The Arizona Republic reported Wednesday that Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns would win his second straight Most Valuable Player award, citing a league source familiar with the vote.
The league declined comment. The MVP is announced in early May. Nash declared himself stunned at the report in Thursday's Republic, saying he thinks his pal and former teammate Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas should win it.
Last year I had a little problem with Nash winning it, since I didn't think he was even close to being the most valuable player on his own team. I thought, and still think, that Amare Stoudemire was the Suns' MVP in 2004-'05. I thought there might have been a subtle racial aspect to Nash, the white candidate, winning it.
This time around, I got no beef.
I agree with Nash that Nowitzki would be a great candidate. He was the league leader in John Hollinger's stat player efficiency rating, or PER, just edging LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers. Nash finished 12th, just behind Detroit's Chauncey Billups, who was mentioned as an MVP candidate, and just ahead of Toronto's Chris Bosh, who was not.
The NBA's similar "efficiency" stat had Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves leading the league, just ahead of James and Nash's Suns teammate Shawn Marion. Bryant was fifth, Nowitzki sixth and Nash, again, 12th, behind Gilbert Arenas of the Washington Wizards and ahead of Pau Gasol of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Both efficiency stats attempt to measure a player's overall contribution to a game, giving him credit for good things like points, rebounds and assists, and subtracting for bad things like turnovers and missed shots.
Hollinger's rating is better, because it's a per-minute measure, meaning one can use it to see, as the name suggests, how efficient a player is, how much he accomplishes per minute, not just total. You can use it to compare a guy who plays 30 minutes a game with one who plays 18.
It also adjusts for the pace of a player's team, so it doesn't punish a player with low point totals just because he plays for a team that has fewer possessions and thus scores fewer points per game than the rest of the league.
The NBA's stat just counts up raw numbers.
But even Hollinger admits that his PER "is not the final, once-and-for-all answer for a player's accomplishments during the season."
Any way you look at it, Nash was better this year than he was last year, and he absolutely carried the Suns not just to the playoffs but to a No. 2 seed in the Western Conference without Stoudemire, who missed virtually the whole year with a knee injury.
I don't know that any of the other candidates can make a similar claim. Wouldn't the Pistons, for example, still have been a very good team with just a league-average point guard instead of the superlative year Billups turned in?
I usually don't go for that kind of argument in MVP races. I just want to know who the best player was. But it's so hard to compare what Nash does with what Nowitzki or Garnett does, I'm willing to listen to "he carried his team" theories. I'm not sure I'd vote for Nash, but I don't have an objection if he's the winner.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, in a classless move, expressed an objection, arguing against Nash's winning the award, not to lobby for his own guy, Bryant, but because the Suns won eight fewer games this year, failing to win 60. Jackson suggested Billups should win the award, the Republic said.
Interesting little office politics snub of Kobe there, but yo, Phil: See that big guy in the suit at the end of the Phoenix bench? He's why the Suns didn't win 60. Without Nash, they're probably looking up at 40, fishing rods in hand.
Meanwhile, the Lakers beat the Suns in Game 2 of their first-round series Wednesday in exactly the fashion I thought impossible, which shows how much I know. Bryant scored 29 points, but didn't really dominate, and Lamar Odom's 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists played a huge role.
The Suns didn't look like their highflying selves, and I think it was just one of those nights for them, though an opponent playing well defensively can make it look that way.
The Lakers-Suns series is one of three in the never-exciting first round that are tied 1-1 after two games. Indiana-New Jersey and Washington-Cleveland are tied in the Eastern Conference. The other five series are all 2-0, with the higher seed leading in all of them except the Denver-L.A. Clippers series, in which the lower seed, the Clippers, is the team with the better record.
The Suns are the only 1- or 2-seed that's lost a game. I still don't think they're in much danger of losing the series. I have taken a vow this year not to repeat the embarrassing statistics about how seldom 1- and 2-seeds lose in the first round of the NBA playoffs. I may not keep it, but I'm keeping it for at least one more day.
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Mavs fans back-bitten [PERMALINK]
These are the times that try men's souls. Well, not their souls, but something.
A report in the Dallas Morning News says you can no longer paint your back blue if you want to attend a Dallas Mavericks home game. You can't paint it any other color either.
Fans showing up at American Airlines Center with grease paint on their backs have been given cleaning supplies to scrub down. The arena people were tired of scrubbing blue paint off the backs of their seats, so the Mavs now say you can paint the rest of your body all you want, but you have to keep your back clean.
As of press time, shaving your back was still not a requirement, thank goodness, but a compromise proposal that would have allowed fans to paint backup center D.J. Mbenga blue was rejected by the team.
What's next, no foam fingers? No looking into the camera, holding up one finger and screaming, "Wooooooo!"? No getting a tattoo of Dirk Nowitzki's signature?
That last is still kosher, fortunately for one Mavs fan named Gary Boring -- for real -- who told the paper he had himself inked thusly a week ago.
Still, I don't see how you could root for a team that subjects its fans to such strict rules, and please ignore that I root for the Mavericks if they're not playing somebody else I root for harder. Like my plucky Memphis Grizzlies! Who are down 2-0 in this series and look like they have no chance to win a game, though my having said that means they'll win the next one by 40 points.
Why not join me as a Grizzlies Guy? C'mon, it's only two more games.
Previous column: The Reggie Bush house scandal
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