Steve Nash for MVP?

Steve Nash was named MVP in 2005 and 2006, so this season represents his bid for a three-peat. The last person with such an opportunity was Tim Duncan, who finished second to Kevin Garnett in 2004 after taking the award in 2002 and 2003. The last player to successfully complete the three-peat was Larry Bird (1984-1986). In addition to Bird, Bill Russell (61-63) and Wilt Chamberlain (66-68) managed a three-peat. So if Nash can pull this off, he would be in very select company.

As we note in The Wages of Wins, Nash was not the most productive player in the NBA in 2004-05. His production of 16.1 wins only ranked 9th in the league. Last year he produced 18.6 wins, which ranked 6th in the NBA.

Somewhat surprisingly, Nash is even better this year. The Suns have played 31 games and thus far Nash has produced 7.3 wins. At this rate, he will finish the season with 19.2 wins. If we look at his Wins Produced per 48 minutes [WP48] we see he has progressed from 0.301 in 2004-05, to 0.319 last year, to 0.331 thus far this season.

If this performance holds up, should Nash be the MVP in 2007?

To answer that question we need to consider the alternatives. As noted, Kevin Garnett has been the most productive player in the NBA each of the past four seasons. After 30 games he has produced 9.0 wins and is on pace for 24.5 wins by the end of the season. This mark is actually a bit less than the production of Jason Kidd, who has produced 9.4 wins through 31 games and is on pace to produce 24.8 wins this season.

Kidd and Garnett, though, play for teams that are struggling to reach 0.500. In other words, neither the Timberwolves nor Nets – despite having the two best players in the league – are going to contend for a title this season.

Thus far the title contenders – which I will arbitrarily define as teams that are on pace to win more than 55 games (despite last year’s performance by Miami, 55 wins tends to be a minimum qualification) – include the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs, and Utah Jazz.

The best player on the Suns is Steve Nash. As one can see HERE – where the Wins Produced of each Phoenix player after 31 games is listed – both Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire are also playing well this season. Stoudemire is actually playing better than he did before his injury, which is somewhat unusual. Despite Stoudemire’s resurgence, the MVP of the Sun is Nash.

A few days ago I looked at the Mavericks, the team currently boasting the best record in the NBA. As noted then, the best player for Dallas is still Dirk Nowitzki. After 32 games Nowitski is one pace to produce 19.8 wins, or just a little bit more than Nash.

A similar story can be told for the Spurs best player, Tim Duncan. As one can see HERE – where the Wins Produced of each San Antonio player after 33 games is listed – Duncan has produced 8.1 wins through 33 games. So he is on pace to produce 20.2 wins this season. Interestingly, the Spurs only have the fourth best record in the league, but in terms of offensive and defensive efficiency, still project to be the NBA’s best this year.

The last of the “best” NBA teams this year is the surprising Utah Jazz. I plan on devoting an entire post to the Jazz soon. Back in November I looked at this team after 10 games and noted that Carlos Boozer has a WP48 of 0.425. Such a mark rivaled what Garnett offered last year. Since this time Boozer has cooled off a bit. After 32 games Boozer has a WP48 of 0.319 and has produced 7.8 wins. He is on pace to produce 19.9 wins, which is again a mark that surpasses Nash.

If we restrict our MVP candidates to the best players on the best teams, it looks like Nash comes up short in a comparison with Nowitzki, Duncan, or even Boozer. One could argue, though, that what Nash has accomplished is more “MVP-worthy” than what has been offered by the three big men on the MVP list.

A month ago I posted a comment on Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman which re-iterated a point made in The Wages of Wins about the performances of big and little men in the NBA. To calculate Wins Produced one compares the performance of a player relative to the average at his position. Because there is a “short supply of tall people”, the variation in performance at power forward and center is greater than what we observe at the guard spots. Consequently it is easier for a quality big man to post a level of output far beyond the production of the average big man. Or to put it another way, it’s harder for a guard to distance himself from his peers. Consequently Nash’s productivity this year is a bit more impressive than what we have seen from Nowitzki, Duncan, or Boozer.

Now it’s still the case that Nash is not quite as productive as Kidd. And Garnett is still in the running for most productive player in the NBA. But if the MVP candidate must come from a contender, then Nash has made a strong case for a three-peat.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

Wins Produced and Win Score are Discussed in the Following Posts

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

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