We got some pretty enjoyable comments on our Basketbawful responds: The Bill Simmons edition post. For those who agreed with me, I thank you (and your checks are in the mail). But it's an imperfect world, so of course not everyone agreed. I thought I'd reply to a few of "those people" today.

Nash MVP 2
ABC's newest sitcom: The MVP Next Door

Let's get the ball rolling:

Rog: I love it when white people put down white athletes and say and do things in a manner that a black person would do them. I saw plenty of this behavior in college. As a non-Anglo, it amuses the hell out of me. It's like some type of bizarre self-hatred and sociological affirmative action rolled into one big mess. Bill Simmons: One Jive Turkey!
Most people -- and this definitely includes basketball analysts -- are more impressed by speed, power, and sheer athleticism than anything else. That's why many people don't remember just how great Larry Bird really was. When you see Bird on a highlight film, it's usually one of his patented step-back jumpers or a slick (but fundamentally sound) pass. You don't see him flying around the court and dunking the ball. So how could he have been great?

The same goes for John Stockton. That guy has 5,000 more assists than the next closest player (Mark Jackson) on the all-time list. He was responsible for at least 10,000 more points than any other passer/playmaker ever. He could also score when inclined, shot over 50 percent for his career (something the great Michael Jordan didn't even do), and won a lot of games. But he was unspectacular, boring to watch. So there are people (and Bill Simmons is among them) that would claim that, say, Isiah Thomas was the better point guard. Not true. Faster? Absolutely. More explosive scorer? Certainly. But a better playmaker? Hardly.

And all this lack of credit comes from the fans...most of which, according to demographic studies, are white. Do we hate ourselves? Or have he just been trained to believe that atheltic black men are inherently better basketball players than unathletic white players? This answer may surprise you: I have no idea.

Anonymous: one, let's not use the postseason to justify who won the MVP. last i checked it was awarded for the regular season.
Indeed it is. And since Nash won the MVP award in the regular season, I guess my argument was moot. But he has been MVP-like in the post-season as well, leading his team to victory when other MVP candidates have not.

Anonymous: When exactly did Simmons claim to be an unbiased expert? I must have missed it...
You're right. He's biased (particularly toward Boston-based teams) and lets everyone know it. However, he has claimed that his personal biases do not affect his ability to rationally and accurately assess the sports he covers. That's just not true. When he develops a beef against someone, he becomes almost entirely incapable of judging that person solely by their merits and ability.

Laura: first, let me say that this was a great smackdown of bill simmons.

Second, i agree with anonymous that you shouldn't use the postseason to justify the mvp award.
And, in all fairness, so do I.

third, i love steve nash and i love his politics. but i think the regular season mvp should have gone to either dirk nowitzki or lebron james. i think part of the reason nash is doing so well is because of the rule changes stern made and because d'antoni is such a great coach. the system nash is in is conducive to the new rule changes, so that explains nash's increased success.

A lot of the anti-Nash sentiment comes from the "Mike D'Antoni is such a great coach" contingent. But is he really? I mean, he coached Denver to a 14-36 record in 1998. He was 21-40 in his first season with Phoenix, despite having two legitimate 20/10 guys on the roster (Marion and Stoudimire). So his pre-Nash coaching record was 36-76. Then he teams up with Mr. MVP and wins 62 games. There's no question that D'Antoni chose the perfect system for his personnel. But the whole "great coach" sentiment is either overstated or unproven.

As for the rule changes, those were put into effect this year. They were not in effect last season when the Suns won 62 games and Nash got his first MVP. His scoring was up three points per game, but that was due more to Stoudemire being out (giving him additional scoring responsibility) than any rule changes. He attempted 40 more freethrows this year, sure, but he also took over 100 more shots than the previous season. He also shot better from the field and the line. Nash isn't an athletic 2-guard. Those are the guys who really benefited from the rule changes. Guys like Kobe, Lebron, Paul Pierce.

I don't agree that Lebron was more deserving of MVP than Nash. The Suns were a better team in a better conference. Now Dirk, on the other hand, that I might agree with. And that dude has been absolute dynamite in the playoffs. I mean, his rebounding numbers have been through the roof. He's MVP of the playoffs so far.

i'm not saying that nash should give back his mvp. i'm just saying that no way he's on the same level as a player as tim duncan, magic, bird, and jordan, who all won back to back mvps. there are other players who are better overall players than him who never won an mvp, much less back to back.
No, I wouldn't put nash in the Bird/Jordan/Magic category just yet. And yes, there are better players who never won an MVP. But nonetheless, last year he joined a team that had won 29 games, and a coach with a career 36-76 record, and made it a 62-win team. Then, when that very same team lost several key components (Quentin Richardson, Joe Johnson, and Paul Shirley) and Stoudimire went down for the season, the Suns still managed to win 53 games. And Nash made castoffs like Kurt Thomas, Boris Diaw, Raja Bell, and Tim Thomas look like fantastic players. No one else even wanted those guys. Nash has taken them to the Western Conference Finals. Would you compare Marion/Bell/Diaw to Pippen/Grant/Paxon? Or Pippen/Rodman/Harper? Or McHale/Parish/Johnson/Ainge? Or Kareem/Worthy/Wilkes?

shaq hasn't won back to back mvps--and he's a greater player than nash, even though his game is clearly going down. why is that? is nash at his best anywhere near shaq's game at his best? yet nash is the one with 2 mvps.
Shaq has no one to blame for his lack of MVPs but himself. The Diesel lost out on several MVPs because 1) he misses about 20 games a season with minor (re: questionable) injuries, 2) he usually coasts through the regular season, saving his best for the playoffs (when he inevitably shines), and finally 3) because he would often show up to training camp overweight and use the regular season as his personal weight loss program. He once had surgery right before the season started because he didn't want to miss out on any fun during the summer. He even said, "I got hurt on company time, so I'm going to get better on company time." That's not an MVP attitude. So while there was no question of his greatness, particularly in relation to Nash, there have been questions about his desire and dedication...at least during the regular season. When he was with the Lakers, his team should have won 60 games every season. Instead they'd go through long stretches of mediocrity and strife, then turn it on in the playoffs. The factors counted against Shaq in MVP voting.

it's like phil jackson and his 9 rings. he only won one coach of the year award. it's these kind of things that make year end awards seem like a joke.
You said that MVP is based on the regular season, not on the playoffs. Similarly, Coach of the Year is based on a team's regular season performance, not on whether it wins the championship.

That said, Jackson's teams have had some pretty good regular season success. But his Lakers teams (as I pointed out above) often loafed through the regular season. That counted against him, since he is considered "The Great Motivator." The voters probably wondered why he couldn't keep his L.A. teams focused for 82 games. It also hurt his case that he arguably had the two best players in the league on his teams, both in Chicago and L.A. But yeah, Phil should have one at least one or two more CotY awards. And Jerry Sloan should have won at least one.

You know, K.C. Jones won 62, 63, and 67 games during his first three years as coach of the Celtics. He also won two championships during that period. But he didn't get any serious Coach of the Year consideration. He, like Jackson, was penalized for coaching great players. CotY typically goes to guys who got the most out of the least, or something like that.

sameer: I find myself disagreeing with Simmons fairly often, though I do read a lot of him. BUT...I tend to agree with his assessment of Nash in the Clippers/Suns series. And here are the holes in your argument.
I disagree. But I'll hear you out.

- You tout his 18 and 11 average for the series, but really you're proving Simmons' point because he only eclipsed 18 points twice in the series in the two great games that juiced his series numbers. And you shouldn't really tout an 18 point average when he averaged 20 in the regular season, and it's not like his assist average skyrocketed at the same time.
There's a reason an average is called an average. Do you think Kobe scored 35 every game this year? He had games in the 20s and in the teens. Would you say his 81 and 62 point games "juiced" his average? Of course they did. But again, it's an average.

As for his scoring average dropping from 20 to 18; that's pretty typical in playoff basketball. Kobe's average dropped from 35 to 27 PPG...a much more significant drop than Nash's. (And his 50 point game "juiced" his series average, didn't it?) Besides, as I said in my post, the Clippers were employing a "Stop Nash" strategy. They were double-teaming him both on and off the ball.

But all that is beyond the point. Nash's scoring is and always will be secondary to what he really brings to the team. He sets the tempo and distributes the ball, and thereby gives his team the best possible opportunity to score.

- You identify game 4 as a bad game, and game 3 as a good game. I think you would be hard pressed, based on the numbers presented alone, to prove any significantly different statistical difference in a game when he scored only 4 points (2 baskets!) less, had one more assist (one basket!), and the same number of rebounds. The point is, if game 4 is a bad game, then so is game 3.
I didn't particularly feel like giving a game-by-game recap. In this case, the numbers I presented don't tell the full story. In Game 3, Nash dished a couple key assists down the stretch. He also held Sam Cassell to 2-for-10 shooting and only 6 points (and Cassell got benched as a result). Most importantly, Phoenix won the game. Conversely, Cassell exploded in Game 4 (28 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists), Nash wasn't able to control the tempo down the stretch, and the Suns lost. So yeah, I stick by my good game/bad game descriptions.

- Players are always, ALWAYS, judged by their talents. A good game is relative. For a player of Nash's offensive caliber, 14 and 8 is not a good game. It's, in fact, below average for him. 12 and 10, 8 and 11, same thing. Not good Steve Nash games. Games 5 and 6, despite scoring below his average, are at least closer to what the man does in your average regular season game.
Here's Kobe's scoring numbers for the seven games he played in the playoffs: 22, 29, 17, 24, 29, 50, and 24. Only once in seven games did he reach or exceed his regular season average. He scored 18 below his average once, 13 below his average once, 11 below his average twice, and six below his average twice. So did Kobe have six "bad" games? It would seem so, based on your rationale. Based solely on his talent, and his ability to score, and the Suns' less than stellar defensive abilities, he should have easily exceeded his average every game. Right?

But that wasn't the game plan. Kobe scaled back his scoring, either by Phil Jackson's request or because he wasn't shooting well. He played a team game, for most of the series anyway. That's what Steve Nash does every game. Some nights he scores 20+, some nights he doesn't. But he still leads his team and helps get the most out of the guys on the floor. Watch the Suns play sometime when Nash is on the bench. There's a startling difference. It's not just about his scoring, which, for the most part, was adequate (especially since, by their own admission, the Clippers were keying in on Nash the whole series). It's about creating for others. That's what Nash does best.

If you are the Boston Celtics, and you get Nash's games 2 through 6 out of Delonte West, you are definitely thrilled. But if you are the Suns and have Steve Nash, reigning two-time MVP, those are not good games. Those are below average games. I love watching Nash play, but I don't think he's shown MVP form in the playoffs besides for a few games. How many times were you watching and thinking, "Wow, that's the best player on the court right now." And I know that MVP and Best Player on Court are different beasts entirely, but still. I think that warrants mentioning.
According to Elliot Kalb, known in basketball circles as "Mr. Stats", players typically suffer a 15 to 20 percent statistical drop-off in the playoffs. This happens for a variety of reasons, but mostly because a team is able to develop and employ specific defensive strategies over the course of a seven-game series. Kobe had six (out of seven) "sub-par" scoring games. Lebron James had several games in which he scored below his regular season average, or dished out fewer assists, or grabbed fewer rebounds. That's just the nature of the beast in the NBA Playoffs. The Clippers used a trapping, double-teaming strategy against Nash. He was still able to orchestrate two great games, and four other solid (if "below average") performances. If what Nash brings to the Suns could be measured by numbers alone, that would mean something. But great players, MVP-caliber players, bring more than statistics. They inspire their teams and lead them to victory. And that's exactly what Nash did.
Blogger JamieK said...
Having read much of Simmons' commentary on Nash, I think one of his biggest criticisms is Nash's lack of impact on the defensive end. While you say that in Game 3 he "held" Cassell to 2-10 shooting, that wasn't really the case. At that point, Cassell was the only perimeter threat and the Suns did a good job limiting him as a team. And the fact that he didn't play in the 4th quarter had nothing to do with Nash, but with Dunleavy just choking. I don't care how well Bone Thugs was playing, you don't forget about Cassell when it matters most.

Of course, the argument can and should be made that Nash more than makes up for his defensive inabilities on the offensive end. However, part of being an MVP, as you say, is being able to lead your team to victory, even when not having your best offensive game. I would argue that the most important aspect of that ability is a really straightforward thing...how much of a badass you are. These guys all grew up playing playground, one-on-one basketball, and they respect you more if they know that, head-to-head, you can stop them, and they can't stop you. And Steve Nash, as brilliant as he is offensively, couldn't stop Wade, Lebron, Kobe, or any of the other MVP candidates if his life depended on it. Hell, he wouldn't be able to stop 95 percent of the guys in the league. He's too small and he can't jump. Whether it's right or not - in the sense that it should determine who's best in a 5-on-5 - it is a factor, and it impacts his leadership abilities.

Blogger Basketbawful said...
There has been much made in the press about Lebron's lack of defensive prowess. Indeed, many experts say that it's the one thing standing between him and all-time greatness.

As for Kobe...I think he's an overrated defensive player. How many times did Leandro Barbarosa sprint past him for layups during the Suns/Lakers series? Lots. And I did a quick review of the box scores to determine Kobe's success against other premier 2-guards this season. Paul Pierce scored 39 adn 26 points against him. Iverson had games of 31 and 34 points. Dwayne Wade had a 34 point game. Vince Carter dropped in 27 and 24. Michael Redd and Ray Allen scored in the 20s against him. And his defensive numbers -- 1.5 steals and 0.6 blocks per -- aren't world shaking. Jordan, in his prime, could always get a couple blocks a game thanks to his superior athleticism. Kobe could too, but doesn't.

As for badassability...Nash may not be as athletic as Lebron, Wade, or Kobe, but he's hit some damn amazing shots these playoffs. He's taken guys like Odom and Nowitzki into the post and SCORED. He shoots over big guys and drives on small guys. He's as hard to handle as anyone. Why didn't Kobe switch off on Nash and display his great defensive prowess? I guess only Kobe and Phil Jackson know for sure.

Also, you'll have to tell me about the last time Wade or Lebron really put the clamps on somebody. I think Wade is actually a very sound defender. But I have yet to see these guys control a game by playing defense.

Blogger laura the tooth said...
regarding bell, diaw, and thomas--they may have been castaways, but they weren't exactly talentless or d league rejects either. nash didn't transform a bunch of talentless nobodies into good fantasy players just by his presence. if we're gonna use the "mediocre teammates" as justification for an mvp award, then the award belongs to kobe bryant. the fact that kobe took phoenix to 7 games with the team he has shows that kobe made more with less (and i say this as someone who doesn't like kobe, yet doesn't hate him either--and i don't think he was the mvp). also, lebron arguably played with less talented teammates than nash, yet was still good enough to get his team to push the pistons to 7 games. nash plays with marion, who was an all star before nash came to town.

i think it's a gross disservice to describe the current suns team as a bunch of castaways that would barely survive the d league. talent evaluation is a tricky science, and many good players were thrown away because they didn;t fit some preconceived mold the gm had in mind. many talented tweeners were forsaken because they didn't fit the mold--look at gil arenas, he fell to the 2nd round because they dismissed him as a tweener. not because he had no talent, but because the gms didn't know what to do with his physical dimensions. the same thing could have happened to diaw.

ok--i used the playoffs to justify the knocks on steve nash, so i backpedaled there. but even if you take out the playoffs, you can see the kobe and lebron were very valuable to their team, since the talent level drops precipitously after them. and also lebron played much of the season without larry hughes.

it's true that shaq has a lousy regular season attitude. but the fact is that he's still the most vaulable player in the league (at the time, that is), even if he's loafing around. he was so dominant that he could get away with doing most things half ass, and you put up with it because he knew how to win. since when was the mvp an award for most likeable? true, nash is a better teamate, is no prima donna, and just the most adorable baller in the nba right now. but was he more valuable to his team than shaq ever was to the lakers in his prime (even when injured or loafing in the regular season)? i don't think so. the lakers depended on shaq so much that 3/4 of him was better than nothing. and his 3/4 was worth more than most player's 100 %, unfortunately. i maintain that nash won because he stands for everything we ever wanted in a teammate, rather than actually being the mvp.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
What about how Nash can't play defense? How do you defend Nash on that one?

What do you have to say about the fact that Nash has been unbelievably un-clutch this playoffs? I think he's hit one big shot (against the clippers) so far but other than that, the dude has been nutting up in crunch time. His two infamous turnovers against the Lakers in game 4? How he short armed that WIDE OPEN, game tying three from the corner (which Tim Effing Thomas eventually hit about 10 seconds later) against the Lakers in Game 6? His two turnovers late in the pivotal game 5 against the Clippers? Sure you could argue that it doesn't matter because they won both those series. But in the discussion about Nash's personal performance, it can't be ignored. Ans this has nothing to do with the MVP discussion. I just wanted you to realize that Nash has choked on several occassions this post season and has been picked up by his teammates in very, very important junctures.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Just had to comment on this little tid bit...

You said "I don't agree that Lebron was more deserving of MVP than Nash. The Suns were a better team in a better conference. Now Dirk, on the other hand, that I might agree with. And that dude has been absolute dynamite in the playoffs. I mean, his rebounding numbers have been through the roof. He's MVP of the playoffs so far."

Now the records might not be the same but I'd have to say the East Central was the toughest division in the league this year. How many teams in that division went post season? All of them. You can argue that the west had better records with its post season teams but who cares. Every damn team in the East Central went post season.

Dirk was deserving of the MVP this year more than Nash IMO and he is most definately the best player of the post season thus far.

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