Fun With NumbersI thought about writing a recap of San Antonio's 92-83 win over Denver, but that game really did not show us anything that we didn't already know: Allen Iverson is a fantastic scorer (33 points, 15-25 shooting) who can also pass (six assists) but Denver does not play good enough defense to compete with the best teams in the league; the Nuggets are now 3-7 since acquiring Iverson. Granted, Carmelo Anthony has been serving his suspension during that time but I doubt that his return to action will do much to improve Denver's defense; he adds another offensive threat to Denver's lineup but, like several of the Nuggets, his presence on the court increases the offensive efficiency of both teams, if you get my drift. Just having more firepower will lead to a better winning percentage than .300 but the Nuggets still look like a team that will be out of the playoffs no later than the second round and, depending on the seeding, quite probably in the first round. Tim Duncan put up his usual numbers (19 points, 13 rebounds, three blocked shots). For some strange reason, he has morphed into Shaq at the free throw line (3-10) after shooting .799 as recently as 2001-02, but that is a story for another day. Meanwhile, let's have some fun with numbers:
Player A put up these numbers in consecutive seasons:
Season one: 18.9 ppg; 8.4 apg; 3.0 rpg; .526 FG%; .441 3-point FG%; .901 FT%
Team record: 57-25; lost in first round to eventual Conference Finalist.
Season two: 19.6 ppg; 9.1 apg; 3.4 rpg; .459 FG%; .406 3-point FG%; .888 FT%
Team record: 42-40; lost in first round to eventual Conference Semi-Finalist.
Player B put up these numbers in consecutive seasons:
Season one: 15.5 ppg; 11.5 apg; 3.3 rpg; .502 FG%; .431 3-point FG%; .887 FT%
Team record: 62-20; lost in Conference Finals to eventual NBA Champion.
Season two: 18.8 ppg; 10.5 apg; 4.2 rpg; .512 FG%; .439 3-point FG%; .921 FT%
Team record: 54-28; lost in Conference Finals to eventual NBA runner-up.
As a result of these performances, one of these players made one All-Star appearance and earned one All-NBA Third Team selection. The other player won two MVPs, made the All-NBA First Team twice and played in two All-Star Games. If you follow the NBA at all, you have probably figured out that one of these players is Steve Nash. Do you know who the other player is? None other than...Mark Price, who is "Player A" in the above chart. Those seasons are 1988-89 and 1989-90 respectively. Price finished 10th in MVP voting in 1988-89 and did not receive a single MVP vote in 1989-90 (nor did he make the All-Star Team or All-NBA Team). As for his team's results in those seasons, the Cavs of 1988-89 had a comparable record to the Suns of recent vintage but lost in the first round because of Michael Jordan's famous shot over Craig Ehlo. The 1989-90 Cavs traded Ron Harper for the rights to Danny Ferry, lost center Brad Daugherty to injury for half of the season and lost power forward Larry Nance for 20 games due to injury. Of course, MVP voting happens before the playoffs and All-Star selections are made without the benefit of knowing for sure how well or poorly a player's team will finish that season.
What do these numbers tell us about why Nash is a two-time MVP and Price never came close to winning one MVP? Frankly, I don't know. Magic Johnson won the MVP in both of the Price seasons that are listed above, with Michael Jordan finishing second in '89 and third in '90 (Charles Barkley was second in '90). Was the NBA more loaded with superstar talent at that time? Perhaps, but Nash has beaten out Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James to win the last two MVPs. Does anyone doubt that all of those players are future Hall of Famers? Have rules changes regarding perimeter defense made Nash more valuable in today's game? Perhaps, but those same changes also help Bryant, Wade and James--and even Nowitzki, when he plays on the perimeter. Has Nash's status been elevated because he is a white star in a game that has for decades largely been dominated by black players? This issue was mentioned--perhaps most prominently by the Miami Herald's Dan LeBetard--when Nash won his first MVP over O'Neal, but the idea never seemed to gain much public traction; in fact, LeBetard was skewered for diminishing Nash's achievements and for turning the focus away from the action on the court. I cannot recall hearing or seeing any current or former players suggesting that Nash won his MVPs because he is white; that debate has largely gone back and forth among various media members and, for what it's worth, voters don't seem to be divided along racial lines regarding Nash. Of course, Price is also white, so if one takes the position that Nash has won his MVPs because he is white then one has to explain why Price did not receive similar consideration. Then, there is also the matter of John Stockton, a third white point guard who put up similar or better offensive numbers than Price and Nash for a much longer period of time, was a much better defender than both players and never came close to winning one MVP, let alone two.
The reason that this subject is so interesting is that Nash is already one of just nine players who have won back to back NBA MVPs (Russell, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Bird, Johnson, Jordan and Duncan are the others). If he wins his third MVP this year, he will join Russell, Chamberlain and Bird as the only players to win three straight MVPs (Julius Erving won three straight MVPs in the ABA, sharing the middle of the three with George McGinnis). I understand that each season's MVP award should be given as a result of that year's performance and that the voters should not be influenced by historical considerations--but is Nash's production in these three seasons really (a) on par with Russell, Chamberlain and Bird (and Erving in the ABA) and (b) head and shoulders above the production of his contemporaries? The other tri-MVP winners all led their teams to at least one championship during their run of individual dominance.
I'm not sure what Nash's MVPs mean but I suspect that 50 years from now, historians will look at the statistics and be at least a little bit puzzled; maybe I'm ahead of my time, but I'm a little bit puzzled now.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:45 AM