As most basketball fans know, Steve Nash won the 2005-2006 NBA MVP award. Nash was the starting point guard for the Phoenix Suns and led the team to a 54-28 record, which was 2nd in the western conference and third-best in the league. The offense under Nash had an offensive rating of 114.5, which, at the time, was tied for the ninth-highest of all time. While his numbers weren’t eye-popping, the ability to create historic offense while instilling a winning culture in Phoenix was enough for Nash to win the award. As mentioned earlier, his numbers weren’t flashy, which is often used by detractors to prove why Nash was undeserving of the MVP award. It’s an understandable argument as Nash averaged 18.8 points and 10.5 assists throughout the season. Those certainly don’t look like overly-impressive numbers, at least on paper. Many people who use this argument then turn to who they believe the rightful winner was: Kobe Bryant.
Kobe Bryant was the definition of electric during the 2005-2006 season. He torched defenses for 35 points a night on a talent-deprived Lakers team and was often the only reason to watch a Lakers game that season. What is most notable from this season is that this season included the game where Kobe scored 81 against the Toronto Raptors, one of the most iconic performances in NBA history. However, for as much success as he had as an individual, the Lakers were 45-37 and sat as the 7th seed in the western conference. When comparing Nash and Bryant, it’s easy to see why many people would say that Bryant deserved the award. Bryant averaged 35.4 points to Nash’s 18.8 and while Nash had more assists (10.5 to 4.5) and a higher field goal percentage (51.2 to 45.0), that is about where the advantages end for Nash. Bryant was ahead of Nash in rebounds (5.3 to 4.2), steals (1.8 to 0.8), and blocks (0.4 to 0.2), although many would argue it’s silly to compare those numbers between a 6’3 point guard (Nash) and a 6’6 shooting guard (Bryant). When the debate comes up, the pro-Nash camp often points to two things: Team wins and offensive rating.
Both of the above points, the team wins and offensive rating, are fair points. Until Russell Westbrook won the 2016-2017 MVP award as a 6th seed, team wins were a cornerstone of the MVP voting. While a player’s numbers were important, how much their numbers translated to wins on the court often played into the voting process and that was no different in 2005-2006. The voters saw that Nash’s playstyle led to a higher rated offense (The Suns’ offensive rating was 114.5 compared to the Lakers’ rating of 108.4) and in return led to a higher win total. What no one talks about, though, is that Bryant held a higher win share (15.3 to 12.4) than Nash did, which might suggest that Nash benefitted from a better supporting cast rather than Nash’s play leading to more wins. However, perhaps the most deserving winner is often not brought up and hasn’t been mentioned here, yet. That man is LeBron James.
LeBron James, in his third year in the league, averaged 31.4 points, 6.6 assists, 7.0 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, and 1.6 steals on 48% from the field. He was better than Nash in every category except assists and shooting percentage. He slightly trailed Bryant in points and steals but led the Lakers star in every other category. Looking at raw numbers, James makes all the benchmarks. When comparing offensive ratings, James’ Cavaliers (107.8) fell behind both the Lakers (108.4) and Suns (114.5). However, the Cavaliers posted a 50-32 record, which was 3 games ahead of the Lakers and four games behind the Suns. Oh, and those things called win shares? James (16.3) led Bryant (15.3) and Nash (12.4) there as well. All of this leads to this point: LeBron James was the perfect middle man for the MVP award. He had impressive numbers, like Bryant, while finding ways to turn those numbers into team success, like Nash. James was able to find the perfect balance of what an MVP should be: a dominant player that can win basketball games.