Just Missed the Cut: Elton Brand - LA Clippers, Chris Paul - NO/OK Hornets, Shawn Marion - Phoenix Suns, Pau Gasol - Memphis Grizzlies, Allen Iverson - Philadelphia 76ers, Kevin Garnett - Minnesota Timberwolves
These guys all had fantastic seasons, but with the strong class, just aren't quite good enough to make my top 7. Brand has been consistently solid all year (and throughout his career), and has been helped by the Paper Clips pickup of Sam Cassell in the offseason. I talked about Chris Paul yesterday, and with all he's done with that franchise in one year, I had to include him, but he's not quite good enough to be there quite yet. His day will come. Shawn Marion has stepped up his game in the absence of Amare Stoudemire, and you could possibly make a case that he's more valuable than Steve Nash to Phoenix. He can shoot, he's a very good rebounder, and he's the best defender on the Suns. In Memphis, Pau has had his best season yet leading the Grizz to a #5 seed out West. AI and KG have been very good, but on losing teams, which never helps your MVP cause. All of these guys have had great seasons, but not quite as great as these guys...
7. Carmelo Anthony - Denver Nuggets
Anthony had a breakout year this year, really solidying the three way rivalry with him, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James, which in this guy's opinion is the best thing the NBA has going for it right now. Don't look now, but Carmelo is only 8 months older than LeBron. He averaged 26.5 PPG this year, and while his rebounding and defense is not great at this point, he's made more clutch shots than anyone else in the NBA this year, and that has to count for something. Just a fun, fun player to watch, and I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more of this guy in the next 15 years or so.
6. Chauncey Billups - Detroit Pistons
In case you can't tell, I'm not really a subscriber to the theory that the MVP Award should go to the best player on the best team. Billups has had a great year, but he's helped a lot by the guys around him. Don't get me wrong, he's been fantastic - he has the best assist/turnover ratio in the NBA this year, he's 4th in the NBA in Assists per Game, he's 5th in the NBA in 3-Point %, he plays very good defense, and he's money at the end of games. That being said, these Pistons are so good and so balanced... would they really be that much worse with an average PG in there? Put a guy like Brevin Knight in there and these guys still win 55 games, as a team they are that good. Billups puts them at another level, and he's a big reason I think they'll win the title (whoops, I'm not supposed to reveal my picks for a couple more days), but without him they're still really, really good. That's why I think this is a good spot for him.
5. Steve Nash - Phoenix Suns
According to Skip Bayless, Nash is the runaway MVP. However, if you know me, you'll know that I value Skip's input about as much as I value my mother's input on the NBA (read: none at all). Yes, Nash has been better this year than last year. The Suns supporting cast a whole is a little weaker (although they are deeper), and Nash's numbers are better. But the same things that made me think Shaq should have been the MVP last year are still prevalent, namely that Nash is outplayed badly more often than he should, and that he doesn't play defense. He's doing great things, but you should at least play a little defense if you're going to be the MVP.
4. Dwyane Wade - Miami Heat
Shaq is there, but if you've been following the NBA you'll know that by now Wade is the man in Miami. Wade's 27.2 PPG are 5th in the NBA, he's 6th in the NBA in Steals per Game with almost 2, and he's 11th in Assists with 6.7 per contest. Oh yeah, and he grabs 5.7 rebounds per game just for good measure. According to John Hollinger's PER Rankings (need Insider), Wade is 4th in the NBA, which is where I have him. Another thing I like about Wade is that he shoots almost 50% (49.5%, actually), and he doesn't shrink in the 4th quarter (6th in the NBA in 4th Quarter scoring) He's efficient, he plays defense, he's unselfish, and you can count on him late. And the coolest thing? He's only 24, and that's the oldest of the Carmelo/Wade/LeBron triumvirate. I love this game.
3. Dirk Nowitski - Dallas Mavericks
Dirk has taken the next step forward to become one of the most consistent performers night in and night out in the NBA. At 26.6 PPG, he's having his best scoring year, he's pulling down 9 rebounds per game, and he's having his best shooting year percentage wise. And all the while he's the undisputed leader of the Dallas Mavericks, probably the 3rd best team in the NBA. His +/- is fantastic. Anyway you look at it, Dirk is having an outstanding season, the best in his career, and I'd have a hard time seeing him out of the top 3 or 4, especially with the way the Mavs are playing.
2. Kobe Bryant - LA Lakers
Ulimately, it was basically a coin flip between Kobe and LeBron for me for MVP, and I put Kobe in 2nd, but just barely. Kevin Antcliff has him #1, and it is hard to argue. He's really been fantastic all year, and he's got the 81 point game that will stick in a lot of people's minds. Kobe's leading the NBA in PPG with over 35 (he also has attempted over 300 more shots than the next highest total in the NBA, which is LeBron). The biggest secret in all that is that he is actually a good passer (4.5 APG is solid), decent rebounder, and a very solid defensive player. He's basically carried a mediocre team (Smush Parker is their 3rd best player for crying out loud!) to the 7th seed, where I think they have a realistic shot to make a run to the Conference Finals since they'll be able to avoid both San Antonio and Dallas in the first 2 rounds if they win.
Another point this Lakers season, and I'm basically stealing this idea from Bill Simmons, but isn't this pretty much exactly what Kobe could have hoped for? He's the undisputed leader of the team, he takes all the big shots, and the rest of the players still play hard. He's got one of the greatest coaches ever in Phil Jackson, who is doing a marvelous job this year getting everyone to play hard around Kobe and cater to his game, and basically letting Kobe do his thing, and it's working. Isn't this exaclty what Kobe wanted?
I must admit, if Mamba won the MVP Award, I wouldn't complain. However, in my eyes, the next guy has been just a little better.
1. LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers
Quite simply, he's the best all-around player in the NBA right now. 82games.com agrees. Kobe is a little better defensively, and a little better shooter, but LeBron does everything else better. As I wrote 3 months ago when I compared Kobe vs. LeBron, LeBron is the most athetically gifted player ever. He can drive by anyone 1-on-1, he's faster than anyone else, and he can jump higher than anyone else. Add on the fact that he's got unbelievable vision, he can rebound, and he's getting better defensively. The scary part? He's only 21, he does not have a consistent outside jumper yet (33.5% this year from beyond the arc), and he's still shooting 48% on the year. He doesn't even have that good of a post game yet, and he still put up 31 a game. He has 5 triple doubles, he was 2nd in the NBA in FT attempts. Did I mention he's 21? I'll let Bill Simmons finish it out, because he describes the LeBron Factor (as I'll call it from now on) better than I can:
The intriguing subplot: LeBron is figuring out how to take over down the stretch, personified by what happened on Saturday in New Jersey (17 in the final quarter). At least once a game, he does something so explosive, so athletic, so incredible, you can't even believe it happened. The last time I remember feeling this way about a professional athlete was Bo Jackson, who wasn't just great ... he stood out. I attended a spring training game once when Bo scored from third base on a 180-foot pop fly -- standing up. It was awesome to watch.
Well, LeBron reminds me of Bo. On those plays when he says, "Screw it, I'm scoring" and heads toward the basket like a runaway freight train. He's like a young Barkley crossed with a young Shawn Kemp crossed with young Magic, but with a little Bo thrown in. Out of anyone in the league, he's the only player who can cripple the other team with one monster play.
The one thing I am sure about? This is going to be a great playoffs, and with starts like LeBron, DWade, Carmelo, and Chris Paul, expect more of the same in the future. And that gets me excited about the NBA!