The Most Valuable Player Award is the smartest, most ambiguous award that sports have ever come up with. Nobody has any clue at all how to deduce what the term valuable means in the context of this award, which means we waste countless hours arguing over who we should be. Personally, I probably spend more time thinking about who deserves the MVP for a particular year and whom I would vote for than I do thinking about who I plan to vote for to become President of the United States. How bad is that? I’m a political science major.
So who should win the award? It could be used to reward the greatest player in the game (often a swing player like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant.) Others say it should be given to the best team leader or floor general (like a point guard such as Magic Johnson or Chris Paul.) Still others wish to hand the award to the most dominating player on the court (often a big man with low post skills like Shaq or Tim Duncan.) In part one of the season preview, we looked at a power rankings of the teams. For the second part, let’s look at the rankings of this years MVP candidates. For the most part, these rankings are not reflective of who I feel deserves to win, but rather who I feel has the best chance to win based on media biases and current trends. For example, Kobe Bryant didn’t win the award last year because he was the best player in the game—someone who led his team to the best record in the most competitive conference despite losing Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum to various bouts of injury all despite playing with a torn tendon in his shooting hand. He won the award because people thought he was ‘due’ for it where as Chris Paul and Lebron were not. First let’s start off with the guys who didn’t make the cut:
Runners Up: These guys didn’t make it because they just aren’t valuable enough to be a true candidate for this list. Some are just huge injury concerns, others lack the requisite amount of depth in their games, and a few just barely missed. They are in no particular order: Baron Davis, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Yao Ming, Tracey McGrady, Manu Ginobili, Josh Howard, Monte Ellis, Kevin Durant, Rasheed Wallace Rip Hamilton, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Caron Butler, Gilbert Arenas, Chris Bosh, Michael Redd, Vince Carter, Al Jefferson, and Rudy Gay.
13. Brandon Roy: Ok, he is easily the longest shot here to win the award. He would have to average something like 25 points, 7-8 assists, and take the clutch shots for his team (instead of Travis Outlaw) while leading his team to a top 4 record. There is a 99 percent chance that this is impossible for this season, and in fact many of the people in the runner ups section are more talented and more valuable then him. He’s on this list to give me a chance to expand on my season preview for the Blazers.
I’ll admit I was fairly harsh on them, but that doesn’t mean I hate them. The Blazers are a good young team with an incredible amount of young prospects. It’s like Kevin Pritchard is playing NBA Live against the rest of the league the way he keeps stockpiling picks. They have two talented, young, big men in LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden. Oden has struggled so far in the preseason, but that’s to be expected. In 5 years he will be considered the most dominant big man in the game (yes, better than Andrew Bynum, although I expect Bynum to be better on offense and to thus get the greater media attention.) Still, this team was too hyped up for this season, and needs time to develop chemistry and have their young guys gain a deeper understanding of the game. This is a 500 ball club this season, and that’s not good enough to make the playoffs in the west. If you’re a Portland fan, and you still have the best foundation in the NBA, you shouldn’t care too much about this year anyway. So, if Blazer fans would stop sending me emails involving me, my health, their fists/weapons, and the setting of some dark alley…I would appreciate that very much.
12. Dwight Howard: His athletic dominance is why he’s the first true candidate to make the list. However, that dominance actually comes back to hurt him a bit, because he lacks any polish in his game. That doesn’t affect him when he takes on the dregs of the East or West (which is how he is able to lead the league in dunks and percentage of field goals that’s are dunks year in and year out), but when he plays a contender or even a decent playoff team he will more often face someone who is a good post defender who will shut him down. Still, he is a rebounding machine. Had Howard played in the time of Oscar Robinson, he would have averaged 25-30 rebounds a game. If he develops a hooks shot or learns how to pass out of the double team, he will move up the list.
11. Dirk Nowitzki: Remember him? No one suffered more than Nowitzki after the eighth seed Warriors beat his number one seed Mavericks. He went from MVP and best player on the best regular season team to an unfairly maligned pariah. I’ve never understood why it had to be his fault that he first went up against a team where the coach knew how to exploit all of his weakness and that the next year he got to watch Jason Kidd get decimated by Chris Paul. One could argue that he will never be the same, and is simply too damaged psychologically. They’re wrong.
First of all, this is a good Mavericks team that people are writing off. Last year, they gave up on Avery Johnson and tried to integrate Jason Kidd into a wholly different offense. They still finished with over 50 wins for the eighth consecutive time. This year they have had a full training camp to integrate Jason Kidd and the new energy that comes with a new head coach (Rick Carlisle.) Look for this team, and specifically Nowitzki to bounce back stronger than ever.
10. Chauncey Billups: This was a tossup between Billups and Rasheed Wallace. Wallace is the emotional leader of the team, and when he plays with greater intensity, the rest of the team follows. A very good argument could be made as a result that he is the true MVP of this team.
In the end, it’s the wrong one. Rasheed Wallace takes this team from a very good one to a team that can beat anybody. Yet, the only reason he can take the team to such a high level is because Billups keeps the team at that steady almost as high level in the first place. Plus, there is a reason they call him Mr. Big Shot. Billups is the only one on that team who never shies away from taking (and thus making) the clutch shots at the end of the game. He is starting his decline and is no longer an elite point guard like Chris Paul or Deron Williams, but he still has quite a few miles left and talks of his demise as a good player and the ascension of Rodney Stuckey are greatly exaggerated.
9. Paul Pierce: HE IS THE TRUTH! Seriously, that might be the best nickname in sports. People are going to look at this list and wonder how KG—who finished in the top 3 of voting last year—isn’t even the top player on his team this time around. Those people clearly missed the playoffs. Paul Pierce was not only incredibly more consistent on offense than Garnett who instead seemed much more willing to stay out on the perimeter and shoot up bricks from 15-20 feet. Plus, and this is a big thing for me, he stepped up in clutch moments and made big shots. When watching the Celtics practice on NBA TV, everyone deferred to Pierce. Also speaking of which, I hate Doc Rivers for beating my Lakers and for otherwise being a generally average at best coach. Still, he was very impressive during that practice as he kept practice moving along swiftly and kept harping on the details without getting annoying. Is there a chance he made Tom Thibodeau write all of those down for him since it was a televised practice? Maybe, but for now lets give Rivers the benefit of the doubt.
The end result: the Celtics should once again be the best team in the East, and Pierce should finally get the respect from MVP voters that he deserves.
8. Elton Brand: His media perceived character took a huge hit when he reneged on the Clippers and signed instead with the Sixers for more money. I’m not sure why in this case either. Who doesn’t leave their current job for an easier one with better pay? On the Clippers, Brand would have shared top dog status with Baron Davis and most likely lost in the first or second round of the playoffs. On the Sixers, Brand is the first option always, everyone defers to him, and he will probably lose in the second round (ok so not everything is an upgrade.) Still, going to the East will add years to his career as he won’t have to play against Duncan, West, Boozer, Nowitzki, Al Jefferson, Gasol, Camby, Stoudamire, or LaMarcus Aldridge four times a year.
Who in the East can guard him? Maybe three teams (Cavs, Celtics, and Pistons) have a chance. Other than that, he should be able to dominate his division and lead his team to a top three seed. He was an MVP candidate before he got hurt as a Clipper. Now that he is with the Sixers feasting on easier opponents, look for him to return to his former candidacy. I wish I had more to say, but that’s pretty much it. Brand will average a double-double and return to being a top ten choice for MVP.
7. Amare Stoudamire: I understand that Stoudamire has improved by leaps and bounds, and is going to put up incredible numbers this season. However, if he wins this award, it will be a greater travesty than when his teammate Steve Nash almost won the award three times in a row. That’s because Stoudamire is a product of the teammates he has around him. For one, Shawn Marion was replaced by Shaq which allows Stoudamire to play against power forwards night in and night out. Without Steve Nash, Stoudamire would still be able to dominate his defender on the basis of the simple principal that he is faster, stronger, more talented, and more polished than 99 percent of the power forwards in the league (KG is still the golden standard there now that Duncan is ‘secretly’ a center.’) However, Stoudamire does in fact have Steve Nash on his team which means that he will get even easier shots on offense than his immense talent would normally afford him.
So to sum up, Amare Stoudamire has a real chance to win the MVP if the Suns finish ahead of the Lakers in their division. He’ll win it because Shaq and Nash have facilitated a way for him to get it without having to play as out of his mind as he would have otherwise. Plus, while he is doing it, we’ll get to read numerous articles about how Nash and Shaq are either starting to decline (Nash) or almost completely done (Shaq.) Sometimes the world isn’t fair.
6. Deron Williams: Deron Williams largely flies under the radar for most NBA fans that are more enamored by his quicker counter part in Chris Paul. ESPN’s Bill Simmons has gone so far as to say that there isn’t even a debate between the two of them….WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG WRONG!!!!!!!
(Ok, I got that out of my system.)
For what its worth, Chris Paul is ever so slightly better right now, but its closer than most people will admit. I truly believe that at by the end of their careers Williams will actually be the better player even if it is ignored by the larger mainstream media. He is a better shooter, a better rebounder, a better finisher, and just as good a passer (although he lacks the Paul’s flair for Sportscenter passes), but more than that, it comes down to size. Williams is the bigger player, which allows him to post up smaller point guards (like Paul) and in the same vein not be posted up by other point guard and even most shooting guards.
Paul’s huge advantage over Williams is that Paul is faster than a jet and quicker than lightning. I’ve timed him going hoop to hoop in four seconds while dribbling, which doesn’t even seem possible except that he has done it more than once. Still, in the NBA, speed and athleticism in general fades over time. Paul is always one semi serious injury from losing his speed forever where as most of Deron’s attributes are much harder to diminish with time.
The other advantage Paul has over Williams is that Paul’s team is better. Williams does have Boozer, but Paul counters that with both David West and Tyson Chandler. Want to know the difference between driving in on Tyson Chandler and Mehmet Okur in the paint? If you only played one of those two all season, you would be driven to the hospital having to go against Chandler, and driven to the bank if you were lucky enough to go up against Okur.
Anyway, Deron Williams has found himself on a team capable of returning to the conference finals except that this time his team is so loaded with players eager to play well with him and hard for the team during their final year of their contract. They still won’t be quite as good as Paul’s Hornets talent wise, but Jerry Sloan should be able to do his best to make it up with guile and effort. Basic point: this could and should be the year that Williams catapults himself into the conversation of MVP.
5. Dwyane Wade: Wade has had a roller coaster of a career. He went from being an amazing young player who won a championship early in his career with one of the greatest players ever (Shaq) to being bad enough to ‘earn’ the number two pick in the draft while playing alongside side of Chris Quinn whose claim to fame is being one of the first people from the NBDL to make it to the NBA. For a reference point, it’s a lot like Al Pacino going from going from working with Marlon Brando and Diane Keaton in The Godfather to working with Cameron Diaz and LL Cool J in Any Given Sunday. No matter how good you could be, the people around you are what help bring up or down your performance.
Luckily, Pat Riley won’t let Wade’s career go on in the same fashion as Pacino’s (Righteous Kill sucked!) He traded the aging Shaq somehow for Shawn Marion and drafted Michael Beasley. With those teammates falling into line, Wade should lead this team back into the playoffs and potentially the second round. Plus, Chris Quinn is still around…so Wade has that going for him too, I guess…
In any case, Wade looked completely rejuvenated during the Olympics and should finish in the top 5 for MVP.
4. Kobe Bryant: I still can’t believe he won the award last year. Kobe has come a long way since his image took a complete nose dive during his Colorado trial. Hell, his image has taken an complete turn even since this time last year. He has gone from being seen as a selfish, player on a bad team with few endorsements fitting the most talented player in the NBA to an MVP who can be seen acting like a pre-crazy, scientology-loving Tom Cruise for a commercial here.
Anyway, all that being said, there is almost no way Kobe wins this year. His team is considered too talented which lowers his chance of being known as the most valuable player in the league. Still, he remains the most skilled and complete player in the NBA.
3. Tim Duncan: Nobody wants to vote for him, and he really doesn’t seem to care at all. While Kobe is easily one of the most polarizing figures of our generation, Tim Duncan has quietly become another. His game is built on all fundamentals and no flash. He is unguardable one-on-one in the post, gets the tough rebounds, is the best man-to-man post defender in the league today, and is even a willing passer when double teamed. What he doesn’t have is flash. That allows people like my friend and huge Warriors fan J-Chen to dismiss him as boring, and to some degree he is right. Its not particularly exciting to get to watch Duncan methodically break down his defender on one end and shut down his assignment on the other. All fans get to see are a flurry of seemingly easy hooks and bank shots on one end and a whole bunch of misses on the other. Still, if you have seen enough basketball you learn to appreciate that high level of consistency. Duncan will one day go down as the greatest power forward of all time.
However, he isn’t retired yet. This is an important season for Tim Duncan as Ginobili is hurt and the only veterans that will start the season with him who have won multiple championships with him are Tony Parker and Bruce Bowen. Gone are Robert Horry and Brent Barry to hit the kick out three whenever Duncan is doubled. So what does this mean for the Spurs? It means that Duncan has to step up his game, and since he isn’t over the hill yet, I believe he will do just that. Expect more 25 and 12 games from Duncan as he not only keeps the Spurs in contention with Ginobili out, but gives his new teammates time to adjust to their new, bigger roles.
2. Lebron James: This year will be one big test for Lebron James. On one hand the media is praising the Cav’s front office for delivering Jame’s Mo Williams. To the untrained eye that seems like a great addition as Williams should provide the offensively challenged team with a great secondary option.
However, that’s just half the story. The calling card of the Cavaliers is their defense. Quite simply put the Cavs are stifling on that end of the court. Yet the main reason is that they have four very earnest defenders on the court at the same time to hide Lebron’s general apathy towards that end of the court (yes, he is getting better there, but generally only during the 4th quarter which still leaves three quarters for the team to have to cover him up.) When you add Mo Williams to the mix, you only have three players who can adequately and consistently play defense on the court at the same time. That means that in order to make their offense average (slightly above average at best) the Cavs are greatly worsening their defense on paper. So if this team starts off slowly, people will blame Lebron for not doing a better job of integrating his new teammates. The blame should actually go to the front office for destroying the defensive chemistry, but nobody should expect to see an article about that.
So then, how is Lebron ranked ahead of players like Kobe, Duncan, and Amare? Lebron has the most untapped potential out of all the players in the game today. Even without a post game or outside game, Lebron should be good to average 30 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds. In addition, he should still carry this team to the second round at which point he has proved time and again that anything is possible. This kid should at the very least go down as the player who contains the greatest amount of talent of all time. If the number one player on this list doesn’t get the award, expect it to go to this guy.
1. Chris Paul: Even with all that immense talent, Lebron isn’t the favorite in my eyes to win this award. Chris Paul is. Because I personally prefer Deron Williams, many people see me as hating on Paul and his game, but that’s not true. Paul is indeed an amazing player and does in fact have a chance to go down as a no questions asked first ballot hall of famer. One thing that sets him apart from Deron Williams that I didn’t mention earlier is the factor of leadership. As good as Williams is, the unquestioned leader on that team is Jerry Sloan. Sloan is a legend so that is fair and warranted, but the difference is quite stark in New Orleans. Sure, Byron Scott has become a much better coach especially if you look back at his days in New Jersey, but this is unquestionably Paul’s team. Everyone follows him in that city. His flair for the dramatic is unparalleled among today’s point guards. Plus, lets face it, the kid is amazingly fast.
Still, that won’t be why he wins the award, or at least not the main reason. Chris Paul has the benefit of being the new Allen Iverson. By that I mean he is a small player in a game for giants. He will continuously drive in time after time to get to the hoop against players a foot taller than him with no care for his own health and safety. Getting back to his leadership for a bit, this is exactly what inspires teammates to play with a greater intensity and play better. Thus, Chris Paul has the most value out of any NBA player today.