Thursday , Jan , 20 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

Nash is a serious MVP candidate

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) – Phoenix starting point guard Steve Nash deserves serious
consideration for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. The 30-year-old Nash, who
turns 31 on February 7th, is the main reason that the Suns have become one of
the elite teams in the league.

Originally selected out of Santa Clara by the Suns in the first round (15th
pick overall) of the 1996 NBA Draft, Nash, who spent the first two years of
his career in Phoenix, was traded by the Suns to the Dallas Mavericks for
Martin Muursepp, Bubba Wells, the draft rights to Pat Garrity and a first
round draft choice in June 1998. Nash spent six productive seasons in Dallas
before returning to Phoenix via free agency on July 14, 2004.

During his six years in Dallas, Nash started 379 of the 408 games that he
played in. In 2001-02, he averaged a career-high 17.9 points per contest to go
along with a solid 7.7 assists. Last season, the final year of his contract
with the Mavericks, Nash’s scoring production went down as he ended with an
average of 14.5 points, which was his lowest output since the 1999-00 season.
However, the Santa Clara product did manage to dish out 8.8 assists per game,
which was a new career best.

The Suns, who signed Nash to a lucrative, multi-year deal in the offseason to
get him to return to Phoenix, currently have the best point guard in the
league on their roster. Nash has been hobbled by injuries as of late and has
not played since January 14th. Without their extraordinary guard, the Suns are
0-3.

In 37 contests this season, Nash has registered 15.3 points per game to go
along with a league-best 10.9 assists. He has added invaluable experience to
the Suns as well leadership qualities that help make other players better.

Phoenix has exciting, athletic players in Shawn Marion, Quentin Richardson,
who also signed with Suns as a free agent in the summer, and Amare Stoudemire.
All three players are very talented and are established professionals. With
Nash, who has participated in 51 playoff games during his career, dishing the
ball to them, Marion, Richardson and Stoudemire, who has become one of the
league’s most explosive players with Nash at the point, have all become much
better players and have raised their games to another level.

A two-time All-Star, Nash has become a magician on the court this season. He
is able to get his teammates the ball no matter where they are on the court.
The former Maverick is not a high-flying, thunderous dunking player like
Marion, Richardson and Stoudemire, but he is the perfect point guard to lead
them down court on the fastbreak.

With Nash leading the way, the Suns, who have won 31 of their first 40 games
this season, are the most dangerous team in the league in transition. Phoenix’
opponents try to avoid getting into a shootout with the Suns, who excel in a
fast-paced contest. Nash is able to control the tempo of the game and in most
cases his performance has dictated the outcome, as Phoenix wants the ball in
his hands the majority of the time.

The impact that Nash has had on the Suns this season is obvious. Without him,
Phoenix looks out of sync on offense and it seems to lack the leadership that
its starting point guard provides.

“I would sleep a lot better if I knew that we are in a funk because Nash is
out but if you tell me it is anything else I might not sleep well tonight,”
said Phoenix head coach Mike D’Antoni after the Suns lost their third game in
a row without Nash.

“I don’t know how we can go from 48 percent shooting to 33 percent in one
week. Guys are just taking shots that they don’t usually take and when we get
Steve back it will help. We have some problems that we have to cure and some
things that we have to do. We still have a lot of games to play; the first
half has been pretty good. We will just have to see what we can do in the
second half.”

Great players make the players around them better, and that is what Nash has
done for his teammates. He won’t average 20 points per game and he is not as
flashy as Cleveland’s LeBron James or Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett, who is the
reigning MVP. Nash has turned the Suns, who won just 29 games in the 2003-04
season, from a pretender to a contender. He has helped turn Phoenix into
arguably the most exciting team in the league to watch.

Even though there is still three months left in the season, Nash deserves to
receive serious consideration for the NBA’s MVP Award if he continues to play
like he has so far. He may even deserve to win it!