Posted by Neil Paine on May 8, 2009
somebody from this website please tell me why Steve Nash has 2 mvp seasons? i still cant figure it out cause to me he was not even close to top 10 player in the league
This question (give or take some capitalization/punctuation) was probably the hot-button debate amongst hoops statheads about four years ago. I once wrote about the worst MVP votes of all time, and Nash's 2005 win ranked right up there (this was before he won it again in '06). John Hollinger wrote that Nash only won because he was "the new guy" on a Suns team that upgraded itself by 33 wins, and that the simultaneous, independent emergence of players like Shawn Marion & Amare Stoudemire to superstar levels of production was unfairly credited to Nash. Others even went so far as to make the rather outlandish claim that Nash won because he was white. Somebody out there had to have voted for Nash, but at the same time, from all the backlash it was difficult to find a non-fanboy who actually believed Nash was a worthy MVP (especially in 2006).
That's how Nash simultaneously became one of the most overrated AND underrated players in the NBA for a brief time. On the one hand, Nash's individual stats, while very good, were not MVP-caliber: he was 11th in Win Shares & 15th in PER in 2005, 10th & 12th in 2006, and his SPM was nowhere near the top of the league leaderboards in either season. No matter what statistical measuring stick you wanted to use, you weren't going to find one that corroborated the opinion that Nash was one of the best players in the league. On top of that, there was the matter of his poor defense, which was only tangentially addressed by boxscore-based stat methods. The overall picture being painted was that of an All-Star-caliber point guard, but certainly not the best player in basketball.
On the other hand, there's the effect he undeniably had on the Suns when on the court. In terms of raw on/off-court +/-, Phoenix was 15.0 Pts/100 possessions better with Nash in the game in 2005 (5th-best in the NBA), and 9.1 points better in '06. This mirrors his impact in adjusted +/-: +7.21 in 2005, and +9.63 in 2006. In other words, Nash single-handedly boosted Phoenix's efficiency differential by 7-10 points when he was in the game. Then there's the war cry of Nash-bashers in 2006: "He wasn't even the best player on his team!" I said it, others said it, and we meant it at the time -- Shawn Marion did everything for those guys. How could he have been propped up by Nash? Well, since leaving Phoenix, Marion has posted a PER of 16.2 and 5.9 WS/3000 min., compared to 21.8 & 12.9 alongside Nash. Who was propping whom up again?
Needless to say, I've softened in my stance towards the Nash MVPs in recent years, thanks in part to the benefit of hindsight. Now, I'm not saying Nash "deserved" to be the Most Valuable Player in 2005 or 2006. He wasn't the "best" player either year (the consensus would have been Kevin Garnett in '05 and either Kobe Bryant or LeBron James in '06). Then again, the NBA's famously ambiguous MVP definition means the award does not necessarily have to go to the league's top player. Besides, Nash (thanks to his incredible fit within the D'Antoni system) was clearly helping to boost his teammates' stats, and as a result the Suns played so much better with him in the game than with him out.
Stoudemire was the stathead fave for "most valuable player on the Suns" in '05, but without him they still managed to win 54 games and push the Mavs to 6 games in the Western Conference Finals. Marion became the new darling that year, but ever since leaving Nash he's put up the worst numbers of his career. At some point you just have to swallow your pride and acknowledge that Nash was the driving force behind Phoenix's turnaround in 2005, and therefore one of the league's most valuable players. And that requires admitting that a substantial portion of his "value" to Phoenix was in areas that can't be directly measured by the box score.