There isn’t a discussion about the best pass-first point guards in the NBA without Steve Nash’s name being in it. The Canadian thrived in the Phoenix Suns, orchestrating the famous “7 seconds or less” offensive system Mike D’Antoni implemented. It resulted in Nash winning back-to-back MVPs, joining the handful of elite-level players who were able to pull that off.
Nash joined Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the All The Smoke podcast and discussed his years in Arizona. He talked about their team’s success, or the lack of it, and how the discrepancy between the conferences caused it.
“Those years in Phoenix were incredible, gave me some of the best memories. We’ve played incredible playoff series. We never got over the hump, but I think we played in 3 or 4 Western Conference Finals in an incredibly difficult Western Conference at the time. We didn’t make the finals, but those were the years when the team that came out of the east we beat by 30 twice. We didn’t get to the Finals, but we were a finals caliber team that just played in the Western Conference where you had to get through big teams.”Steve Nash, All The Smoke
Nash’s point is well taken. They were able to reach the Western Conference Finals two years in a row but couldn’t come out of the West. They lost to Duncan’s Spurs and Nowitzki’s Mavericks and couldn’t have the same success in the following years. Some considered them underachievers, considering regular seasons they were coming off. Still, the Western conference was loaded at the time, and it was tough to reach the cross-conference matchup.
During that period, they were one of the most fun teams to watch in the league. It was primarily because of Steve, who was a perfect type of point guard for D’Antoni’s system, which was a forerunner to how basketball is being played today. The philosophy was to find a good shot as quickly as possible. The half-court game centered around pick and roll with shooters waiting on the wings, with countless options after setting the screen. It was a system that allowed Nash to showcase all of his playmaking gifts, resulting in him winning two MVP honors in back-to-back years. For some, controversially so.
“I went from an All-Star player to the MVP. I’ll never put myself in the category of Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan, but I think those teams were special. I think we led the league in scoring every year I was there. I’m not trying to defend myself, but at that time, although I averaged between 15-18 pts, I would close games and score in the 4th quarter a lot more. I still came from the school of being a pass-first point guard, so I was never I got to get 25 tonight, I wanted our team to flourish. I wanted guys to feel good and get easy buckets and step up when I had to. Those were special years when I took a jump as a player and became more of a threat in every way, but I also got to play with the team that played very well and needed someone to create for them so they could finish. It was a perfect fit that highlighted my game and their games, and collectively we were very difficult to control.”Steve Nash, All The Smoke
Reading between the lines, Nash believes he earned those MVP trophies in both seasons when he got them. Well, let’s put some things in context. In 2003-04 the Suns had a core of Amar’ e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, and Joe Johnson. They won 29 games that year and were far away from any serious contention for the playoffs. Fast forward to the next season when the only significant additions to the roster were Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson. The suns won 62 games and were the number one seed in the West. So they went from picking 7th in the draft to having the best record in the league. Not taking away from Quentin, but he wasn’t nearly a difference-maker as Nash. He finished the season averaging 15.5 PPG and 11.5 APG and was the heart and soul of the team.
Next year, Joe Johnson gets traded to Atalanta, and their leading scorer Amar’e Stoudamire played all but three games to knee surgery. The Suns acquired guys like Raja Bell and Boris Diaw, but people were doubtful about them compensating for the absence of Amar’ e and Joe. So what did Nash do? He bumped his scoring average to 18.8 PPG while joining the elite 50-40-90 club. Oh, and btw, he was still giving you 10.5 APG while leading his team to 54 wins and the second seed in the West.
There isn’t an established criterion when deciding the MVP. However, the same parameters are being considered over the years of voting. It’s a combination of individual performance, team success, and historical relevance, as we saw with Westbrook. It isn’t about having the best record, but it’s about having a better team season than projected. It’s about overachieving or staying at the level expected. Nash fits all the parameters. His team overachieved, considering the injury to Amar’ e and moves that they’ve made. He led the league in assists and improved as a scorer while shooting historical percentages.
There were arguments to be made for others. LeBron had a great all-around season and excellent team success. Nowitzki put up great numbers while leading his team to 60 wins. Kobe scored the ball at a historic rate while overachieving with his group of below-average NBA players. It was one of the closest MVP races in recent NBA history. I guess what bothers me is when people talk about Nash winning it as controversial. The man was amazing and had a strong case for winning the award—nothing controversial about it.