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|The Palace, also known for one of the NBA's biggest brawls. (Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images)|
So inexplicable that the mere mention of another candidate makes me wonder how Nash won a season ago. Last season, Nash won the trophy for the immaculate way he conducted the league's best offense. The Suns were a beautiful, wide-open symphony that hinged on Nash's ability to allow brilliant soloists like Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson to play great melodies while players like Quentin Richardson held the beat by staying within themselves, only showing flourishes when called upon. Phoenix played basketball's beautiful game, and Nash served as Pele. And the Suns did it without a center. That's bumping without bass, but they kept it funky. A great deal of the credit for that should go to Mike D'Antoni's compositions, but they would have gone nowhere without Nash holding the baton. Nash's game wasn't the story of the MVP race, though. Prominent columnists asked whether Nash won the award last season because he was white. His "underdog" story made him more attractive to voters, the theory went, and that was enough to obscure the effect Shaq had on the Heat becoming a marquee team and the unavoidable fact that Nash was neither as talented nor as irreplaceable as Stoudemire. I didn't think Nash should have won the MVP, but I didn't believe the color of his skin was the engine behind his campaign. Sports history is littered with examples of biases being trumped by success. Don't forget that Jackie Robinson won the Rookie of the Year -- an award that now bears his name -- in 1947, and only a fool would be na´ve enough to believe his blackness endeared him to voters. And that was 1947. This isn't 2005, let alone '47. Shaq looks less like Superman and more like what he really is -- a man who has spent 14 years taking kidney shots like he's being guarded by George Foreman in Kinshasa. And Nash has been even better than he was last season. He's averaging about a half an assist less per game, but that's easily offset by the four additional points per game he's scored. And his Player Efficiency Rating, John Hollinger's bread-and-butter stat, has risen from 22.06 to 22.39.
More importantly, Nash is unquestionably Phoenix's best player while Stoudemire recovers from microfracture surgery on his left knee. In fact, he's the only go-to player the Suns have. As dazzling as Marion's physical gifts are, it's become clear he'll always be what James Worthy was asked to be -- an on-call scorer and lane-filler on the break, not a dominant franchise-type player as Worthy could have been. It is Nash who is asked to win games, whether that means making the big 3 or penetrating and making the right decision.
|Nash continues to find the open man at the right time.|
Being the most entertaining player in the league gets you nowhere in this contest. The only other player who belongs in this discussion is (insert Piston here). Most put Chauncey Billups in that blank, but it's hard to say which of those players is most important. Is Billups' leadership more important that Rip Hamilton's uncanny knack for getting open or the collectively freakish wingspan of Prince, Wallace and Wallace? And if there's no clear answer to those questions, how can any of them be the MVP? There's no way. Sadly, individual awards can do only so much to honor team success.
|Nash should get to hoist another MVP trophy at the end of this season.|