By Ron EvangelistaIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times for one of the best point guards in the NBA. It was the age of wisdom for the two years that had Steve Nash bagging MVP honors, but an age of foolishness for Shaquille O’Neal and others who felt they deserved it over him.
This was to the joy of Nash and his supporters but to the chagrin of others.
Drafted 15th overall in the 1996 draft, Santa Clara’s Steve Nash was surrounded by players who would go on to become superstars in the world’s most competitive basketball league. Everyone was actually wondering if he had what it takes to keep up in the NBA.
Little did they know that the skinny boy would have the most MVPs out of all of them.
Did he really deserve two Maurice Podoloff plums? Let’s break it down.
Nash came back to the Suns in the summer of 2004 and had a completely new team that was both young and hungry. Canada’s own would bloom into his own star that year. He was no longer playing second fiddle to the likes of Kevin Johnson and Jason Kidd. He was going to be a legit superstar and no one would stand in his way. He, along with Mike D’Antoni, basically transformed an ailing Phoenix team into a legitimate playoff contender.
It took them 7 seconds or less to change the whole offensive blueprint of the league.
It all began in the ’04-’05 season when he was the catalyst in turning around the fortunes of a losing organization. The fiery guard delivered and along with Amare Stoudemire, he would now form a modern Stockton-Malone type of duo. Phoenix started the year winning 31 of the first 35 games and finished with a 62-20 record.
With Nash, Stoudemire, and Joe Johnson named to the All-Star Team and Mike D’Antoni winning Coach of the Year, everything was looking well for the revitalized Suns. They reached the Western Conference Finals where they would eventually fall to the San Antonio Spurs.
The ‘05-’06 season was a roller coaster ride for the up-tempo Suns. In March, Stoudemire injured his knee, and Johnson was dealt to the Atlanta Hawks. Putting the franchise on his back, he averaged 18.8 points and 10.5 assists per game, having a historic 50-40-90 year, winning another MVP plum and leading them all the way to the Western Conference Finals where they would again fall short, this time to Dallas.
Nash continued to be the main man for the franchise until his departure in 2012.
His averages from a narrative perspective didn’t seem much. Shaquille O’Neal, from a statistical perspective did have better numbers in ’04-‘05 with 23 points and 10 rebounds per game and in ’05-’06, Lebron James had a wonderful season averaging 31 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists.
The numbers don’t go with Nash, but not everything is based on stats.
The stat sheet did not and will never show how he made better players out of his average to below average teammates. Nash was spearheading a revolutionary offensive set. He also defied expectations with his work with the Suns and the lightning quick offense that he ran was a benchmark for future coaches, players, and trainers alike. Having him carry a Stoudemire-less team to the Conference Finals certainly helped.
After all, the award is named Most Valuable Player, not Most Proficient in Terms of Statistics Player. Take Nash off of that Phoenix team and they would have to tank to have even a slither of hope for improvement.
O’Neal up to this day is still complaining about how Nash beat him in the race. Maybe he does have a legitimate argument. He was still showing glimpses of his dominant self, shattering rims, and overpowering defenders but it won’t erase the fact that Nash revolutionized basketball in his own way.
And no matter how many times he complains, the trophies will never change hands and he can never take away what one small long-haired assassin from Canada did for basketball.
[Photo from NBA; video from YouTube]