losing streak proved is that they werenít very good without ANY point guards. Iíll repeat what I said then: if what your team does without you is the key indicator, then Bobby Sura is the MVP. Or maybe Rashard Lewis. Or Antoine Walker. Or any other player that saw his team go on a big losing streak in his absence.
4) Nash plays no defense whatsoever. He was the big reason for the ďAllas MavericksĒ jokes. Remember when Mike Bibby treated him like a ballboy in the 2002 Playoffs? It was so bad they had to double-team Bibby on every play and bench Nash in offense-for-defense substitutions down the stretch. Well, Nash isnít any better now. The only difference is that the Suns are so explosive and have such athletic big men that they are able to cover their deficiencies better by doing a decent job on the boards and by getting up and down the floor so quickly. Just wait until the second round of the playoffs when either Bibby or Jason Terry are torching Nash in the fourth quarters of big games while the announcer bemoans Nashís inability to get stops. The Suns are not a good defensive team generally, but every other starter can get a big stop if needed. They are athletic and tough players who are simply allowed to focus on offense. When the chips are down, Johnson or Marion can make a play on D. Nash canít. How then, can he be the MVP of the whole league?
5) Letís play a little team comparison. The Lakers lost Shaq and turned into absolute crap while he made Miami into a dominant force. The Cavs lost their second best player and LeBron has carried them toward the playoffs. Allen Iverson is pulling one of the worst rosters in the NBA into playoff contention. Dirk lost Nash in Dallas and raised his game to make the Mavericks BETTER without the Canadian. How can someone whose old team gets better without him be the MVP of the league? Itís ludicrous. And as youíll see, Dirk is one of many players Iíve got ahead of Nash on my ballot.
6) Finally, no pure point guard has won this award since Bob Cousy in 1957. Magic won three times, but he hardly counts. It will be like when LeBron wins in a few years while playing the point; we all know that heís not strictly a table-setter. So what, weíre going to break tradition with Steve Nash? Yeah, that makes sense, Isaiah Thomas, John Stockton, and Jason Kidd were never good enough, but Nash, boy, heís just too good to deny. Give me a break.
Now that Iíve got that out of my system, here are my choices for MVP, from 10 to 1.
10. Ray Allen. Heís slumping and his team appears to be dead in the water for the playoffs, but thereís no denying that Allen had a huge year and was vital in the Sonics becoming a legit team again. People picked the Suns to be a playoff team so their comeback isnít terribly startling, but the Sonics were picked by most pundits (including me) to finish dead last in the West. The great story has lost its luster down the stretch, but itís still a remarkable run.
9. Baron Davis. Davis has to be the MVP because heís making other players better and the Warriors are running and they are winning now that heís on the team. Thereís no other conclusion: heís the MVP. See how dumb that sounds? Well, change the names and you are basically trying to make the case for Nash. This isnít a real pick; that was just a little bit of sarcasm. (By the way, Baron gets my LVP for faking an injury in New Orleans to force a trade. What a chump.)
9. (Real Version) Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. Just to hammer the point home further, you can make a completely legit case for both of these guys as top 10 MVP candidates. Stoudemire is going for 26 and 9 every night and picking up right where he left off last year. Yes, thatís right, last year. I know I canít let go of this, but itís important to note how good this guy was before Nash rolled into town with his matador defense. After coming back from an injury last year, Amare averaged 24.3 points and 10.3 rebounds a night for the final 33 games. Those numbers are just as good as his stats this year. Look it up if you donít believe me.
As for Marion, heís been the most underrated player in the league for the last four years running. Heís consistently a top-3 fantasy player and the only guy that goes for 20 and 10 without getting any plays run for him. Heís going for over 19 points per game, is third in the NBA in rebounding at 11.4 per, is fourth in steals at 2.0 (the only power forward even in the discussion), and heís the only guy in the entire league with over 100 blocks and 100 threes. He gives the Suns an incredible finisher on the break, a relentless rebounder, and their only true impact player on the defensive end.
8. Dwyane Wade. Heís been unbelievable, but has to yield to Shaq in this discussion. If you donít think Shaq makes things just a bit easier for this young star, check the archives for D-Wadeís rough night against the Pistons earlier this week.
7. Steve Nash. I put him ahead of the other Phoenix players because truly is the quarterback on the floor and has had a tremendous season, but this as high as I can go. I love his game and Iím not trying to take shots at Nash, just making it clear how ridiculous it is to call him the MVP of the league.
6. Kevin Garnett. He played with a bad knee and a team full of bad attitudes, but never gave up. Heís no better or worse than he was last year when he won this award, so to put him any lower than this is criminal. His scoring was down this year, but he still cleaned the glass, racked up assists, and controlled the defensive end of the court. I traded him on two fantasy teams because I was positive he would hang it up with that knee injury, but he just kept playing better and better trying to lead his team back into the playoffs.
5. Tracy McGrady. Why isnít anyone talking about T-Mac? He shrugged off a slow start and has been incredible in Houston. Heís averaging career highs in minutes, steals, and assists while throwing up over 25 points a game and carrying the Rockets every night. Plus, he had that unforgettable game against San Antonio, so that has to count for something.
4. LeBron James. Heís been the best player in the NBA this year, but his team has plummeted too far, too fast for him to wind up winning the award. However, if he keeps his team afloat and into the playoffs and keeps playing the way he has over the past three games (averaging 36-9-9 with 5 steals), he might leapfrog past Dirk.
3. Allen Iverson. This is his finest season. Heís playing through pain, running the point, leading the league in scoring by a wide margin, racking up a career high in assists (7.9 per game, good for third in the league), causing chaos on the defensive end (second in the league in steals at 2.4 per), and generally carrying the 76ers on his back. Itís been amazing to watch. Without AI, I donít think the Sixers win more than 25 games.
2. Dirk Nowitski. As mentioned earlier, Dirk has taken a Nashless Mavericks team and made them better. His scoring and rebounding numbers are up and heís even blocking shots now. Some of the credit in Dallas has to go Avery Johnsonís focus on defense, Jason Terryís transformation into a floor general, and Josh Howardís emergence as a genuine stud, but Dirk makes this team go. He was always more valuable than Nash and is proving that now. In fact, if you look around the league at the 50-win teams, Dallas is the only squad that relies so heavily on one player. Take Shaq off of Miami and you would still have a playoff team, albeit a shaky one. Take Nash off the Suns and they still win 45-50 games. The Pistons could afford to lose any one player and keep playing good ball. The Spurs have proven they can win without Duncan. Only the Mavericks would go from over 50 wins to a lottery team if you took off their best player. By that reasoning, Dirk might very well be the most valuable player in the league.
1. Shaquille OíNeal. All you need to know about Shaqís value is that he has shifted the entire balance of power to Miami and to the Eastern Conference. I would go as far as to say that he is responsible for the success of three of the top four teams in the West and for the T-Wolves missing the playoffs. Think about it. The Suns, Sonics, and Mavs were able to go into the season with the knowledge that Shaq was finally in the East. Instead of using cap space to fill the lineup with bulky centers and featuring traditional rosters, they were able to throw together run and gun squads that didnít need to fear the big man.
Not only were the Suns able to win their games against the Lakers, I would argue that they won an extra 7-8 games this year simply because they had Amare at center and Marion at the four; decisions made possible by Shaqís absence from the Western Conference picture. Dallas signed Dampier but didnít miss a beat when he was hurt, because there are no longer Western Conference players that Alan Henderson (of all people) canít come in and lean on. The Sonics got by with undersized power forwards like Reggie Evans and Danny Fortson playing center. None of this would have even been attempted Ė let alone been successful Ė with Shaq in LA. To top it all of, the one team constructed to battle the Spurs and Lakers, the Minnesota Timberwolves, simply got run up and down the court by all the newly formed track teams in the West. If Shaq sticks around, the Suns, Sonics, and Mavericks would all be playing with a plodding center at all times and would be structured like normal teams, which would have enabled the Wolves to hang around in the playoff picture. Granted, Minnesota was doomed from the start, but a big part of that is that the conference changed overnight and their old, plodding roster couldnít make the transition. When one player can set all that in motion, well, thatís value.
Not only is Shaq the fault line of the entire NBA, heís also been the most dominant player in the league for a long, long time. While I donít wish to turn the MVP award into the Oscar for Best Actor and start handing out makeup awards, we are now able to see Shaq in a whole new light. Itís not that we need to finally give him another MVP even if itís not his best year, but rather that we mistakenly discounted his value in past years because we overrated Kobeís impact on the Lakers. Even though this isnít one of this top statistical season, all this shows is that he should probably have six or seven MVP awards. Now we are being shown just how valuable Shaq is to a team. In fact, what has transpired this season probably gives us the most clear cut definition weíve ever had for the award.
So there you have it, my MVP candidates. Iíll never understand why Iverson is getting almost no love, why Dirk is being overshadowed by Nash, or why LeBron is automatically discounted just because the Cavs are finally playing at their real talent level. Most of all, I canít understand how anybody could take a point guard that doesnít play defense over Shaq on an MVP ballot. If the award is about being the heart and soul of a team, then consider KG and Iverson before you consider Nash. If itís about having the best individual season, then itís between AI, LeBron, and Dirk. But if itís about real value, about truly making a team what it is, about affecting not only your team but every team in the league, then the conversation starts and ends with the same guy: Shaquille OíNeal.
Adam Hoff is a columnist for WhatifSports.com and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.