Only a handful of NBA players of won back-to-back MVP awards. Among them are Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and other All-Time greats.
Steve Nash is a member of this elite group, winning the award in 2005 and 2006. While Nash had a Hall of Fame career in the NBA, his MVP Awards, particularly his second, remain controversial. Did he deserve them?
After being drafted 15th overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 1996 NBA Draft, Nash would play two years with the team before being traded to the Dallas Mavericks. With Dallas, Nash would grow as a player, averaging 17.7 points and 7.3 assists in his last year with the team. He would return to Phoenix after the 2003-2004 season on a six-year, $63 million deal.
In the 2004-2005 season, Phoenix would earn the best record in the NBA. Prior to losing to the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, the Suns had the best season on paper.
Coach Mike D’Antoni won the Coach of the Year Award, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Nash would make the All-Star Game, and Nash would capture the MVP Award.
He would end the season with averages of 15.5 points and 11.5 assists, shooting 50 percent from the field.
Voting in the MVP race was incredibly close. Nash received 1,066 points, with Shaquille O’Neal receiving 1,032. O’Neal averaged 22.9 points and 10.4 rebounds in his first year with the Miami Heat.
While the voting was very close, Nash’s first MVP Award isn’t as controversial as his second. He was the best player on the best team on the league. While not always the best metric for crowning an MVP, it fit for Nash in 2005.
The next year, Nash would still lead the Suns to the Conference Finals despite a key member of the team missing the season.
All-Star center Amar’e Stoudemire would only play three games with the Suns in the 2005-2006 season after having surgery on his knee. Backup Kurt Thomas also missed time due to injuries, and Boris Diaw would be inserted into the starting lineup, and would win the Most Improved Player Award.
Shorthanded, Nash ended the season averaging 18.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 10.5 assists, a league-best. Nash and Marion would make the All-Star Game once again.
In the postseason, the Suns would make it to the Western Conference Finals again, this time losing to the Dallas Mavericks.
Voting for the 2006 MVP as very different than the year prior. Instead of the two-player race of Nash and O’Neal, Nash won among a split field.
Nash would win the award with 57 first place votes and 924 points total. Behind Nash was LeBron James, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant and Chauncey Billups, all earning over 400 points.
While one of the game’s all-time great passers, Nash’s two MVP Awards seem like a fluke. Many players of the same generation who are considered better than Nash overall, weren’t able to capture two. Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson come to mind.
Nash’s 2006 season was impressive, especially given Stoudemire’s absence, who was one of the best big men in the league at the time. However, other players had arguably more impressive individual seasons.
LeBron James: 31.4 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 6.6 APG
Dirk Nowitzki: 26.6 PPG, 9.0 RPG, 2.8 APG
Kobe Bryant: 35.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.5 APG
While Nash’s stellar season shouldn’t be minimized, a third-year LeBron James or a Kobe post-Shaq had arguably better seasons with less help on their rosters. Both players had career-high years in scoring, and took their teams to the playoffs despite having no All-Star teammates. Nash’s 18 and 10 in the 2005-2006 season was impressive, but better than either of those players? The numbers don’t seem to agree.
Steve Nash had an incredible and lengthy NBA career, and should be acknowledged as one of the best players of his era. However, his back-to-back MVP Awards continue to be one of the more debate-worthy topics in recent memory.
Featured image credited to Getty Images.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.