Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Page 2 [Print without images]

Monday, April 9, 2007
Nowitzki or Nash? Dirk's case needs evidence

By Jemele Hill
Page 2

Two weeks left in the NBA season. Do you know who your NBA MVP is?

Me, I'm still not sure. Like many of my other media colleagues, I'm trying to follow the memo that this is Dirk Nowitzki's MVP to lose. Only I need some convincing.

When I hear people say that Dirk has the MVP wrapped up, it makes me think the race has become just as political and illogical as the Academy Awards. No one can agree on the true criteria of the award. People are sometimes rewarded for years of service rather than what they just accomplished.

Tracy McGrady had this to say about the MVP to the New York Times: "If you're going to put Kobe in there, it's not who's most valuable to their team. He is the best player in the league, no doubt. But to me, the MVP is about the overall contributions to the team and what the team has done."

Really.

"I think the MVP is an individual award and shouldn't be judged so much on team success," said Orlando Magic shooting guard Keyon Dooling. "Team awards are championships."

MVP DEBATE

Steve Nash
Points: 18.9
Assists: 11.5
Rebounds: 3.5
FG pct.: 53.4
3-pt pct.: 46.8
*PER: 23.93
Games: 71
Team: 58-19
Record without: 2-4

Dirk Nowitzki
Points: 24.7
Assists: 3.4
Rebounds: 9.1
FG pct.: 49.8
3-pt pct.: 41.4
*PER: 27.80
Games: 74
Team: 63-13
Record without: 2-0

Kobe Bryant
Points: 31.3
Assists: 5.4
Rebounds: 5.6
FG pct.: 46.2
3-pt pct.: 34.9
*PER: 26.08
Games: 72
Team: 40-37

Record without: 3-2

Stats through April 8
* John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating

OK, so not even the players can decide what makes an NBA MVP. But most of us know one when we see one.

Dirk's numbers certainly justify him being MVP. He's shooting 50 percent from the field, averaging 24.7 a game, nine rebounds and a career-high 3.4 assists. These aren't the best numbers of Dirk's career, but Dallas was the most dominant team of the regular season and Dirk contributed greatly to the Mavs' success.

(Totally irrelevant, but hilarious side note: In the 1998 NBA Draft, the Bucks traded Nowitzki to Dallas for Robert "Tractor" Traylor, who is now facing 14 months prison time for a tax crime. That has got to be in the top five with a bullet for worst NBA trades of all time. Back to the column.)

If Dirk supporters want to do a better job of convincing people Dirk is the MVP, here are a few arguments that need to be abandoned:

The MVP should go to the best player on the best team. Generally, I believe this. In the last 25 years, the MVPs have come from teams that have won 50 games or more. But you can't use that as absolute criteria. The Pistons had the best regular-season record in the NBA last year, but voters were correct in not awarding Chauncey Billups the MVP. You couldn't look at the Pistons and discern if Billups really was the most important piece, proving that the best player isn't always on the best team.

This year's Mavericks team poses a similar problem. No question Dirk is a superstar, but is he the real reason the Mavericks have shrugged off last year's NBA Finals meltdown? Or does that credit belong to coach Avery Johnson?

Steve Nash won his second MVP, in part, because he elevated the Suns to an elite team. His impact was obvious. But at the same time, it's not fair to eliminate Kobe Bryant because the Lakers are only a 6 or 7 seed. Kobe has the least talented teammates to work with of the MVP candidates and that his team is even in the playoff hunt is a miracle. Besides, most NBA players regard Kobe as the best player in the league and that should mean something, too. Team success is an important component, but it can't be the entire equation.

"From year to year the criteria for MVP changes," Grant Hill said. "Sometimes it's the best player. Sometimes it's the most valuable player to that team. I think Dirk and Kobe have separated themselves, but I think it'll probably go to Dirk."

• The sympathy vote: Steve Nash has won enough MVPs. Give Dirk a chance! Seriously, is this professional sports? Do we care about who is winning too much or too little? You either earn the MVP or you don't. It was this thinking that led to Karl Malone picking up two unnecessary MVPs. Malone was never going to beat Jordan for a title so his MVPs were consolation gifts. Something tells me Kobe is never going to get that as a consolation prize.

Give Nash a third and you put him in the same company as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird. Sounds just like when people were arguing that Russell Crowe shouldn't win an Oscar for "A Beautiful Mind" since (a) he'd already won one for "Gladiator" and (b) he's Australian and you can't keep rewarding the foreigner.

Never mind that Wilt, Russell and Bird's legacies are all entrenched. Nash isn't going to challenge those three, whether he wins another MVP or not.

Besides, of any season, this is Nash's most convincing case for MVP. The Suns don't have the best record but Nash is playing at the highest level of his career. He is averaging career bests in field-goal percentage, 3-point shooting and assists.

And in head-to-head matchups in the last month with Dirk, Nash schooled Dirk on closing out close games and then the Mavericks got blasted when they visited the Suns on April 1. While some of you think it's unfair to judge a MVP race based on a couple games, realize that no matter the sport, games late in the season matter more. This was Dirk's opportunity to win the MVP without a seed of doubt, and all he did was remind us that he's still the same guy who couldn't finish off the Heat in the Finals.

Nash hasn't even won a championship and he's going to get three MVPs? Winning a championship is not a requirement for a MVP. Yeah, I know I just killed Malone above, but he won two MVPs and didn't win a title. Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett also have MVPs, but no titles. Sure, Iverson and Malone made it to the NBA Finals, but this is a REGULAR-SEASON award.

Irrational arguments, the kind the Academy favors, don't belong in the MVP race. If Dirk supporters want to present a solid case, bring up the fact that Nash's defense is a step above atrocious, a trait no other MVP had. Bring up the fact that a MVP is a player who should be feared, not one purposely attacked in tight games because he can't defend. Bring up that everybody from Smush Parker to Flip Murray has annihilated Nash. That's an argument that will get me on your side.

Jemele Hill, a Page 2 columnist and writer for ESPN The Magazine, can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.