Thursday, May 24, 2007

Whither Nash?

I rarely weigh in on sports, simply because this is not a sport-oriented blog and I am aware that when one discusses sports, rationality often is thrown out the window. However, in the wake of the san Antonio Spurs' recent win over the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Playoffs, thee has been some astonishingly bad commentary from supposed sports columnists I feel must be rebutted.

First, some background. In the closing seconds of Phoenix's Game Four win in San Antonio, the Spurs' Robert Horry committed a foul on Phoenix's point guard, Steve Nash. It was by all accounts a hard foul, but not intentional. However, two members of Phoenix's team, All-Star forward Amare Stoudemire and reserve Boris Diaw, got off the bench and moved forward onto the court. As per NBA regulations, they were each suspended one game. Horry received two for his foul, and the Spurs proceeded to win the series, prompting many columnists to blame the NBA Commissioner David Stern for ruining, Nash's chance to win a championship. To quote CBS columnist Gregg Doyel, "He should've won a third MVP this season and should be remembered as one of the six best point guards in NBA history, somewhere behind Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson, somewhere with Bob Cousy, John Stockton and Isiah Thomas."

I disagree, Mr. Doyel. Nash has won two MVPs largely because the sportswriters who vote on such awards dislike Kobe Bryant, who should have been the league MVP two years ago, based solely on on-court performance. Last year, the league MVP should have been either Dirk Novitzky or Dwyane Wade, again based solely on regular-season performance. If you took Kobe off the Lakers, they would be a twenty-win team. Take Tim Duncan off the Spurs, and they are not a championship contender. Take Wade off the Heat and they are not a championship team. Those are legitimate league MVPs. So to call Steve Nash a Hall-of-Fame point guard is ridiculous. He has had three great years, running an offensive system tailor-made for him. But his previous career was not Hall-worthy by a longshot. The best argument against Nash's MVP credentials however is simply that when he left the Dallas Mavericks, they got better. That is not what happens if a real league MVP leaves a team.

I like Nash, and his team is certainly fun to watch. But he is not one of the greatest point guards in NBA history. Unlike Jerry West or John Stockton (or Jason Kidd, for that matter), Nash can't defend a wet paper bag, and he doesn't take over games the way Magic or West or Jordan did. So to claim that the Suns were cheated or that somehow Nash deserves a championship is simply false.

If the Suns somehow learn to play defense and some kind of half-court basketball, they may indeed win a championship. But Phoenix's scheme is basically dependent on outscoring the opponent, not getting defensive stops. And in the playoffs, a championship team has to get stops. Phoenix usually cannot do that, which is why they have problems beating teams that do play both sides of the ball. Until Phoenix can play defense, they will continue to be entertaining, but they will not win any championships. And for sportswriters to suggest otherwise reveals that they know less about the game that they claim.

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