Sunday, March 26, 2006

Nash v. Wade (No, not the legal case)

There has been a debate raging among my friends recently about who is a better player: Steve Nash or Dwyane Wade? Essentially, if you were starting a team from scratch, whom would you rather have? Here's what I have written on the subject:

Take a look at Nash's past statistics with the Mavericks. Very good, but clearly not as good as his stats with the Suns. And that was with a markedly more talented Mavericks team (at least when you compare them to this year's Suns). With more talent around him (a la D-Wade), shouldn't he have been "better"? The fact is that everyone who has played for the Suns the past two seasons has had markedly better offensive numbers than in previous seasons. I don't have the time for a comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon, but my hunch is that it has more to do with the overall team system than with just Nash. The Suns play the game in an entirely different fashion from every other team. This allows them to create all sorts of matchup problems and confuse teams that are not prepared for this offensive onslaught. That said, Nash is critical to running this system, and there are very few point guards, if any, that could run it so efficiently. The Suns' system has helped Nash as much as Nash has helped the Suns' system. Which is to say that it has been a highly beneficial symbiotic relationship! Nash is extremely well-suited to the run-and-gun style, and the run-and-gun style (with the right players) has proven to be very successful in the current NBA.

So we have a conundrum. And unfortunately there is no way to very accurately examine whether Nash or the system is more important (unless we ran the same system with a variety of different point guards over many games...I think that we would find in this case that most point guards would improve their numbers dramatically and all players on the team would perform similarly to how they do now, but that the offense would run best with Nash at the helm). But there's a difference between a top point guard and top players at other positions. Because of the nature of basketball, particularly the premiums placed on height and size, other positions are generally more valuable. So in the end, I think that Nash is an extremely valuable player and a top 10 guy in the league. If I was constructing a dream lineup I would make him my starting point guard. But if I was simply choosing the best players in the league, I would prefer LeBron, Duncan, Garnett, Shaq, Wade, Kobe, Nowitzki...

Friend's response:

Valid points Mr. Arboze, I am beginning to see some logic. However, the fact remains that with a much worse supporting cast in the tougher conference, Nash's team has a better record than Wade's (regardless of system - and Riley ain't a bad coach). I also didn't love your point about Nash with the Mavs because I think he is a better player now than he was with the Mavs. Your initial argument was "who would you take in one season right now?" All this being said, I want you to know that I am not at all biased because Wade is one of my favorite players and I have debates with Lapidus all the time because he thinks Wade is overrated.

My response:

First of all, you just can't say regardless of system! This is something that I forgot to include, but I will say it now. There are countless examples of innovative systems in sports that are extremely successful. Especially in the regular season, where a majority of games are against inferior opponents. I could write a whole article about this phenomenon, but I will instead just provide a couple of examples.

Example 1: Texas Tech Football. Coach Mike Leach comes in, takes a team with very little top-tier talent, all of sudden they win 9 or 10 games every year, even though none of their players (especially not their QBs putting up 400 yards a game and 5 TDs) go to the NFL. Why does Texas Tech succeed? Because of a brilliant offensive system that no one has ever seen before. Teams just don't know how to prepare for it (although my assumption is that they will start to figure it out). Notice that when Texas Tech played against Texas for example, the Red Raiders were throttled (much as the Suns this year have no chance against the Spurs unless Stoudemire plays 110%). However, against Kansas State, the score was 63-21 or whatever. Thus, despite having "inferior talent," Texas Tech is able to be a successful team. Meanwhile the Suns have mediocre talent this year, which you admit (last year they were one of the most talented teams in the league I would say with Stoudemire, Joe Johnson, and Quentin also...once they get Stoudemire back, they will be very talented again, he is THAT good), yet they are extremely successful again. One player alone just can't do that, even if he is the perfect point guard or whatever. I've always been anti-coach in general, saying that they get way too much credit in general, but I take all that back for coaches like Mike D'Antoni, who don't get ENOUGH credit!

Example 2: The Princeton Offense in basketball. It is now used by a number of teams with the motivation of beating more talented teams by playing more efficient basketball. And it has been very effective. By using uncommon discipline and teamwork, a team becomes much more than the sum of its parts (see Princeton's 1996 upset of UCLA for example...there probably wasn't a single player on Princeton objectively better than a single starter on UCLA, yet because of the way that the team played, Princeton won that game anyway...of course that is only one game, but Princeton constantly threatened to defeat or defeated teams far more talented than they were for a long stretch).

That's just two examples off the top of my head. We can all think of more later.

Second, here's what I would say about Nash on the Mavs vs. on the Suns. It is generally accepted that a player's basketball-playing prime is somewhere from around 27-30 years old. Nash is now 32 years old. Is it possible that he has become a much better player? Sure, of course. It's not that ridiculous to think. But is it more likely that he is at a similarly high skill level, but playing in an offense that takes much better advantage of his vast skills? I certainly tend to think so. It seems like a much more logical conclusion to me.

I know that this is a long post, but if you have gotten this far, what do you think?

1 comment:

  1. i think you're brilliant.