Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Diamonds in the Rough

By now, every one is very familiar with the story. The foreign-born Phoenix Sun award-winner who spent his first two years sitting on the bench in almost total obscurity before getting a chance to flourish under a coach who understood how best to use his talents.

I'm speaking of course about Steve Nash.

What's that? You thought I was referring to Boris Diaw? Well, sure, him too. But guess what? Boris Diaw started more games and played more minutes (a lot more in each case) than Steve Nash in their respective first two seasons. What's more, it was Nash's FIFTH season (his third in Dallas) before he was firmly entrenched as the starter (in his fourth season he split time at the point with Robert Pack, as difficult as that is to believe.)

It makes you wonder how many other guys out there could be superstars, if given the chance?

Nash's situation was certainly different than Diaw's in those early seasons. He was drafted by the Suns with the 15th pick, and played behind a guy named Sam Cassell AND Kevin Johnson (maybe my favorite player of all time.) Then Cassell was traded for Jason Kidd. So, no, there wasn't really a lot of room in the rotation for Nash.

Diaw on the other hand got a chance to play in Atlanta because the Hawks were so bad. So you really have to ask yourself, how did they not recognize that this guy was special? I mean, Mike Woodson had this guy for a year, and then just tossed him into the Joe Johnson trade as cap filler.

Under D'Antoni, Diaw won the Most Improved Player award and appears to be on his way to bigger and better things. And although it is strange to say this about a guy who was a two-time all star AND led the league in assists in Dallas, Nash was clearly under-utilized before arriving in Phoenix as well. I mean, the guys has won two straight MVPs (whether you think he deserved them or not, he clearly deserved to be part of the discussion.) Did anyone see that coming? When was the last time a guy who took five years to become an every day starter won the MVP? I'm gonna go with never. (Just a guess - didn't look it up.)

Nash and Diaw are different cases than a guy like Bobby Simmons (last year's MIP). Simmons is pretty much a classic small forward in the mold of about a thousand other guys, who just didn't crack the rotation in Washington or Detroit, and finally got a break with the Clippers. And Simmons worked hard both before and after that break, improving his jump shot, and playing solid defense. But $47M from the Bucks notwithstanding, I could go to the NBDL or the EuroLeagues and pick up a guy about like Bobby Simmons tomorrow. (No offense Bobby.) Would he be as good as Bobby Simmons? No. But he could give me some solid small forward minutes.

Nash and Diaw are SPECIAL. And as good as Joe Johnson is, aren't the Suns actually BETTER on offense now than they were last year (even without Amare)? (Defense is another story, but let's face it, the Suns aren't beating anybody with their defense.) The 2005 Suns were nasty when Nash was penetrating, kicking to Q and Joe Johnson, running pick and roll with Amare, etc. But I think the pick and roll with Diaw is even harder to defend. Because you have to play the pick right, and then you have to rotate perfectly, or Diaw will find the open shooter every time.

So now the question is, who will D'Antoni find this summer?