The 2005 NBA MVP race was one the most tightly contested MVP races in league history. Never before had fans been a part of a season with so many possible winners, featuring four players at the peak of their powers. A recent post from Clutchsports Instagram highlights the four main candidates: Shaquille O’Neal, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, and the eventual winner, Steve Nash. The Phoenix Suns guard went on to win the award for the second consecutive season in 2006 and came close to making it three in a row if not for the award going to his former Mavericks teammate Dirk Nowitzki.
In the past 15 years, we have seen an evolution in how the media evaluate the candidates for the award. If back then the prevailing theme was to award the best player on the best team, the decision-making process is so much more complex today. As records continue to be broken, and players put on historic performances, it’s clear that the criteria have changed. Since we believe this to be true, then perhaps it’s time to look at whether or not the winners or the past should remain victorious. Today we try to answer the question, “Should Shaq have gotten the MVP over Nash in 2005?”
Let’s face it; this article won’t be the first time you will hear someone make a case for Shaq being the MVP of the 2004-2005 season. O’Neal himself believes that he was robbed of what would have been the second NBA Regular Season MVP award of his career. However, what would have made this trophy extra special for The Big Diesel was the fact that this was his first season with the Miami Heat, a team he joined via a trade from the dynasty that was The Los Angeles Lakers of the early 2000s.
According to the post from Clutchsports, Shaq had 22.9 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 2.7 assists while playing 73 of the 82 regular-season games for the Heat. O’Neal was on a mission to prove that the Lakers had let go of the wrong superstar. Shaq also shot 60.1% from the field and proved he was still a force on both ends of the court, averaging 2.3 blocks per game during that season. The Diesel also led the Heat to the best record in the Eastern Conference at 59-23, tied with the San Antonio Spurs for the second-best record in the league.
On the one hand, Steve Nash averaged 15.5 points and 11.5 assists in 2004-2005 and became a member of the elusive 50-40-90 club while leading Mike D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less offense en route to the league’s best record at 62-20, three games better than the Miami Heat. Nash played amazing basketball, making Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion look like generational talents with this elite playmaking ability under D’Antoni’s system. Nash was clearly the engine that made this team go, and that engine powered the league’s best team, the best player on the best team won the award that year.
On the other hand, it’s hard to beat a 20-10 guy for the MVP. These days, we don’t even consider players who score below 20 points per game superstars, and we didn’t believe they were superstars back in 2005 either. Without Nash, Phoenix would be a team in the middle-of-the-pack at best, but Miami loses an anchor on both offense and defense without Shaq. During Shaq’s first season with the Heat, Stan Van Gundy ensured they played through the big man for most of the game, D-Wade was not Flash just yet, and O’Neal was the force that made the league wary of the Miami Heat.
Shaq does have a point; how do you not give him the award when he’s averaging 22 and 10 with two blocks, and they have the best record in the conference? It seems silly. If the MVP award favored the best player on the best team each year, Kevin Durant should have won two or three more during his time with Golden State, but that didn’t happen. Nash made the team go, but as great as he is, we have seen D’Antoni’s system turn Jeremy Lin, into a global phenomenon.
The bottom line is, the MVP must be dominant, and 15 points with 11 assists per game does not scream dominance compared to Shaq’s numbers. Also, an MVP must do it from both ends of the floor, and Shaq was the anchor of the Miami Heat defense. Steph Curry won the MVP without being a force on the defensive end, but the Warriors were an elite defensive team. You could beat Phoenix by exploiting their lack of size and inability to play championship-level defense. For these reasons, Shaq has a case for claiming he was robbed in 2005 because no one was more dominant than The Big Diesel despite Phoenix’s incredible season.