One more thing while we're here: Nash's supporting cast, even without Amare Stoudemire, is better than everyone thinks.I'll discuss the relative quality of Nash's supporting cast in the following paragraphs. But isn't it interesting how average to mediocre players look really good when they're on a team with great players who know how and when to get them the ball? Back in the late 90s, when the Utah Jazz made back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals, experts and analysts were effusive in their praise of guys like Bryon Russell, Shandon Anderson, and Howard Eisley. These guys were never top-tier players. They weren't even middle-tier players. Playing with John Stockton and Karl Malone made them look much better than they actually were, a fact that became quite obvious when they left the Jazz to take on bigger roles on other teams. I could make a laundry list of the so-so players that looked great playing with guys like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and so on. But I'm sure you get the point.
Shawn Marion is a top-25 guy in his prime.There's no denying that. But then, so is Kevin Garnett. And Paul Pierce. And Tracy McGrady. Most NBA General Managers (and fantasy team managers) would take all three of those guys ahead of Marion in a mock draft. But having incredible talent, and putting up big-time numbers, doesn't necessarily equate to winning (hence those three guys got an early vacation this year). Marion isn't a leader. He's a solid "numbers guy." He's actually a lot like Elton Brand in that regard. Notice how Brand has been a 20/10 guy his entire career, but only got noticed (and became an MVP candidate) this season...when he was finally teamed with a competent point guard/floor leader (Sam Cassell)? And lest we forget, Kevin Garnett won his MVP and made his only significant post-season run when teamed with Cassell. One of the saddest facts in professional sports is that gaudy statistics mean much more to people than leadership. You can watch highlights of a 360 dunk, and you can look at a box score and see somebody's 20/10 line. But you can't measure leadership and inspiration. Marion doesn't give that. Nash does.
Raja Bell is the evolutionary Bruce Bowen.So he's the "evolved" version of a guy with career averages of 6 points and 3 rebounds a game? Woo hoo. The reality is, he was a kicked away by a lottery team (Utah) that didn't see the worth in re-signing him. And don't forget: Bell was the replacement for Joe Johnson, and everybody was forecasting doom and gloom for Phoenix. In fact, many people openly scoffed at the Bell signing. Now Bell is Mr. Amazing. He had career highs in every major statistical category, but that's because of Mike D'Antoni's system and Nash's distribution, not because Bell is an "elite" player. I guarantee he wouldn't be this good if he was on, say, the Lakers.
Is that so? Because Atlanta wasn't exactly committing homicide to hold on to him last summer. The guy was averaging 4 points (on 42 percent shooting) and 2 rebounds last year, and he was considered a disappointment. The Hawks were more than happy to ship him off as part of the Joe Johnson trade. And it wasn't a straight-up, man-for-man transaction either. The Suns also got two future first round draft picks and a $6 million trade exception. That's how "valuable" Diaw was. Now he's playing with Nash in an up-tempo system and he's getting 13 (on 52 percent shooting) and 6. And those aren't "great" (i.e., max contract) numbers. He's playing very well in the playoffs, and now Simmons is talking about him making The Leap. This is the same Sports Guy who's usually very skeptical of guys raising their stock with some bigtime playoff performances. You know, Greg Ostertag did the same thing in '97. I'm just sayin'.
Every team in the NBA would kill to have Boris Diaw, who can play four positions and doesn't need the ball to be effective; he's only 23 and getting better by the week. (He's a mortal lock for my annual top-40 trade value list this summer, by the way.)
Say what you want about Thomas, but there are only a handful of forwards who can post up little guys, shoot 3s over big guys and guard both types of players. (If he hadn't been such a dog for the past nine years, he'd be in line for a $50 million contract after the playoffs.)The Bulls thought so much of Tim Thomas they wouldn't even play him, despite a notoriously weak front line. And by the way, other teams weren't exactly beating down the Bulls' door to work out a trade for Thomas. Nobody wanted to touch him until Chicago ate his contract. As for the 26 games he played for Phoenix...well, 11 points and 4.9 rebounds a game aren't exactly all-world numbers. The fact is, he's a "big man" who can't play defense (0.3 blocks per game in nine seasons) or hit the boards (his 4.9 rebounding average with the Suns is a career high). He played really well for the Bucks in the playoffs one year, got the big contract, then loafed through the next several seasons. The Knicks were happy to dump him and the Bulls didn't even want him on the court. He fits in Phoenix because he likes to hang back and shoot jumpers, which is what they do. He gets open shots because Nash penetrates and kicks it out to him. He doesn't work anywhere else. Hell, Simmons even said he's been a dog for nine years! How do you praise and insult someone simultaneously?
And Leandro Barbosa is the most underrated player in the league -- he scores on everybody, heats right up off the bench (no small feat), plays both guard positions, carries the offense for quarters at a time...and he's only 23. You're looking at this generation's Vinnie Johnson at the very least.Barbosa looks great...on Phoenix. I promise you, his scoring output maxes out at 10-12 PPG on any other team other than the Suns (unless he gets carte blanche on a lottery team, ala Joe Johnson). He rarely plays point guard anymore, and D'Antoni is terrified to leave him in the point position for very long. He scores on a lot of quick slashes to the hoop on fast breaks and by hitting 44 percent of his threes. He's a system player. He'll starve if he leaves Phoenix. Or if Nash leaves/retires/dies.
Here's the point: Maybe the Suns only go six deep, but they're all elite players who mesh perfectly together...What kind of Bizarro World does Bill Simmons live on?! Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell, and Tim Thomas are "elite players"?! Is tha some kind of sick joke? I don't remember ever seeing these guys on an All-Star ballot, let alone on the team itself. Elite players...psssht!! Not even close, Bill. I agree that they work very well in D'Antoni's offensive system, but they "mesh perfectly together" only because Nash is the glue that binds them.
...and they have a world-class coach who gives his players the freedom to ad-lib (like when Thomas audibled out of the set play and passed to Diaw for Wednesday's game-winner).Mike D'Antoni is a world-class coach? I must have missed that memo. Forget about the fact that he's never won an NBA title -- the yardstick by which coaching "greatness" is typically measured -- let's look at his pre-Nash coaching record. He coached the Denver Nuggets for 50 games during the 1998 season, and he turned in a 14-36 record. In 2003, he took over a Suns team that was 8-13, and they went 21-40 the rest of the way (from five games under .500 to 19 games under .500...be still my heart). That was a team with not one but two certified 20/10 guys (Marion and Stoudemire), by the way. They add Steve Nash the next season and go from 29 wins to 62. 'Nuff said. D'Antoni has a good system, and the horses to run it, but Nash makes that system work.
I still think the Clippers should have beaten them, and I'll always wonder what would have happened if Odom pulled down that rebound in Game 6 in the Lakers series...Magic Johnson and the rest of the '84 Lakers still think they should have beaten the Celtics that season. To this day, it still bugs the living shit out of Magic and crew. And if not for a few turnovers and a couple missed free-throws, the Lakers would have swept that series instead of losing it in seven. So you can cry sour grapes all you want. But in the end, one team wins and one team loses. Saying one team "should have beaten" another is the most meaningless statement in sports. And you, Mr. Simmons, always cry "foul" when the Colts claim they were the "better team" and "should have beaten" New England, or Pittsburg, or whoever. Now you're doing it. Hypocrite.
What about how Nash can't play defense? How do you defend Nash on that one?It's pretty easy, actually. I decided to do a little research into Nash's defense. I've already noted that Smush Parker was horrible against him, and Cassell wasn't all that great either. But, according to some, Parker was just in a slump and the Suns used team defense against Cassell. Fine. Well, I decided to see how Tony Parker fared against Nash this season. Parker averaged a career high 19 points per game on 54.8 percent shooting. The kid was dynamite. Against Nash he had games of 19 (8-for-18), 18 (9-for-19), 29 (12-for-21), and 13 (5-for-11). So he had one game well below his average, two games at around his average, and one above average game. Only once did he shoot 50 percent or better; his percentage fell into the 40s for the other three games (a dramtic drop). You'd think a guy who scores almost 20 points per game on 55 percent shooting would have been lighting Nash up, particularly if Nash is as bad a defensive player as everyone maintains.
What do you have to say about the fact that Nash has been unbelievably un-clutch this playoffs?I say you should try watching the games before saying stupid things. Facing elimination against the Lakers in Game 6 at L.A., Nash scored 32 points (including a huge three-pointer with 50 seconds to go) and dished out 13 assists. The Suns won that game in overtime. Nash hit the go-ahead bucket with under 10 seconds to beat the Clippers in Game 3 of that series. He then almost single-handedly closed the Clips out in Game 7, with 29 points and 11 assists. Less than 48 hours later, he dropped 27 and 16 on the Mavericks -- in Dallas -- and the Suns stole Game 1. And in case you didn't watch that game, the Suns were down 9 in the fourth quarter when Nash scored 10 straight points and then dished for another two (on a sick dunk by Marion) as the Suns took the lead. That one-man 10-point run, by the way, included two gut-check three-pointers and a ridiculous off-the-top-of-the-glass drive against the 7-foot Dirk Nowitzki (who fouled him without a call, by the way). There's your clutch play, son.
I think he's hit one big shot (against the clippers) so far but other than that, the dude has been nutting up in crunch time.See above.
His two infamous turnovers against the Lakers in game 4?I posted video and pictorial evidence that Luke Walton's foot was clearly out of bounds when he supposedly tied Nash up (thus forcing the second of the two turnovers you're referring to). And he was fouled. And he was calling timeout. Two refs were standing right there to see it. It was a totally bogus. The only thing "infamous" about that turnover was the home cooking that caused it.
How he short armed that WIDE OPEN, game tying three from the corner (which Tim Effing Thomas eventually hit about 10 seconds later) against the Lakers in Game 6? His two turnovers late in the pivotal game 5 against the Clippers? Sure you could argue that it doesn't matter because they won both those series. But in the discussion about Nash's personal performance, it can't be ignored.In your rush to criticize Nash and point out his shortcomings, not only are you ignoring his accomplishments (which I've discussed in short above), you're ignoring some of the "un-clutch" performances of the other MVP candidates during this year's playoffs. Kobe had two games with seven turnovers, and of course his infamous 3-shot second half against the Suns in Game 7. Lebron coughed the ball up seven times in the Cavaliers 2-point loss to the Pistons in Game 6 of that series (he also shot 8-for-20). Lebron was 11-for-24 in Game 7 and the Pistons blew the Cavs out. Dirk Nowitzki scored only 11 points (on 3-for-13 shooting) the other night and Phoenix blew the Mavericks out. According to 82games.com, Kobe is 7-for-28 in "clutch shots" over the past three seasons. Everybody remembers the seven shots he hit, but what about the 21 shots he missed? During the same period, Nash was only 1-for-8 in clutch shots, but he had 6 clutch assists. Kobe had zero clutch assists, by the way.
And this has nothing to do with the MVP discussion. I just wanted you to realize that Nash has choked on several occassions this post season and has been picked up by his teammates in very, very important junctures.Seriously dude...so what? The same can be said of every clutch player who ever lived. Remember when John Havlicek stole the ball to save Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals? He only had to do that because Bill Russell, the 5-time MVP (and he was MVP in 1965), the 11-time world champion, had just thrown the ball away and given the Philidelphia 76ers a chance to take the game. As far as I know, nobody took back Russell's MVP because his teammates had to bail him out after he choked. It's a team game, my friend. Teammates help each other. And considering the fact that Nash spends most of his time making his teammates better...well, they owe him one.