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Monday, May 07, 2007

Spurs Swipe Homecourt Advantage From Suns

The San Antonio Spurs' 111-106 game one victory left the Phoenix Suns battered and bloodied both literally and figuratively. Steve Nash missed several crucial possessions down the stretch because of uncontrollable bleeding from his nose, the result of an accidental head butt that he suffered when he collided with Tony Parker while going for a steal with 2:53 remaining and the Suns trailing 100-99. Parker remained on the ground longer than Nash and emerged with a nasty bump on his head but Nash looked like he, not Oscar de la Hoya, had just gone 12 rounds with Floyd Mayweather. The Suns were able to patch Nash up so that he could stay in the game initially and he made a three pointer and a tough driving layup to keep the Suns in contact but Nash had to leave the game with :54 left when the bleeding could not be stopped. The Suns trailed 106-104 at that point and they were behind 110-106 when he came back in the game with :09 remaining. Nash's injury will provide Suns' apologists with a welcome excuse but the bigger picture reality is that this is a devastating loss for Phoenix: the game was played at their pace, on their homecourt and they still lost despite Nash's 31 points and eight assists.

Nothing has changed: the Spurs are more versatile than the Suns and are a better defensive team. We all know that they can beat the Suns in a slow down game but they can also beat them in an uptempo game, even if that is not San Antonio's preference. Nash's scoring was a little better than usual and his 8/3 assist/turnover ratio was a little worse than usual but that is all part of San Antonio's defensive plan: the Spurs make sure that they get back on defense in order to deny easy lob passes to Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion. That puts the onus on Nash to either run the shot clock down farther than he wants or to take on a bigger role as a scorer. I've never understood why anyone double-teams Nash; it makes more sense to stay at home on the other four guys and do your best to slow Nash down one on one. That may result in a big scoring night for Nash, but that means 30-35 points, not 50-60, and the Suns cannot win with Nash scoring 30-35 while everyone else is held in check. Stoudemire shot just 6-19 from the field, though he certainly had some good moments as well en route to 20 points, 18 rebounds and five blocked shots. Nevertheless, Tim Duncan more than offset those numbers with 33 points, 16 rebounds and three blocked shots; Duncan shot 12-24 from the field. Meanwhile, Nash's counterpart Parker scored 32 points and had eight assists. Nash shot 11-18 (.611), which is very good, but Parker shot an even better 14-22 (.636). Yes, the game was close and either team could have won but that should be the rallying cry of the road team, not the home team; now the Suns must win game two, because heading to San Antonio for two games down 0-2 is a recipe for quick exit from the playoffs. Something else that may become a factor if the Suns are able to extend the series to six or seven games is the Spurs' superior depth: the Suns used just eight players, five of whom played at least 33 minutes, while the Spurs used 10 players, three of whom played at least 33 minutes. If the Suns make it to game six or game seven they will be a tired, worn down team by that time.

This series is interesting for two reasons: (1) the battle for Western Conference supremacy; (2) the eternal question of who is the NBA's best player. Nash is not a statistically dominant player: his numbers are comparable to those put up by his predecessors John Stockton, Kevin Johnson, Mark Price and others, none of whom got close to winning an MVP, and he is not ranked as the best player in the NBA by any of the most widely used formulas: Hollinger's PER, NBA EFF or the Roland Rating. There is no precedent for the league's best passer to be selected as the MVP unless that player also had a tremendous all around game (Magic Johnson--scorer, rebounder, passer deluxe) and/or was leading teams to championships (Magic Johnson again).

How does that relate to my oft repeated view that Kobe Bryant is both the best and the most valuable player? Bryant's claim to those titles is not based on the nebulous concept of "making one's teammates better" that Nash advocates use in lieu of individual statistics and/or championship success; all great players make their teammates better by drawing more defensive attention and then passing the ball when that extra coverage arrives, so Nash is no different than the other top five or 10 players in the league in that sense. Bryant is the best player because he is the most complete player, someone who scores, rebounds, passes and defends. From a scouting report standpoint, his game has no weaknesses. That does not mean that he is perfect or that he never makes mistakes or forces shots; that means that his game has no glaring holes. Nowitzki--well, let's not beat on a man while he is down; Nash is not a great one on one defender, so his impact is mainly felt on one end of the court; Duncan and LeBron James each have free throw line weaknesses.

As for value as it relates to winning, Bryant's value to his team can be demonstrated statistically by looking at the Lakers' performance when he is not on the court or aesthetically by simply watching a few Lakers games. Warning: the results are not pretty; Lakers Coach Phil Jackson had good reason to recently say that his players performed with the intelligence of slugs and earthworms. Bryant's status as the best/most valuable player should not hinge on whether or not his teammates convert the open shots that he provides. Bryant's impact is obvious and it is equally obvious that he is willing to distribute the ball or shoot as the situation warrants; he leads the team in assists but is also capable of averaging 40 ppg for a month if his coach says that is the only way to save the season.

Nash may yet lead the Suns past the Spurs and to an NBA title but the more likely scenario is that in a week to 10 days he will be on the same fishing boat with Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant. Then maybe someone can explain why Nash is better than Nowitzki or Bryant, each of whom has enjoyed greater success both statistically and from a team standpoint than Nash has so far. The statistical case to support Nash as the best player is simply not there and after three years we are still waiting to see Nash's "value toward winning" translate into even one NBA Finals appearance. An even better question is this: Duncan's Spurs won the championship during Nash's first MVP year (2005), so how will it look if they knock off the Suns and win the title this year, giving Duncan two championships in three years but no MVPs during that span? If Nash got two MVPs based solely on his contributions to team success, shouldn't he forward the trophies to a player who actually has led his team to ultimate success?

Nash is a great player, one of the five best in the NBA today in my opinion. What I don't understand is his ascension in the eyes of many to the number one spot despite a lack of statistical support or championship hardware to justify ranking him as the absolute best. The other thing that I don't get is why it is some kind of sacrilege to suggest that Nash might "merely" be a top five player and not the consensus number one. Nash fanatics regularly suggest that Bryant is not even a top ten player and that his defense is overrated, two claims that are so ludicrous on the surface that they barely deserve reply; suffice it to say that it would be hard to find many coaches or scouts who would agree with those sentiments (out of context statements by one or two people do not count as a consensus of opinion among coaches and scouts).

This is an interesting time for Nash-philes because if he leads the Suns to the title then he is simply living up to the outsized expectations that have been placed on him--but if the Suns again fail to even make it to the Finals then Nash's "supreme" contributions to winning deserve some scrutiny. Rather than awarding regular season MVPs based on what we think or expect a team's ultimate success will be why not simply determine who the best, most complete player is and give that player the award? Then we won't feel like we need a recount after each round of the playoffs.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:15 AM


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At Monday, May 07, 2007 4:58:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

why are you writign about Kobe after Suns-Spurs, game 1?

Kobe has nothing to do with this game -- he is on handsomely paid vacation now.

give it a rest with the Kobe love


with nash on the ct, phx may well have won -- barbosa made an idiotic foul without nash there

Nash had 31 points on 18 shots, plus 8 assists ... those are ridiculous #s...

you can mock efficiency, but efficiency is what wins or loses a close game -- those 2 or 3 points wasted here and there, that's what decides close games... (here, Nash was hurt which may have decided it)

SanAn simply has a better OVERALL team --Duncan over Stoudemire, Bowen over Bell, (Marion over Finley but not by much and at different positions), Barbosa and Ginobli is a draw if you factor in experience (see above)... and Parker is phenomenal, playing even with Nash in this one particular game...

oh, and Horry by a country mile over your favorite Diaw -- BIg Shot Bob was the difference in that game, actaully

plus the bench depth of San An

but Nash played great -- clutch layup, 3, and FTs.


"Then maybe someone can explain why Nash is better than Nowitzki or Bryant, each of whom has enjoyed greater success both statistically and from a team standpoint than Nash has so far. "

the only team success is winning the title. Nash & Dirk are equals, except Nash might win it this year and Dirk can't possibly. end of story -- if you think Dirk has "team success" by last year's 4 straight losses to Miami and this year's loss to an 8th seed, then you can keep that type of "team success"

Nash was also more efficient than dirk, each of 2 seasons before this ... MVP voting was based on regular season

At Monday, May 07, 2007 9:58:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

this aint about kobe or dirk there at home now if nash would of stayed in there last game they probably would of won kobe ran shaq out didnt want to play with shaq whatever way you want to put it he's a jordan fake and a arrogant person thats why people dont give him his due im not saying those are true but thats why people dont like him like they do nash nash is overated if you think he's as good as magic or stockton but thats a bad boy david he's incredible the way he passes and his style to me is great. kobe better all around player and scorer nash better passer shooter he's top 3 players kobe 1 lebron 2. nash 3 also as far as never winning a title dirk hasnt either and kobe was the second best player on that team shaq was the best davis so to act like he was wilt duncan or magic bird jordan leader of they team is a joke. you have to be batman not robin they count, not as much as the best player on a team. phoenix still got a good chance to win this series still just because you win one game doesnt mean youll win the sereies

At Tuesday, May 08, 2007 2:41:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I am writing about the best teams and best players in the NBA. The Spurs and Suns qualify as two of the former, while Kobe, Dirk and Nash are three of the latter. Dirk is the presumptive MVP, yet he won exactly one more playoff game than Kobe did, despite playing an inferior (at least on paper) opponent and having a lot more help than Kobe does. Will you no longer mention Nash in your comments after the Suns are eliminated within the next two weeks?

Barbosa's foul was of course a stupid play but I don't agree with analysts who say that the Suns unraveled without Nash. On the possessions that Nash sat out Amare got point blank shots at the rim that he missed; I don't see how they would have gotten higher percentage shots even with Nash on the court.

I don't mock efficiency; I question why you have emphasized that concept so often in your comments and yet you flatly refuse to acknowledge that none of the most prominent measurements of efficiency--Holliger's PER, NBA EFF and Roland Rating--rank Nash as the NBA's best player. In fact, those systems rate Nash lower than I do. I guess they are "haters" (what I really "hate" is the use of the term "hater" in place of actual solid basketball analysis).

Nash's numbers were great and I said so. Did you look at Parker's numbers? They were every bit as good. So the Suns did not win the battle at a position manned by a two-time MVP. This is not news; Parker regularly torches Nash and the Spurs have won something like 15 of their last 20 games against the Suns.

You rightly acknowledge that the MVP voting is based on the regular season, which kind of mitigates against your whole team success idea because team success is determined in the playoffs. I'm not sure what you mean by saying that Nash and Dirk are equals; they are equals in the sense that neither has won a title, while Duncan has three and Kobe has three.

Your idea to heavily base MVP voting on team success is flawed because, as you rightly note, the only true success is winning the championship--and the MVP is voted on and awarded long before the NBA Finals. You still have not answered my question about Dirk and Nash. If Dirk's first round performance disqualified him in your mind, then what happens if (when) Nash loses in the second round? What if Duncan leads the Spurs to a fourth ring and the second of the Nash/MVP era?

Rather than basing MVP voting on team success we should look at which players have the most complete games and what role these players play on their teams. Dallas would still be a solid team without Dirk. Phx would still be a good team without Nash (notwithstanding the Suns' record in a handful of games without Nash, don't tell me that a team with two All-Stars like Amare and Marion would not be a solid playoff team, particularly with Barbosa, Bell and the rest of the supporting cast). The Lakers without Kobe are a lottery team. Kobe is very valuable from the standpoint of winning. Not every team is a title contender but that does not mean that the team's best player has no value toward winning. Furthermore, we have seen Kobe perform well at the highest level in the NBA Finals. There were times during those title runs when he was the best player on the court for either team. If Kobe were the best player on a seventh seed but had never performed well on a great team then MAYBE you could say that he is just putting up stats but cannot contribute value on a contending team--but the reality is that we still have to question if Dirk or Nash will ever perform at a high level on a championship team. Kobe and Duncan have already done this three times.

Dirk's Mavs have been more successful than Nash's Suns since the two split ways. That's a fact. No one that I know of who calculates efficiency ranks Nash as the NBA's best player. His stats are most similar to previous point guards who never came close to winning MVPs. So I still don't get why he is a two-time MVP and why it has become a sacrilege to suggest that he may only be the third, fourth or (gasp) fifth best player in the NBA; the cold, hard numbers rate him lower than I do and he has no championship hardware to supplement his case.

San Antonio's team is better mainly because Duncan has more of an impact than Nash does and because Nash is in fact largely canceled out by Parker, not just in one game, but in most of the recent games between these teams. Parker is not on too many MVP ballots. Duncan controls the game at the defensive end of the court, shutting down the paint and enabling his teammates to stay at home on the outside shooters with the confidence that if they drive into the lane that Duncan will block their shots. Duncan also abuses Amare in the post; Amare blocks some shots with his athleticism but generally Duncan fakes him out and wears him down.

At Tuesday, May 08, 2007 3:11:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


This Batman/Robin business makes no sense regarding great players on championship teams. “Batman” Michael Jordan won exactly one playoff game (one game, not one series) without “Robin” Scottie Pippen. No player wins a championship by himself, so to give Shaq all of the credit for the Lakers’ titles is not right; Kobe was the team’s assists leader and an All-NBA and All-Defensive Team selection. At times during those seasons and during those championship series he was the very best player on the court.

Rings “count” in terms of comparing the careers of great players if the player in question was at least an All-Star or All-NBA player when he played on a championship team. Magic’s rings are also Kareem’s rings and Moses Malone’s ring is also Julius Erving’s ring—and Dirk and Nash have no rings, no matter how you “count,” while Kobe and Duncan have won three apiece.

I would not necessarily count rings when evaluating MVP candidates because I simply look at a player’s overall skill set and value to his team; Kobe has a complete skill set and is clearly vital to the Lakers. However, those who think that a player must be a “winner” to be an MVP simply cannot ignore the fact that Kobe and Duncan have demonstrated that they can successfully compete at the NBA Finals level, while Dirk and Nash (and LeBron) have yet to do so. My MVP choice is not subject to a round by round referendum during the NBA playoffs because I am looking at a player’s overall skill level and contributions, not trying to figure out in April/May which team is the “best” so that I can simply nominate the “best” player from that team. We don’t know which team is the best until the Finals are over and the best player on that team (or at least the one who plays the best in the Finals) will get the Finals MVP.

As for this series, Phx has little chance to win unless Duncan gets hurt. The Spurs have dominated Phx for the past several years. Furthermore, the team that wins game one wins the series nearly 80% of the time. The Spurs bucked those odds in round one against the Nuggets but the Spurs were the clearly superior team in that matchup. That is certainly not the case here.

At Tuesday, May 08, 2007 12:54:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

bottom line is that MVP talk is largely moot anyway. what does it mean, after all?

if i had certain rosters (in desperate need of scoring), i'd take kobe.. others (vast talent inside and running ability), Nash.

honestly, i'd probably take Lebron over either of them, for most NBA teams. He is more versatile and will overcome temporary FT woes

probably wouldnt consider any other current players besides those 3

At Tuesday, May 08, 2007 7:18:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

altenative views is totally right lebron might be better than both that may be me thinking with my heart more than any real logic kobe just so good with makeing 40 points look like 20 for other great players.he can do it all on the court obvisouly nash is great and so is lebron mvp should be based on level of player winning and if you take that player off that team how good would they be.

At Tuesday, May 08, 2007 7:46:00 PM, Blogger alternaviews said...

"Nash fanatics regularly suggest that Bryant['s] . . . defense is overrated"

i didnt realize the LA TIMES is a Nash fanatic... (see my prior post on their quotes)

At Wednesday, May 09, 2007 7:03:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Just because the L.A. Times wrote something does not mean (1) that it is true or (2) that it is not something that is regularly said by Nash fans.

The L.A. Times, Nash fans, Awful Basket and anybody else can say what they want to about Kobe's defense but I am more inclined to believe the evaluation of the NBA's 30 head coaches.

LeBron is not a bad choice--and looking better every day. Last year, I had him in my top five "with a bullet." He seemed to regress slightly in the 2007 regular season but he is once again playing very well in the playoffs. I'd still take Kobe over him--better defense, championship level experience (though LeBron may get some of that soon), deeper shooting range, better free throw shooter: Kobe still has an edge in several tangibles and intangibles.


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