- The Season's Over -

Handicapping the NBA’s Heated MVP Race

March 7, 2008

Kobe and Lebron are two are pretty good basketball players

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant Photo Credit: Icon SMI

For an award that ultimately means very little in the big picture, the annual debate about who’s most deserving of being crowned the NBA’s Most Valuable Player is a heated one (as you can see here, even though that wasn’t written to expressly question Nash’s two MVP awards). It doesn’t help that the criteria for evaluating a given player’s worthiness is rather murky; in fact, there simply isn’t any concrete formula to settle it other than adding up the 125 votes cast by various writers and broadcasters.

Since we don’t get one of those official votes (yet…), ETB thought we’d jump into the fray and spell out each of our top ten candidates for the award, as of the first week in March. And here they are, for you, from us, and boasting incredibly fancy footwork.

Brian’s Top Ten

1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers – If the vote does indeed come down to LeBron or Kobe, the discussion will inevitably touch on the fact that Kobe is frequently facing better competition in the much more competitive Western Conference. It’s true, and certainly a consideration, but James has been nothing short of incredible this year, and if you put his Cavs in the West, it wouldn’t be any different. In fact, his disgusting stats — 30.6 points, 8.1 boards, 7.6 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 48% FG — might be even better since we’ve all seen how much he embraces matchups against the league’s best. (Stats)

2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers – It’s “more with less” as far as Kobe goes this season: more wins and more team success with less raw statistical production. Compared to last season, he’s shooting less and scoring less on a per-game basis, but he’s closing in on his highest per-game steals average of his career (currently at 2/per). His man defense is underrated yet very, very effective, he’s getting his teammates more involved — not to mention trusting them more than he has in a long time — and has many league observers coining his Lakers as one of the top three contenders for the title. (Stats)

3. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets – For whatever reason I wasn’t a big Paul believer coming into this season, but I’ve had no choice but to do a complete about-face and take back any doubts I may have harbored about the league’s best young point guard. Actually, check that: he’s the best PG in the NBA this season, period. The Hornets have more talent than they’re given credit for, so that remarkable 41-19 record isn’t all that surprising, but it’s still quite an accomplishment given the talent of their Western peers. And Paul deserves the lion’s share of credit for making this a team that’ll be tough to deal with come mid-April. (Stats)

4. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic – It’s been one big coming-out party for Super Dwight all season. He leads the league in double-doubles, has his team eyeing a Southeast Division crown, and of course played a leading role in All-Star Weekend’s most entertaining slam-dunk contest in quite some time. Once he develops a few more go-to moves in the post beyond the power dunk, he’s going to be unstoppable. Howard’s points, rebounds, blocks, and steals are all up. (Stats)

5. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics – If it wasn’t for the presence of All-Star teammates Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, KG would likely be a few spots higher on this list. But the fact remains that he’s made the biggest impact of Boston’s Big Three and is the best player on what’s been the NBA’s best team in the regular season. His intensity, defensive prowess on the blocks, and ability to elevate the game of those around him have been invaluable in helping turn this franchise around in the span of just a few summer months. The fire that always burns in his belly may have never been hotter than it is this year. (Stats)

The second half of Brian’s MVP picks, as well as Andrew’s top ten MVP candidates, after the jump…

6. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs – After a slow start to the season, the Spurs have quietly moved to the top of the Western Conference standings, and seem poised for yet another title run. Their rock in the middle, Mr. Consistency, has had a typically Duncan season: 20 points, 11.6 boards, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks, 50%+ FG. He’s been doing that for over a decade, and it feels like he could do it for another one. (Stats)

7. Chauncey Billups, Detroit Pistons – He’s not as flashy as other PGs, but you better believe he’s one of the most efficient, effective floor generals in the league. Mr. Big Shot’s stellar 3.64 assist-to-turnover ratio, a stat that’s not given as much weight as it deserves, is third behind just Toronto’s Jose Calderon and Chris Paul amongst starting points, while his 91% FT is good for second overall. Billups makes the team with the second best record in the NBA go; without him, it’d be a different story. (Stats)

8. Deron Williams, Utah Jazz – I think most people, including my esteemed ETB colleague, would take Carlos Boozer over Williams as far as who from the Jazz would be deserving of the honor. Boozer’s certainly having yet another fantastic campaign, but for all the criticism he attracts for whatever reason, the third-year PG has been something else over the season’s second half, when the Jazz started turning it up and climbing up the Western standings. Averaging 19 points and 10 assists on the season, he’s actually averaged double digits in assists over all three months of 2008. (Stats)

9. Baron Davis, Golden State Warriors – It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Oaktown’s Great Bearded Wonder here at ETB. His celebrity, overall game, and impact on the court since arriving in Golden State has made his days with the Hornets seem like a distant memory… and he was pretty good then too. Currently 8th in the Western Conference, it’ll be a shame if NBA fans are deprived of at least one playoff series with Baron & Co.; their 37-23 record would have them seeded 3rd in the Eastern Conference. Knock on wood, Davis is on track to play all 82 regular season games for the first time since 2001/02. (Stats)

10. Tracy McGrady, Houston Rockets – As I write this, the Rockets are riding high on an improbable 16-game winning streak, one that included Yao succumbing to a foot stress fracture and announcing he’s done for the season. That means this is now McGrady’s team, for better or worse, and he’ll be the catalyst to any extended success that includes the postseason, a part of the season in which he’s never succeeded. But as the best player left standing on one of the West’s best teams, he at least deserves this low mention. (Stats)

Andrew’s Top Ten

1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers – All of the “Team X would be garbage if player Y was removed” arguments don’t interest me much. I’m simply interested in which player has contributed the most to his team’s success this season, heading into any game which player is most capable of willing his team to victory and which player is most integral in giving his team a legitimate chance to win a title. That player is Kobe Bean Bryant. He’s the best player on the planet, his team is my favorite to win the title right now and even before the blockbuster Pau Gasol acquisition Kobe had his team atop the ultra-competitive Western Conference at one point. He’s had better statistical seasons to be sure, and when he was paired with Shaq the Lake Show was the best team in the NBA, but at no point in his career has Kobe been more responsible for the present and potential future success of his team.

2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James’ performance this season has been transcendent, and he may soon overtake Kobe for honors of Best Basketball Player on the Planet, but a few minor details stand between The King and his first MVP crown. The first his chance of winning a title. The NBA is about winning rings, and as good as LeBron is, I don’t think Cleveland has a chance to do it this year despite his presence. The second is his team’s record. While he doesn’t have the supporting cast of some of these players here, a 35-26 record in the lowly East is not good enough. That whole argument sounds silly though when the guy puts up such silly stats and dominates late-game situations like he does. It’s really splitting hairs between these top two.

3. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets I wanted to put Paul at the top of this list, if only to emphasize what an incredible season he’s having and how improbable the Hornets’ record is in the ridiculously tough Western Conference. New Orleans is just 1.5 games out of the top spot in the West despite a pedestrian roster relative to the other elite powers in the NBA. This isn’t one of the All Star teams in Boston, Detroit, San Antonio, Dallas or Los Angeles. But Paul takes the players he does have around him and makes them all much, much better – he’s second in the NBA in assists with 10.9 per game. On the other side of the ball, there isn’t a finer defensive point guard in the league, and his 2.7 steals per lead the league. He’s as complete as anybody in the NBA and the finest young point we’ve seen in years.

Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett4. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics Da Kid is no longer The Man in Boston, it’s an oligarchy now and he’s one of the Big Three. It’s not his fault, I know. And in any of the previous three seasons what he’s done for this franchise would easily be enough to catapult him to the top of this list. Unfortunately this year’s race is tighter. And it’s hard to give him all the credit with the arrival of Ray Allen and the presence of Paul Pierce because both are absolutely integral to this team’s title chances as well. We also need to consider the nagging hernia injury that cost him nine games and has slowed him of of late.

5. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic It’s no coincidence that the Orlando Magic are second in the NBA in three-pointers made, that they have three of the top 24 players in threes made (Including Rashard Lewis, second in the league with 172) and that Hedo Turkoglu is having by far the best season of his career. Dwight Howard draws a lot of attention. He’s been such a beast that he’s getting double teamed on nearly every play, and his teammates reap the benefits. Dwight is also leading the league in rebounding, among the leaders in FG% and blocks and improving greatly on the defensive end. He’s the best pure center in the NBA.

6. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs Father Tim Duncan just keeps on keepin’ on, and if his numbers are a little depressed from his “prime” years, it’s only because the Spurs wisely limit his minutes in the regular season. He’s a master of post and post-season play, as polished as any player in the NBA on the block and thrives in the half-court sets that become so prominent in the playoffs.

7. Chauncey Billups, Detroit Pistons If there’s a dark horse to win the NBA Championship this season it’s the Detroit Pistons, and Chauncey is the inexorable engine that makes them go. Detroit is quietly having (another) stellar season, and Chauncey is putting up even better numbers than usual. There are a lot of better athletes on this list, more gifted basketball players, but if I need somebody to take a crunch-time three, he’s my man.

8. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks After a slow start to the season Dirk Diggler has come on strong, but I question just how valuable a player can be who shrinks in pressure situations, isn’t a stellar defender and plays for a team I don’t give much of a chance at a title. Dirk has to be one of the hardest players in the NBA to guard, but keep in mind what a bad taste last season’s MVP award left in your mouth – and he hasn’t been quite as good this year.

9. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns Some of you may be surprised to see me include Nash on this list after I spent a whole column detailing why he was overrated. I’m not a hater, I promise. I actually used to be a big Steve Nash fan. But after a few years of close observation of his play and his team’s play, some glaring inadequacies begin to emerge. Namely that he gets abused on the defensive end and his style of play does not translate to the NBA playoffs when teams are rested, have time to prepare, come to play every night and the games slow down to a half-court pace. So while Nash is perhaps the best offensive player in the league, his overall value doesn’t stack up against the eight guys above him here.

10. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics I’m not sure Paul Pierce gets enough credit for just how good of an individual player he’s been in the past, and how seamlessly and selflessly he’s adapted to the team concept for a squad that has had the best record in the NBA all season. And despite his willingness to defer to the newcomers, Pierce is putting up an impressive 20.4 points, 4.7 assists, 5.4 boards and 1.3 steals while hitting 45% of his FGs, 84% of his FTs and 39% of his threes. That’s a very strong, efficient line. He’s also been remarkably consistent on the offensive end while bringing some of the best defense of his career on a nightly basis.

Tags: NBA MVP, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul

16 Comments »Posted by Andrew Thell and Brian Spencer on Mar. 7, 2008 at 12:04 pm in ETB Articles, NBA

16 Responses

Let me preface this by saying I’m a Spurs homer. He’s certainly not the MVP, but someone I would list Top 10 is Manu Ginobili. He’s having a career season statistically across the board and has been San Antonio’s best player the last two months. Every big win during this streak, he’s putting up in the 30s or 40s.

Now, all that blatant fanboyism aside, I would give to either LeBron or CP3.

Posted by: Kyle on March 7th, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Nobody mentions the fact that the Cavs have only had their full lineup healthy for about 10 games this season. Lebron should be MVP just for keeping the Cavs over .500 and still in contention for home court in the first round. Right now they are missing three starters in Big Z, Sasha, and Boobie. At the beginning of the season they didn’t have Andy V or Sasha. That’s also not to mention that they lost all six games when Lebron was out in December. I’m positive that without the injuries/holdouts they would have a similar record to Detroit and LA.

Posted by: Ryan on March 7th, 2008 at 3:30 pm

umm.. i dont think the lakers have had their full roster this entire season.. mihm, bynum, radmonovic, ariza, walton, vujacic.. need i go on?give me a break.. if lebron had the cavs in 3rd.. then id give him his due.. but he’s doing what kobe did in 05-06.. lighting everyone up but have a mediocre record.. i would definently give him Most Impressive Player, but certainly not the MVP.. his teams record would be good for 10th in the west..

Posted by: The antoine on March 7th, 2008 at 5:08 pm

This is the 3rd or 4th legitimate, knowledgeable blog, that I’ve seen refer to Deron Williams as a ’2nd year’ point guard at some time this season.

I know his rookie season was somewhat overshadowed by Chris Paul’s… but come one!

Posted by: Ryan on March 7th, 2008 at 5:14 pm

That is one stupid f-up on my part. Thanks for pointing it out–fixed.

Posted by: Brian Spencer on March 7th, 2008 at 5:21 pm

well, i guess i have to chip in here….very factual column…i have to agree, almost agree…im not going to list my top ten or whatever because that would take forever…but i will say this…i really do believe the race is only down to 2 people now, King James and Kobe….but i do think that team success plays a big part in this…the Lakers record (which honestly surprised me so far this year) and the Cavs trying to hang in there just wont cut it…Nobody here or on any other website or newspaper or magazine can tell me that they thought Boston would have the best record in the NBA this season…nobody knew about the trades coming up but it happened, and even after that, nobody thought they would blend together but it happened…Boston is just way too strong this year and i have to be biased and push Garnett…his move made the biggest difference in the NBA this year..YES i know Pierce and Allen are on the team also and i believe thats the reason KG wont get this…because most people will think that hes not the real reason Boston is killing everyone this year because he was injured and the Celts still won games…well i guess we just have to wait and see…

CP3 has been amazing this year but i wouldnt place him that high up…to place him ahead of Garnett or Howard doesnt look right….i guess im just old school and just think that he hasnt paid his dues long enough yet…LOLOL…. personally, i think Baron Davis is doing great this year and he should be in there but Nash and Dirk? Andrew, whats goin on? not even close on those 2….Dirk, maybe top 10, NASH? well, i guess u can call me a hater…LOLOL…but i am glad 2 see that someone is actually recognizing Pierce even though by his usual standards his numbers are way down….i guess when your team is winning you start looking better…

The post is well written though…much props and respect to you guys…

Posted by: REALESTVOICE on March 7th, 2008 at 6:01 pm

Lets change it up and give the MVP to the Memphis GM for handing the lakers Pau. Thanks for another ring! All joking aside Kobe deserves it but Queen James will get it.

Posted by: Harold on March 7th, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Antoine, maybe I should have said “starting five” instead of “full lineup.” I know the Lakers have had the injury bug too, but the Cavs have had it with all of their starters and for significant time and it wasn’t long after Bynum went down that LA got Pau. Hey..maybe we’ll have co MVPs this year. They both deserve it.

Posted by: Ryan on March 7th, 2008 at 7:24 pm

Kyle, I have to agree with you – Manu is playing great this year, best ever. He’s the guy they go to finish games, he’s the guy that IS the leader in the locker room (players on the Spurs continually talk about this). He may not be league MVP but is certainly above most players on either list…unfortunately (well, not really but he’s a great teammate) he has one of the greatest power forwards of all time on his team so he is sometimes forgotten about.
My MVP pick thus far (not it’s not NASH – that was for Real and six…lol) would be Kobe with LB a very close 2nd. Kobe gets the nod because he’s in the West – I think both guys have had to put up with team injuries/obstacles and flourished throughout.

Posted by: Joejacobi on March 7th, 2008 at 11:12 pm

i think its kobe’s time to be named mvp..he’s been the best player on the best team on the tight western conference..
and lebron 4 mvp?!oh come on..if you will only look on the stats to name the mvp, kobe should have been the mvp every year of his career.
LAKERS-CELTICS in the finals

Posted by: geoff on March 8th, 2008 at 4:22 am

Chris Paul has been incredible this year. David West was an All-Star and Tyson Chandler was finally made a man all because of CP3. It is criminal how overlooked he has been. In a normal season he should win but this isn’t a normal season.

Kobe Bryant is probably the best all-around player since Jordan and in his 12th season it is crazy that he has never won an MVP. He is not only the most graceful offensive player in the league; he is also the teams defensive stopper. Every game he defends the opposing team’s best player. Nobody since Jordan has excelled at doing that the way he has. And now he has positioned his team to be the favorite to win the NBA championship.

LBJ changes the game more than any player in the league. At 260 pounds he is faster and stronger than anyone at his position the game has ever seen. Watching teams play against the Cavs is completely different than watching them play anyone else. Off ball defenders cheat so much to LB that it appears he has 2-3 people guarding him at all times. It is reminiscent of how teams guarded Jordan early in his career. Only LB avg 7.5 assists a game. And with his strength manages to pull down 8 boards a game. The team around him would be the worst in the league without him. It is criminal that he has been forced to carry that sad sack team by himself. Still, in games he has played in they are 35-20 and that is with serious injuries and holdouts to contend with. I just went to a Cavs game and sat courtside just so I could watch this man go about his work. He is currently shooting .535 from below the arc.

It is going to be criminal for either LBJ or Kobe to get through this season and not win an MVP. Lets just take Dirk’s from last year or Nash’s second from two years ago and give it to whoever doesn’t win.

Posted by: HurricaneKid on March 8th, 2008 at 11:08 am

I gotta go with Chris Paul here – he may not put up the points that Kobe and LeBron put up, but his contributions in assists and steals (and on the defensive end in general) more than make up for what those two do. He’s the best at getting everyone involved and maxing out all of the contributions from the role players.

Posted by: Greg H on March 8th, 2008 at 11:16 am

This is the best NBA season I can remember in years. With the logjam in the West every game has counted and the play has been outstanding. This year we have four candidates that are all more deserving than anyone in the past 2-3 years.

Posted by: HurricaneKid on March 8th, 2008 at 12:04 pm

I think it comes down to LBJ, Kobe, or CP3.

LBJ has the best all-around stats. Kobe has the second best all-around stats and is on probably the best team, and CP3 made David West and Tyson Chandler into All-Stars.

I agree with both guys top 5, but seriously, Duncan IMO is a little too high. I would put Deron Williams at 6, and then Duncan. I also have a problem with Nash in Andrews while Deron isn’t in it. Willaims has been more valuable to his team this year than Nash has been to his.

Posted by: Chris on March 9th, 2008 at 7:40 pm

Chris Paul is just tough, he’s amazing to watch – he is relentless, makes great decisions regularly. He’s already got the respect from the refs as he gets away with a ton of stuff defensively(i.e Bruce Bowen). He makes his Teammates better (like another western PG, name sounds like cash)by getting them the ball at the right time at the right spot. His jumper is suspect though, sure he can get hot BUT when the playoffs come around and opposing teams hone in on his strengths during a series we may see a frustrated young pg. Not my MVP but top 5 for sure.

Posted by: Joejacobi on March 9th, 2008 at 8:05 pm

Kobe or Lebron for the 2010 NBA Mvp

Posted by: johannes marquez on April 16th, 2010 at 10:22 pm

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