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Nash Gunning For a Third MVP?

Posted by Neil Paine on November 18, 2009

94508101510_Suns_v_HawksAccording to ESPN's MVP Watch, Steve Nash is currently your frontrunner in the race for the NBA's most prestigious individual award, and our own MVP tracker doesn't disagree much -- it lists Nash second behind the incumbent, LeBron James. Could it be that Nash is on track to capture his the third MVP of his career, giving him the same number of trophies as Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, & Moses Malone (and more than Tim Duncan, Karl Malone, & Bob Pettit)?

Well, Nash is the ringleader of the team with the best record in basketball right now, the 10-2 Phoenix Suns. And, yes, these are the same Suns who had been left for dead by fans and the media after breaking up their popular Seven Seconds or Less core, adding Shaquille O'Neal in a move that failed pretty glaringly, and burning through 3 coaches in 8 months. The fact that they're on top of the league has to be one of the feel-good stories of the year, and Nash is inarguably their catalyst, leading the team in Win Shares, PER, Assist Rate, TS% (with Jason Richardson), and Possession % (if you ignore Alando Tucker, who has played all of 24 minutes). Statheads decried his back-to-back selections in 2005 & '06, but the resume I laid out above sounds like something they could get behind, right?

Maybe. But there are, as always, issues with Nash's candidacy. First, there's the fact that, despite their gaudy record, the Suns aren't really the best team in the league. By SRS, which takes into account their point differential and strength of schedule, Phoenix ranks just 12th in the NBA, behind Atlanta, Boston, Denver, Portland, Dallas, the Lakers, Oklahoma City, Houston, Miami, San Antonio, and Cleveland. Now, Phoenix has beaten three of those teams, all on the road, but they were also blown out by 20+ points against both Orlando and the Lakers, and their biggest wins margin-wise have come against Golden State, Washington, and New Orleans, teams that are a combined 9-22 on the year. The Suns' performance so far has been both surprising and commendable, but the jury is still out on whether they can maintain it, because the best predictor of future results says they're not quite as good as their record says they are.

There's also the matter of defense, Nash's familiar bête noire from his earlier MVP seasons. Remember the old way to assassinate the basketball character of the Mike D'Antoni Suns, to point out that they were bad defensively because of how many points they allowed per game? And remember how that claim was largely bunk, since when you removed the illusions of pace, the Suns were essentially an average defensive team? Well, that cliche may have been off-base during the D'Antoni era, but under Alvin Gentry it's a very legitimate criticism. After giving up 1.09 pts/possession to the Rockets last night, the Suns now rank 21st out of 30 teams in defensive efficiency; they're also the second-worst team in the NBA at forcing turnovers. And unfortunately, Nash has been one of the major culprits -- he has nabbed just 1 steal all season, and the Suns have an abominable 111.2 defensive rating when he's on the floor, compared to a (still terrible, but less-bad) 109.2 rating when he sits. And if you think this is a one-year occurence, think again: Nash has made the Suns defense worse when on the floor in 5 of his 6 seasons since coming to Phoenix. Compare it to other recent MVP winners, and you'll find that Dirk Nowitzki is the only other MVP in the 82games era whose team was better on D when he gathered bench splinters.

Of course, it's still ridiculously early in the season to discuss anyone's MVP bid, and Nash could certainly bolster his candidacy between now and April. But, that said, I don't think we should get too carried away with the idea of Nash hoisting a Podoloff he actually deserved, because the same complaints about Nash's first two MVPs still largely ring true today. Nash has been masterful at leading the Suns offense back to prominence in '09-10, but his defensive performance is still holding him back from getting the full APBRmetric endorsement as league MVP.

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41 Responses to “Nash Gunning For a Third MVP?”

  1. P Middy Says:

    Combined records of the teams the Suns have beaten this season is 48-63. Boston, Miami, and Houston are the only ones with winning records. Just sayin.

  2. Mark Dixon Says:

    I love what Steve and the Suns are doing right now, but the season is only 12 games old. Crowning anyone MVP at this time of year is preposterous.

  3. Chronz Says:

    So why is Dirk constantly labeled a poor defender

  4. Dirk Nowitzki Says:

    Because I am.

  5. Rich Rifkin Says:

    Another dash for Nash is his age: He and the Suns may be off to a fine start, but Nash is 35 and chances are decent he will slow down or even break down as the season moves past 50 games. No one has ever, in a full NBA season*, won the MVP who is as old as Nash.

    Michael Jordan's last MVP came when he was 34. And unlike Nash, Jordan was much healthier up to that point than Nash, who suffers from back problems, has been heretofore.

    *Karl Malone won the MVP in a strike-shortened season at age 35. The only MVP to have reached his 30th birthday since Malone won in a 49 game effort was none other than Steve Nash, who was 30 and 31 when he won the award twice.

  6. Romain Says:

    Can you imagine Nash having as many MVP trophies as Magic & Bird ? That's just ridiculous...
    The fact that he already has as many as, say, Shaq and Kobe combined, is non-sense...

    I mean, the guy has played with Nowitzki & Finley, then Stoudemire & Marion, and he has NEVER EVEN REACHED THE FINALS ONCE!!

  7. Nick Says:

    Right, true.

    ...how's Marion doing these days? Marion was great because Nash helped to make him great. Did anyone want Stoudemire when he was being shopped out over the past two seasons?
    And Nash has made the playoffs/conference finals, and been competitive, despite Sarver (the Suns' owner) selling/trading/giving away all their draft picks.

    That said, his MVPs were...questionable, especially at the time. It's much easier to say they're justified now that Marion is sputtering elsewhere, the Knicks have imploded, and Rajon Rondo/Andre Igoudala (who were available with picks the Suns owned) are flourishing elsewhere.

  8. Romain Says:

    Look, Marion was an All-Star before Nash came to Phoenix... And if nobody wanted Stoudemire when he was shopped out I'd say it has more to do with his frequent injuries than with GMs doubting whether he could play without Nash...

    My point is out of the 11 players who won multiple MVPs, only 2 never won a title (Nash and Karl Malone), and Nash is the only one who never reached the finals (Malone played in 3 finals). And it's clearly not because he did not have the right supporting cast when you list all the players he's teamed with over the years.

  9. steve norris Says:

    the first mvp for nash was cute, the second mvp was a robbery, and if he gets 3, thats just insane. he is not that caliber player and i dont care what the numbers say. he dont play defense which makes him one dimensional. he is not a better point guard than stockton in my opinion. he was a very good defender unlike nash. i know ther r different eras but come on, its wade,kobe,dirk,howard,james,anthony,and pierces award 2 lose

  10. steve norris Says:

    by the way, marion was 20-10 with marbury before nash got there, marion is just losing a step from banging with power forwards for years instead of small forwards

  11. P Middy Says:

    I'm not a fan of Nash having won those two MVP trophies. Not because he was not playing at a MVP level. I believe he was. However, there were players who were playing at an even higher level those years. LBJ specifically. Maybe through in Duncan or Bryant too.

  12. P Middy Says:

    Good call on Stockton btw, Steve. His numbers and success matched or surpassed Nash for a number of seasons, and yet, no MVP for him. Check out Stock's averages from 88-91

    PPG - 17.1
    RPG - 2.8
    APG - 14.1
    SPG - 2.9
    FG% - 52
    3P% - 33
    FT% - 84

    Ill.

  13. Jason J Says:

    Sadly, (happily?) those were the best statistical years of Jordan and Magic too, Mr. Middy, and when the two best guards ever are putting up their best numbers and winning titles / making finals and conference finals, etc... you wind up with Stocktobot being totally boxed out of award contention.

    Nash ran into fortunate circumstances when Bryant and James happened to be on lousy teams during those couple of seasons, and voters probably didn't want to give full credit to either Shaq or Wade because they were sharing the load. Getting absolutely free reign in the 7secs or less offense right as the no perimeter contact rules took effect didn't hurt either.

    I actually feel like the MVPs make Nash simultaneously underrated and overrated by NBA fans. Some try to use the awards to prop him up. Others get all sour grapes on him and focus on how he doesn't live up to the other MVPs historically.

  14. Justin Kubatko Says:

    Jason J wrote:

    I actually feel like the MVPs make Nash simultaneously underrated and overrated by NBA fans. Some try to use the awards to prop him up. Others get all sour grapes on him and focus on how he doesn't live up to the other MVPs historically.

    Well said.

  15. Down With Nash Haters Says:

    to all of you who think steve nash didnt deserve his MVP's you are sorely mistaken. first off hes the only player ever to go 40%3pm,50%fg, and 90%ft three years in a row which is just insane. secondly he is not a poor defender he is just undersized which allows almost every player to shoot over him no matter how well he stays in front of them(and he does a very good job considering his age). as far as the no finals appearances thats not something he can help. whether it was kerr being a retard as usual or the numerous amounts of buzzer beaters and horrible horrible calls something has always kept him from that. just wait for this year all you non believers. o and to the guy who said nash is out of shape and hurt thats just moronic. the guy lives in the gym and plays in countless soccer and basketball leagues in the offseason. the back problems have not kept him from averaging 30 plus minutes his entire career so why bring it up?

  16. Down With Nash Haters Says:

    well thirty plus mins in his suns career i should say lol

  17. Cory Says:

    We've got to remember that MVP stands for "Most Valuable Player", not necessarily "Best Player". If Nash were to play one-on-one with Kobe, LeBron, TD, Wade, etc, he'd probably lose. But in a 5 on 5 game those two years, Nash added the most "value" to the Suns and to the league. The SSOL era was exciting and brought in (or back) more casual fans than Kobe's Colorado escapades, LeBron's contrived preening TD's ho-hum play or Wade's Bennett Salvatore bailout calls.

    Oh, and he was white. Was David Stern a little desperate to reinject some vanilla into the upper crust of the NBA? You bet! Remember--value is the key word. Re-engaging white fans to the NBA had to have been one of Stern's top priorities. Right, wrong, or indifferent, it's just the way it is (was). I'm OK with Nash's two MVP's because it spawns great debate and gets fans involved.

  18. Neil Paine Says:

    "he is not a poor defender he is just undersized which allows almost every player to shoot over him"

    Also, my little cousin is a world-class triathlete... except he toddles instead of running, can't swim, and can only ride a tricycle.

  19. MikeF Says:

    Cory -- I agree with your first paragraph, but question the second. Even if Stern was desperate enough to give Nash the nod just to get more white fans, it's not Stern who chooses the MVP... It's based upon the votes of a panel of sports writers. Now, were the majority of the members of the panel voting based on color? While I believe the answer is no, at least that is a question that's in the ball park.

  20. Dave Says:

    Nash managed to rub the MVP genie both ways. In 05 he was the best player on (one of) the best teams. I think popular perception was that he made Marion and Amare better.
    All the other legitimate candidates already had MVP awards (Shaq, KG, Duncan, and TMac), and apparently, you aren't eligible for MVP consideration if you are not (perceived to be) playing as well as you have before.

    In 06 NASH was much better (the first 50-40-90) - but his team was worse - in fact the team W% of 65% is the lowest by the team of the regular season MVP in the last 15 years ... (second is AI's which I find an equally uncompelling MVP award).
    Probably the thing that heped Nash win the 06 award the most was the best team Detroit (10 wins better than PHO) had no best player (ok, yes in my opinion the best argument can be made for Billups - but then he played the same position as Nash and was clearly not as good), and Tim Duncan came under the curse of Shaq - not playing as well as people know you can play - despite your team being Damn good.

    For Nash to get a 3rd he has to do both - give arguably the best player performace AND be on the best team. I don't think he can.
    Lebron better play as well as last year or else he too might suffer the curse of Shaq and we get some unlikely MVP like Josh Smith ...

  21. khandor Says:

    Steve Nash is one of the all-time great players and PGs in the history of the NBA. However, as a player whose primary source of excellence exists exclusively within the offensive phase of the game, rather than encompassing defense and rebounding, as well, it is always going to be a stretch to try and make the case that he is ever worthy of being categorized as the "best basketball player" in the NBA for a specific season, especially, when there are other superior ALL-AROUND players in the game today, e.g. Kobe Bryant, etc.

    That said, as was mentioned earlier ...

    The NBA's MVP Award is allocated each season to the Most Valuable Player to his team, not "the best basketball player in the league".

    In this regard, it is quite easy to make the case that Steve Nash, when he's playing at his very highest level, is indeed the Most Valuable Player to his team, in the entire Association.

    Expect the Suns' performance to tail off as this season proceeds and for this Nash-for-MVP talk to die.

    Regardless, the man is simply one fabulous basketball player ... with the ball in his hands. :-)

  22. blarg Says:

    I don't see Nash winning another. That said, a few points about the previous MVP awards...

    The first MVP year, Nash replaced Marbury as pg, and the team went from 29 wins to 62 - a record turnaround. That seems hardly surprising in retrospect, but at the time, Marbury was considered a legit assassin, so the turnaround was both dramatic and unexpected. Nash got most of the credit, and it was hard to argue that he was the key - especially when Nash got hurt and the suns lost most of the games he missed. All in all, it made a pretty compelling case. The next year, Stat got hurt (microfracture) and missed the whole year, and although people predicted that Phoenix would revert back to the 29 win team, they didn't fall apart at all. Nash's scoring stats were much improved. His case was even more compelling than the previous year if anything.

    Of course, Nash is obviously no stopper. Yet, he's consistently been at the top of his team in +/-, and the teams win. He's obviously a liability on D, but he can be hidden to a large extent. All the extra offensive efficiency more than makes up for his shortcomings - Nash ranked 13th overall in the NBA +/- race last year, and 8th the year before and he led the Suns in that category in both years, so the stats back that up. I personally think his net contribution to his teams deserved at least one of the two MVPs - probably the second. His competition in the MVP races was also pretty thin. The guys who had the prototypical MVP stats were not on good teams.

    But I think the reason that put him over the top is because he's Canadian. Why? Because some Canadian sportswriters vote in the NBA (and other pro) sport MVP races. I think they vote as a bloc if a Canadian gets nominated, which boosts their chances. Similarly, Justin Morneau won the MLB MVP in 2006, when he arguably wasn't even the best player on his own team (Mauer). Morneau's MVP race, like Nash's in 2004/5 (over Shaq) was almost a dead heat between #1 and #2, so homer voting could've easily swayed both races.

  23. Ari Says:

    Small correction, Rich Rifkin. MJ won his last MVP in 1998 when he was 35 years old..

  24. khandor Says:

    IMO, it's an absurd claim to attempt to pin Steve Nash's 2 NBA MVP Awards on the effects of "block voting" by specific Canadian members of the selection committee. How many [numerically and percentage wise] of the individuals responsible for voting on/choosing the winner of this award do think are "Canadians", in comparison with the sheer volume/number of "Americans" amongst that specific group?

    The suggested rationale behind Justin Morneau [Canadian] winning the AL MVP Award over Joe Mauer [American], another worthy candidate to be sure, is equally absurd, for the exact same reason.

  25. khandor Says:

    Sorry ... AL MVP should read as, "MLB MVP". :-)

  26. Raptomist Says:

    Nash won because he was Canadian???? Morneau won because he was Canadian???? That's the most ridiculous statement in this entire thread - not to mention, rather insulting! Just how many sportswriters do you think we have up here? And why do you consider our writers to be blind homers while yours remain objective? We have one tenth the population of the US and just one team in the NBA and one in MLB, so likely there's only a small number of our "multitude" of sportswriters who even qualify to vote. There are probably more eligible voters in New York than there are in all of Canada, and I don't see Yankees and Knicks (LOL) regularly copping MVP trophies! And if you'll recall, there was support for Nash's win from writers at major sports outlets like ESPN and SI those two years. Last I heard, these publications aren't based in Toronto.

  27. Jason J Says:

    Blarg - Steve didn't exactly take over for Marbury. Marbury was traded 34 games into the 2004 season which left the team without a starting caliber point guard. That's part of why they finished w/ 29 wins. Marbury's last full season was 2003 where they won 44 and lost to San An in the 1st round. Still a huge jump in wins.

  28. TC Says:

    Folks shouldn't disrespect Nash because he won two MVP's. He does what he does on the court, and doesn't get involved with how people respond to it.

    He didn't vote himself the trophy. Other people did and what could he do about it? In both cases he quite rightly, the only thing he could so is accept graciously and remind people that any accolades he won should really go to the team.

    After all, as others point out, the one thing Nash does is make his teammates better. Ask Tim Thomas, Boris Diaw, QRich, Jared Dudley or Channing Frye. He's the guy everyone wants to play with. So his success only comes with team success.

    And the championships? C'mon. 2007 is tainted. And after Tim Donaghy's recent "book", you can talk to any Mav fan about who much referees with agendas can rob a team from its destiny.

  29. blarg Says:

    Actually I'm Canadian (hence I spell it 'bloc'). And to be sure, we have lots of sportswriters up here that vote in these races... Marc Stein of ESPN comes immediately to mind - he's Canadian, and my memory is that just about started the Nash for MVP talk in the 1st place. You can check his archive for the column way back in 2004 - it might still be online. I searched, but couldn't find any reference to the exact number of Canadian voters, but my memory is that it's a pretty sizable number - maybe 10%.

    I don't follow the MLB at all, so I can't really talk about Morneau with any real insight, except to say that lots of people got equally up in arms about his MVP, and again the voting was super-close.

    I never said Nash didn't deserve the MVPs - I believe he did, but I also think he had some help when it came to the voting. You don't have to agree, but for sure, there are certainly going to be biases in the way they set up the voting. When only 125 writers get to vote, you're going to get some weird results.

  30. Travis Says:

    "khandor Says:
    November 20th, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Sorry ... AL MVP should read as, "MLB MVP". :-)"

    No, AL and NL have their own MVP awards.

  31. blarg Says:

    Re: why would Americans not 'homer' vote for their own, while Canadians would, you guys are forgetting that Americans win MLB and NBA MVPs almost every year. So why would an American sportswriter chagrin a non-American MVP? It would be a non-issue. In basketball, the only non-American player of HOF significance that I can even think of is Hakeem Olajuwon. Would Americans ever be stung that he took his place in the HOF in the place of an American? Of course not - the NBA pantheon is essentially entirely American. But imagine what Olajuwon would/could mean to Nigerians. Or Yao to the Chinese. Well Nash is like that for us, and I suspect Morneau is not too far behind.

  32. Kyle Says:

    Eventually Nash, Nowitzki and Gasol will be in the Hall of Fame. Both Nash and Nowitzki have been voted top 10 at their positions all-time by ESPN. And neither has shown decline... they're fundamentally sound on offense, and actually know how to shoot.

  33. Rich Rifkin Says:

    "Small correction, Rich Rifkin. MJ won his last MVP in 1998 when he was 35 years old.."

    Literally, you are right. My reference was figurative.

    For the purposes of his basketball age, MJ was 34 in the 1997-98 season. I realize that Jordan turned 35 a month and a half before the 1997-98 season concluded. However, that's not what matters for basketball-age.

  34. Greg Says:

    Well firstly if you say that steve is bad at defense you try running an offense with the ball in your hands for most of a possessions in a run and gun game. It tires you out when you do that for approximately 30 minutes a game. Then try and play defense and then run on the break. Sounds pretty tiring huh? Yeah well Nash did that for a few seasons.

    If you based the MVP on someones stats, then what if a catch and shoot player put up 40 points per game just based on the everyone kept passing them the ball and they kept hitting their shots at 40 percent. Stats don't define a players effectiveness,they help though. If a player draws double teams to open up a defense for the rest of the team, that does not show up in a box score, and can't be defined statistically. That is what Nash does.

    Also, for those of you who have read Referee Tim Donaghae's (not sure on the spelling) book, he talks about how he and fellow refs hated the suns because of sarver yelling at them frequently, and so favoured the spurs in the playoffs. So that can make it difficult to win finals games, can it not?

    If someone can provide an explanation for these points to diminish Nash, I am all ears

  35. Stephen Barlis Says:

    Nash being MVP is hogwash. A mockery of the entire selection process. Never has there been an MVP who did not carry his team to an NBA finals. The sports media are just trying to be cute and pushing heavily for Nash to win the award (for the 3rd time--Oh my gosh!!!). He is no impact player, never shone in an all star game, statistics are way below average except maybe for assists, and is just plain nothing.

  36. Showie Says:

    C'mon enough with these MVP pretenders (NASH ?????). Way below the level of KOBE, LEBRON and DWAYNE. Let the basketball fans decide who is the real MVP and not these sports writers who feed us with tons of horse shit and non sense players statistics for their own ulterior motives of putting the name of nash in the list. I thought playing dirty politics were only in government and private entities.

  37. blarg Says:

    Yeah, but then Yao would win every year.

  38. steve norris Says:

    2 be a mvp u must play both ends of the floor, simple and point

  39. Ketih Ellis Says:

    The excuses made for Steve Nash being "undersized" & "worn out" from leading a fast-stepping offensive attack beg two words: Jerry West. West was every bit as small as Nash (NBA player size when Wilt retired was on average a half-inch shorter & a dozen lbs lighter than today), & ran a far faster attack against better defenses (see DeBusschere, Clyde, Hondo, Norm/Sloan etc etc) than Nash does in Phoenix today.

    West was not only capable of leading the NBA in Assists for the first time into his Thirties, but also led the league in Scoring, something not even the bigger Guard Oscar Robertson ever pulled off. If size or speed matter, West's did more w/ the same physical characteristics (excepting wingspan) as Nash -- yet never MVPd. That's why Jerry was so ticked off when Billy Cunningham became the first non-Center to MVP since Oscar.

  40. Chris Says:

    "He is no impact player, never shone in an all star game, statistics are way below average except maybe for assists, and is just plain nothing."

    Uh, yeah. Okay. Whatever you say.

  41. Matthew Cornwell Says:

    Many (not all) sabermetric types love to do two things - discredit Steve Nash and push win shares/PER. Lets not forget that Steve Nash is on pace to finish with over 112 Win Shares after this season, and only needs 15 more after that to be ranked in the the top 30 all-time. Nash also ranks 6th all-time among all point guards in win shares right now and 5th in career PER too. It seems that PER and W.S. are actually tools that would benefit Nash's status and perception.

    As far as the MVP's, of course he didn't deserve the first one and probably not the second one either. Of course Nash isn't as good as Duncan or Shaq or Kobe or LeBron. And of course he isn't as good as Stockton or probably Payton or Kidd - but he doesn't need to be to be viewed as a legit HOFer.