Little man, big trouble

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

It is safe to say that nobody was picking Steve Nash as a future best basketball player in the world back when the little Canadian was playing for Santa Clara University.

But Darrick Martin, the Raptors' deep thinker and third-string point guard, had an inkling that the product of Victoria, B.C., was destined for greatness well before Nash became a household name.

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"When I was in the league third or fourth year, I got a call that a guy from Santa Clara just gave UCLA 30 (points) and 15 (assists)," Martin, a one-time member of the powerhouse Bruins, said. "Anybody that gives UCLA 30 and 15, you have to take notice of. At that point, I started to watch him play on TV a little bit and saw he had a very, very good understanding of what it means to play point guard."

Fast forward to 2007 and the Phoenix Suns star is on track to become the first guard in NBA history to win three consecutive NBA MVP awards heading into his lone game in Canada this season -- this evening against the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. Nash, on a nine-game personal winning streak against the Raptors, was averaging career-best statistics in points (20.6), field goal percentage (53.2) and three-point percentage (51.7) prior to the run-and-gun Suns' game in Chicago against the Bulls last night.

That's troubling news for the Raptors, who probably won't have starting point guard T.J. Ford (ankle) or forward Jorge Garbajosa (calf) tonight. Star forward Chris Bosh, however, is expected to make his return after missing the past 12 games with a bruised left knee.

It was a true December to remember for Nash and the Suns. Phoenix, led by Nash and an outstanding speed-power big man in Amare Stoudemire, went on a 15-game winning streak. Nash shot 56.2% from the field and an amazing 57.8% from three-point range.

"Nash and (Jason) Kidd (of the New Jersey Nets), they'd probably be only two (current NBA point guards) I would pay to watch," Martin said.

"They make everybody else better. It's how I was taught to play point guard by Magic (Johnson). First, you make everybody else better and through the course of the game, you have shots for yourself."

Nash's teams have led the league in scoring the past six seasons and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why that's the case. The Suns can beat teams with their breakneck pace or simply dominate with the high pick-and-roll.

"If I'm a coach, and you ask me how to defend his pick-and-rolls," Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince said after a recent loss to the Suns, "I don't know, either."

While stars like Carmelo Anthony, Yao Ming, Chauncey Billups, Tracy McGrady and Dwyane Wade have been hampered by injuries or suspensions, Nash simply has gone about his business to take the lead in the MVP race.

"Nash is the system," Bulls coach Scott Skiles told Chicago Tribune.

"I don't mean to shortchange anybody else or anything. But he's the best basketball player on the face of the earth. I don't think it's even close."


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