Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Dirk and Steve, BFFL

Right now, the clear front-runners for NBA MVP are Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki. You could make the case for Kobe carrying an underwhelming Lakers team (seriously, what is Smush Parker doing out there?) or Chris Bosh's valiant effort to make basketball relevant north of the border, but it really boils down to Nash and Dirk.

My question is this: if Nash had decided to re-up with the Mavs instead of bolting to PHX, would this still be the case? Would the duo be like Leinart and Bush at USC, a pair of teammates running 1-2 for the most coveted individual award in the sport? Would the Mavs be undefeated right now?

Or did Steve Nash just cost the world more glossy-eyed bar pictures?

Did Dirk need to be in a situation where he was clearly the man? Was his maturity and development a forgone conclusion, or did shouldering the weight of the franchise year after year force him into becoming the player he is today?

Same with Nash: would he be the two-time defending Most Valuable Player right now? Or did he stumble into the perfect storm in Phoenix? Does he only have those two trophies on the mantle piece because he plays with the perfect cast of characters for his skill set and a system designed to magnify his strengths and diminish his weaknesses?

The answer is different for both, I think.

Dirk would have gotten to this point, I am pretty sure, regardless of who he played with or where he played. He is just a supreme talent; it was only a matter of time before he figured out the best way to combine his height and shooting touch. And he has started to take over games, and serieses (How the hell do you say 'more than one series'? What is the plural for series? My head is about to explode. There is no way 'serieses' is correct, but it will have to do for now): he was a one-man wrecking crew against San Antonio in the playoffs; not only did his improbable three-point play save the series (clutch), but he continually got the the free throw line (smart) and killed people on the glass (tough).

Would he be the same player with Nash still around? Well...I mean, how can having Steve Nash on your team hurt you, really? Dirk would still be able to take games over down the stretch - the Suns don't rely exclusively on Nash with the game on the line; more than a few Suns have hit big buckets late in games. What would happen is this: he'd still be one of the most frightening matchups in the L, but we'd underestimate his importance because he was playing with Nash. So maybe Nash did have to go for him to be as fully appreciated as he is now, but one thing is for certain: he is one stylish German.

Steve, on the other hand...I just don't think there is any way he reaches this level of prominence in Texas. Whether he makes the system or the system makes him is irrelevant. The point is that the PHX style of play and Steve Nash are perfect for each other. They really are. That system would not work as well anywhere else in the league, and Steve Nash would not be this good anywhere else in the league.

If he had stayed in Dallas, he would still be a tremendous point guard, an All-Star, someone always among the league lead in assists and who always made their teammates better. But he definitely would not have two MVP awards, and probably not one.

Remember, when he first left, everyone felt the Suns overpaid for him. He was old, his back was a question mark and even Mark Cuban wouldn't shell out the amount of dough Phoenix would. But Phoenix has rejuvenated him.

First of all, Nash couldn't have hand-picked better guys to play with. He has two absolutely phenomenal finishers in Amare and Shawn Marion, and Marion doubles as maybe the most versatile player in the league. He has shooters to stretch the floor, widening lines to drive into and making it harder for teams to help because they risk giving up wide open threes. He has a tough defender in the back court to guard the opposing teams best scorer. He has ridiculous options on the pick-and-roll even down to who he runs it with.

And the system in which he plays doesn't emphasize defense. Well, it does, but in a roundabout way: D'Antoni hung a sign in the locker room that says - and I may be paraphrasing here - "The best defensive team at the end of the night is the one with the most points." You won't be hearing that taught at too many basketball camps, but it really is hard to argue with. The Suns do play D, but they will never, ever be known for it, and that helps Nash out immensely.

If he had stayed in Dallas and played under Avery Johnson, this wouldn't be the case. Mr. Fire and Brimstone spouted the importance of defense since the moment he took over (and probably before that). During last season's playoff run, the Mavs almost always had someone on the floor who was there solely for defense: either Diop or Dampier in the middle and/or...oh, what the hell was that guards name - someone help me out here. Anything they get offensively was gravy. In PHX, all four players around Nash can score, and score in a variety of ways. In Dallas, his options would have been limited; in PHX, they are endless.

One thing is for certain: he is one stylish Canadian.

If Nash had stayed, I don't think either of them wins an MVP. They would cancel each other out; we'd hear that Nash is making Dirk look good and that Dirk can bail Nash out.

But now they are on separate teams and are probably going to meet in the Western Conference Finals, with the winner taking home their first championship. Good for one of them. I just hope that after one wins, the other takes him out to some random bar, gets bombed off Molsen and Becks and then the pictures of their revelry finds their way in to this here Interweb.

4 comments so far. Might as well add your own.:

twins15 said...

As I wrote a few days ago, I would actually go in another direction and pick Dwyane Wade as my MVP. The Heat's record isn't as good, but the rest of the team outside of Wade is not good at all. I just think Wade has been the best player in the NBA so far this year. I would have Dirk very close at #2.

point23 said...

Yea, I can see the argument for Wade. You take him off that Heat team, with Shaq and Reilly "recovering" - I don't believe either one of them for a second - and they are battling the Celtics and Grizz in the Oden/Durant sweepstakes. Which isn't a bad idea, actually, because once Shaq decides to permanently join the Miami Dade Police force, the Heat are going to be awful, even in the East.

But right now, Miami is right at .500...I just like my MVP to come from a team with a very solid record. The MVP of the league should, at least to me, be playing on a team that is above .500. Not necessary, I know, but just something I like.

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