The NBA’s MVP race is the two-person undertaking of Steve Nash and Chauncey Billups.
The others — Elton Brand, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki — are distant candidates at the midway point in the season.
Nash has provided a stirring encore to his tirelessly debated MVP acquisition last season. It comes in the absence of Amare Stoudemire, the team’s No. 2 player who has yet to score a point or snare a rebound this season. His injury was expected to cripple the Suns, Nash or not.
Yet the mop-haired player who blew in from the cold of British Columbia is showing anew that his peripheral vision and quirky movements are the basketball equivalent of a team elixir, impervious to the limitations of those on the receiving end of his passes.
His gift is to turn the ordinary into the effective.
The Suns have seven players averaging in double figures, a statistical anomaly no doubt attributed to the maestro in their midst.
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan put it succinctly after the mobility-challenged Kurt Thomas scored 18 points in the first meeting between the two teams.
Asked how that could happen, Jordan said: “He has Steve Nash on his team.”
No further explanation was necessary.
Suns coach Mike D’Antoni already has suggested that Nash is more deserving of the MVP award this season than last.
His bias is understandable. He draws up a play, and Nash ad-libs from there. Nash is liable to drive to the basket before dribbling from one side of the floor to the other and finding an open teammate.
This is not taught in Basketball 101. The conventional calculation on a foray to the basket is either to dump the ball to a teammate or take the shot. Dribbling through the pack used to be seen as an admission of surrender.
With Nash, it is just one more weapon that probes the soft spots in the defense.
Nash leads the NBA in assists and corrective measures to remove the spaghetti-like strands of hair from his face. He is second in free throw percentage and fifth in double-doubles.
Nash is said to be more defensively focused this season, along with the rest of the Suns. Defense is forever the challenge before Nash, mostly because he is not much taller than 6-foot, contrary to his listed height of 6 feet, 3 inches.