The Derrick Rose Story and how it relates to Steve Nash’s MVPs

Posted by on May 4th, 12:49 am

Derrick Rose was the story of the season just like Steve Nash was in 2004-05. Copyright 2011 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

Derrick Rose was the story of the season just like Steve Nash was in 2004-05. Copyright 2011 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)

There’s nothing quite as polarizing as the MVP debate.

For years voters have tried to define what the award truly means — is it the best player overall, the best player on the best team or the best story taking elements from both of the latter arguments?

The rise of advanced statistics further complicates matters and sets up the kind of old guard vs. new guard scenario we saw in baseball a decade ago portrayed best in Michael Lewis’ classic Moneyball.

Those who rely on advanced stats favor Dwight Howard due to a season that most advanced metrics say was superior to Derrick Rose’s year, although even Howard’s own coach has known Rose would become the MVP for weeks as he eventually did on Tuesday.

John Hollinger wrote an extensive analysis of “The Derrick Rose Story” and how voters have become conditioned to vote for the most valuable story rather than the most valuable player.

Even the Miami Herald’s Dan Le Batard piled on by writing, “They should just rename the MVP trophy The We Didn’t Expect To See Rose Sitting Atop LeBron In The Standings Award.”

All this is pertinent to a Suns audience because Hollinger names Nash’s 2005 and 2006 MVP awards as situations in which writers voted the story.

The Phoenix Suns earned 29 victories in 2003-04 and then suddenly won 33 more games the following season with the addition of Nash before their exhilarating 62-win campaign. Such a surprise season made the Suns the team of All-Star Weekend, Mike D’Antoni the Coach of the Year and Bryan Colangelo the Executive of the Year.

And, of course, it made The Steve Nash Story the MVP of the league.

The Suns were the best story of the league by far in 2004-05 (well, at least up until the conference finals). Their revolutionary style focused on fast breaks and three-pointers helped usher in a new era of open court basketball as the league’s hand checking rules changed.

Steve Nash was the face of the 2004-05 season playing for the “it” team playing the “it” style. When you think of the 2004-05 regular season, you think of Nash.

That’s where this debate becomes difficult. If you crunch all the numbers and put a team of statheads on the case (and to many, even if you don’t), Shaq probably should be the year’s MVP.

Even looking back at the last seven years as a whole, Nash has been right around if not better than the 15.5 points and 11.5 assists per game he accrued during his first MVP campaign with 50-43-89 shooting. Hell, statistically speaking his first half of this season with 16.8 points, 11.3 assists and 52-41-92 shooting to go with fantastic plus/minus numbers are just as good if not better than Nash’s MVP season from a statistical perspective.

The biggest difference between 2004-05 Nash and pre-All-Star break Nash was his teammates and the fact that he was willing a mediocre team to a .500 record rather than lighting up the NBA with a dynamic lineup.

The Steve Nash Story was so overwhelming in 2004-05 he earned an MVP yet it was so underwhelming this season he got All-Star Weekend off.

Michael Jordan won five MVP awards although he probably deserved double-figure MVP honors. But it isn’t fun to vote MJ year after year after year, so when Charles Barkley became the story one season for the league’s best regular season team he stole one from MJ and Karl Malone later did as well.

LeBron James may be headed for MJ MVP territory, so this season he had to be seen as an overwhelming underdog for the award considering his back-to-back MVPs and the negative national perception of James after he took his talents to South Beach.

That’s why The Kevin Durant Story started off the year as the favorite for the award based on all the goodwill he built up during his dominant World Championship run before The Derrick Rose Story took over for a Bulls team missing Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah for sizable chunks of the year.

With as ambiguous of a name as the award currently possesses (what does most valuable mean anyway?) it’s no surprise that different voters take it to mean different things and so often the best story has won the trophy just as the the coach of the team that overachieves the most often wins Coach of the Year.

Even if we were to make the award based on the best statistical season, so many advanced measures can show differing top players that we may just find ourselves with a new argument to this same problem.

Unlike a postseason in which the top teams advance by a concrete measure of winning more games than their opponent, there is no cut and dried formula for the MVP, and perhaps there shouldn’t be.

It’s up to the voters to decide whether to side with advanced stats and Howard, the most talented player in James or the player that defined the season in Rose.

There is no perfect criteria for selecting a Most Valuable Player, so perhaps the award itself is most valuable for stirring up the kind of debate that has caused us to evaluate why we favor a Rose or a Howard or a James.

Michael Schwartz founded ValleyoftheSuns in October 2008 and is the owner/editor emeritus of the site. He is currently working toward his MBA in sports business at San Diego State University.

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Tags: Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Analysis · Steve Nash

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Abhijit Bordia // May 4, 2011 at 1:31 am

    My Question is to Michael Schwartz:
    Nene is opt out of his deal as the Nuggets don’t want to pay him big money.Can the Suns get him and can he be a good fit?

  • 2 Dre // May 4, 2011 at 9:49 am

    Abhijit,
    Great minds thinking alike. I asked Michael that on twitter (and fear the answer could be yes)

    Michael,
    I’ve been talking with Andrew Lynch about this on twitter. In terms of advanced stats a first ding is really barring the fun Excel filter stat Rose doesn’t deserve MVP by any of them. Also we can test certain stats in terms of validity
    e.g.
    Adjusted +/- is not good at determining wins or predictable season to season.
    PER is not good at determining wins but is predictable season to season
    Wins Produced is good at determining wins and predictable season to season (self promotion!)

    I’m all for subjectivity but the point is that with none of the tools we currently have can anyone from a stats perspective call Rose MVP. The Most Valuable Story view is pretty much right and my complaint there is Rose is getting credit and compensation (awards and AS games help salary a lot) for a team story, which is similar to Nash in 05 (Marion and Stoudemire huge part of that story)

  • 3 Michael Schwartz // May 4, 2011 at 11:13 am

    I think Nene would be a real nice fit and give the Suns a solid big man rotation with Nene-Gortat-Frye. But he’s going to want big bucks and the Suns just might not be able to pay him. We won’t know for sure how much cash the Suns have to spend until the collective bargaining figures come out after the lockout, but it’s most likely the Suns will have the space to sign somebody next season.

    Agreed, Dre, and so long as we have human voters with human biases every so often we will get years like this where the story view wins out over the stats argument.

  • 4 Steve // May 4, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    If MVPs were only about numbers, what fun would that be? There wouldn’t be a debate. The Albert Pujolses, LeBron Jameses, and Peyton Mannings of the world would win every year. Statistics are a great way of backing up what you already know, but they are not a great way of building a base of knowledge in something as subjective as “greatness.”

    If you look at Malone’s first (I believe) MVP season, statistically, he was better than Jordan. Does that mean Karl Malone was better than Jordan, even if it was only for that one season? I certainly don’t think so. We all know MJ was the best player in the league every year he was with the Bulls.

    Stats can lie.

  • 5 Abhijit Bordia // May 4, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    My Question is to Michael Schwartz:

    I thought the Suns had the money from carter expiring contract for about 14(18-4 if we let him go) million and the trade exception of Amar’e of about 6 million also player option of Pietrus of 5.3 million. That should be enough right? total salary excluding these players is around 47 mil.

  • 6 Michael Schwartz // May 5, 2011 at 12:26 am

    @Abhijit I actually have a story set for Saturday that goes into this in greater depth, but for now minus Carter and Pietrus and Brooks I have the Suns at $45.2 million. That’s not counting the lottery pick (which brings them to your $47 figure) or a likely Hill re-signing. And quite frankly, I’d be surprised if Pietrus declines his option although he’s a crazy dude so you never know.

    On top of that we have no idea what the new CBA will look like, so I guess it’s possible if they lost Hill/Pietrus/Brooks/Carter they would have a few bucks but they would also have a ton of roster spots to fill as well and overall I don’t see that scenario as being too likely. The Suns only have $28 million committed for the year after so the summer of 2012 will be the year to strike.

    @Steve I actually look at stats kind of the opposite way in that I believe they tell us what we know, but I certainly understand your viewpoint. In many ways this year’s MVP debate was about people who think the way you do versus the people who think the way Dre does, and overall I think it’s good to bring out this discussion.

  • 7 Phil // May 5, 2011 at 2:57 am

    The wording of the award deliberately creates confusion. It doesn’t say best player, or best team’s best player, it just says valuable. Well you could argue that is the best player from whoever wins the title, or player who makes most difference to the win column for their team, or player who does most to push their team from very good to better.

    I actually like it this way – giving MJ MVP 10 years in a row might be right from one perspective, but its pretty dull. And stats can lie, as Steve says.

    As far as Nash’s MVPs go, I think he did as much as anyone between 2005 and 2007 to change the team he played on. I actually think 2005 was his weakest case, as his stats were weaker and Amare was, for me, at his peak. I don’t think Nash gets enough credit for the 2006 season, when he led a pretty average supporting cast to 54 wins (combined high caliber NBA seasons from that entire roster since they left Nash – Zero). I think his strongest case was 2007, when people were definitely suckered into the best player from the best record argument with Dirk.

  • 8 Michael Schwartz // May 5, 2011 at 9:18 am

    @Phil With the power of hindsight I would agree that 2007 was his most MVP-like season, but there’s just no way Steve Nash was going to win three MVPs in a row. He had no shot in 2007 from the outset because of that.

  • 9 Steve // May 5, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    I think stats are extremely valuable, especially in individual sports, such as golf and baseball (to some extent). But in basketball, football, soccer, hockey… team games… stats really don’t tell the whole story of a player or of a team. Last year’s Suns, for instance, had “chemistry” that led them to overachieve. “Chemistry” can’t be statistically analyzed, but it was clearly there. Every player’s successes had to do with that chemistry. This year, I think every player’s failures had to do with the lack of chemistry this team had.

    I’m a huge stats geek when it comes to golf and baseball. Stats almost never lie in those sports (the only times you have to consider “weighting” are when you compare players from different eras). Every advanced metric will tell you Albert Pujols is the best player in the game (and he might even be top 5 all time). And based off of what we see, it’s obvious that’s true. Same thing with golf. The stats will tell you Tiger’s 10-year run was the most amazing thing the sport has ever seen, and that’s exactly what our eyes told us as well. The numbers don’t lie because it is virtually the individuals alone that control their destiny and outcome.

    In football, try to find the “best” player of all time. Or the best offensive/defensive player of all time. Or the best at any specific position. Even something like WR can be argued, where Jerry Rice seems to be head and shoulders above the others in the views of most people. In basketball, as statistically dominant as Jordan was, there are people who are close in many respects. Wilt, Jabbar, James, and Malone could all be mentioned with Jordan from a statistical standpoint, and Jordan doesn’t stand out much, if at all. Stop and think about that for a second, because I think it’s really scary. LEBRON JAMES MIGHT BE THE “BEST” BASKETBALL PLAYER OF ALL TIME, BUT HE HASN’T EVEN WON A CHAMPIONSHIP YET.” Statistically speaking, he’s as good as anyone who has ever stepped on a court. But as of right now, I won’t even mention him in the same sentence as people like. [stop sentence so as not to mention James along with these greats]. Jordan, Russell (who is clearly one of the greats, but stats don’t show it), Mikan, Jabbar, Johnson, Bird, Chamberlain, etc.

    The team aspect adds a lot of elements that statistics can’t account for. For instance, Chris Paul’s numbers are astronomical, but does that mean no other point guard in the league can do what he can do, or does that mean no other team leans on their PG like the Hornets lean on Paul? Kobe Bryant has never been all that amazing by most advanced metrics, but he has won five more rings than James, Nash, and Nowitzki combined. I could go on and on with these comparisons, but I think my point has been made.

    Advanced metrics can tell you a lot about a player, but they can’t tell everything. Metrics would tell you Stoudemire could legitimately win a championship some day. My mind tells me there’s no way a team is ever winning a championship when their star is allergic to defense. The numbers won’t tell you James gave up on the Cavs. The numbers won’t tell you Kobe has never backed down from a fight, and he usually comes out the winner. The numbers won’t tell you what Nash means to the Phoenix Suns. They explain part of it, but they don’t tell the whole story.

    I think that whether you choose to subjectively judge the game first and then look to metrics or if you choose to look at metrics and then subjectively judge the game, the truly important thing is that no one should ever leave subjectivity out of their judgment. There is no such thing as a plug and chug formula that can tell us who the best basketball player is/was/will ever be, and that formula will NEVER exist.

  • 10 Phil // May 6, 2011 at 3:14 am

    @Mike – I completely agree, I never expected Nash to be a 3peat MVP. 2007 was his apex though, and I find it interesting that generally critics have more of an issue with his 2006 award (probably because it was a repeat) than 2005.

    The likes of Bill Simmons have retrospectively decided Kobe should have won that year, but I think that is rubbish. Yes Kobe dragged an awful squad to a .500 record putting up insane individual stats, but Nash’s squad was, with hindsight, not that strong either. Obviously Shawn Marion was streets ahead of anyone Kobe was playing with, but as I said before, what have Barbosa, Diaw or Raja ever done without Nash? To win 54 games without only one top level team mate and without a single credible player over 6-9 is pretty remarkable.

    Basically I think this underlines Steve’s argument – Kobe’s stats were way better, and you he was (and is) a better individual player than Nash, but Nash’s ability to elevate his team mates set him apart and that’s why I think he did deserve his two MVPs

  • 11 Phil // May 6, 2011 at 3:15 am

    Sorry, that should have read ‘WITH only one top level team mate’ meaning Marion…..

  • 12 GOsuns // May 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    I agree with steve because stats only justify a single individual’s performance. The mvp should go to the player that elevates his team’s game like phil said because there was a reason why kobe was unhappy with his team after shaq left because he felt he had no help and was not ready to and leadership is a quality that no stat can judge

  • 13 GOsuns // May 6, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Also, I know teams have stats collectively but the game is multi dimensional in which there are many underlyong factors like effort, chemistry, etc.

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