MVP Race: Trimester Report
Is LeBron still the king of the pack?
It’s that time again—let’s get down to the MVP candidates as they stand today. Remember that unlike today’s BCS rankings, these players actually play against each other and don’t decide a championship.
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
Recently, the Cavs had a relatively rough stretch, spurred by the injury to Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who was quietly having a career year and All-Star level season. Over five games, the Cavs sustained losses to the Heat and the lowly Wizards, with the Wizards loss apexing in the now-infamous “crab dribble.”
(If I may: The traveling debate hinges on this. When LeBron drives the hole, he often likes to quickly one-hand cup the ball, football-style, at full speed in mid-stride. It’s tough to catch because he doesn’t make the traditional two-hand gather and because he’s moving so fast, but it gives him an extra half-stride. He does this all the time. When he slowed everything down, it made it obvious that he was getting that extra step. He thinks he was being called for an extra step at the end that didn’t take place but, really, the issue is that he thinks his mid-air football gather is legal, which is understandable as he’s almost never caught doing it.)
Sorry. In any case, not even l’affaire de Dribblecrab was enough for me to bump LeBron off the top spot, as he’s putting up even more obscene lines in Z’s absence and with the Celtics’ mini-implosion. The Cavs look like the class of the League. What’s more, LeBron’s true shooting, is right at 60 percent, which is insane—his previous high in true shooting is 57 percent, and if he keeps this up, his mix of points scored and efficiency will put him in the same kind of elite company he enjoys for his combination of points, rebounds and assists. And he’s almost hit the 30 percent mark on 3-pointers!
2. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets
If I have to start using this column just to scream at people to wake up and see how amazing of a season CP3 is having this year, I’ll do it. He’s been that good. In my opinion, this is the second-most MVP worthy season in the last five years. Only trouble is that LeBron James’ current season is No. 1.
Point of comparison: Assume assists are worth 2 points, so “points created” is (ppg + apg * 2). This is not Caltech-level stuff here. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty fair. Now, going on that, compare CP3′s current season to Kobe’s massive 35.4 ppg season:
Kobe: 44.4 points created, 56 percent true shooting, 7.6 percent rebound rate, 35.3 possessions used per 40 minutes, team finished 45-37
CP3: 43.7 points created, 61 percent true shooting, 8.6 percent rebound rate, 26.3 possessions used per 40 minutes, team projection 51-31
So Kobe, in a season generally considered to be the pinnacle of individual statistical accomplishment, needed nine more possessions a game to create 0.7 more points while rebounding less on a worse team. And don’t even compare the season Paul’s having to the ones Nash had when he won back-to-back MVPs. It’s just depressing. Hopefully CP3′s recent show of absolute incandescence against the Lakers will get the spotlight on him.
3. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Don’t look now, but the more the Lakers look like an ultimate juggernaut of basketball, the more the Kobe we’ve come to know and love starts to peek his dominant head out. (And I mean this as a compliment—I know there’s a loud minority that Kobe hurts as much as he helps when he starts going on tears, but I think lulls will happen to any team, and it’s the superstar’s job to get the team wins when that happens. Look at the C’s—they don’t have a truly elite offensive force to bail them out when they lose their Ubuntu, and their lulls turn into losses.) Kobe’s already scored 40 and 39 in the new year (with the 39 coming in a loss to the aforementioned CP3). Even better, Kobe’s outside touch is coming back to him: He’s hit 19 of his last 35 3s, and he hasn’t had a game where he’s shot less than 50 percent from the field since Dec. 23. With Kobe picking his spots and conserving more energy than he ever has, it’s tempting to put him lower, but he’s the alpha dog on what looks like a top-2 team at the moment (especially since either Boston or Cleveland is losing tonight), and he’s starting to let the Mamba out of the cage, and that demands this spot.
4. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic
My first real apples-and-oranges pick. I’ve got Dwight Howard, the Defensive Player of the Year, the League’s best rebounder, and a man a board away from averaging a 20 and 15, but a limited offensive player who doesn’t take over games with his scoring and whose free throw woes keep even his scoring efficiency to a pedestrian 58.7 percent. He still feels at times like a role player taken to the ultimate degree of effectiveness rather than a dominant superstar. If it were a tie, I’d probably give it to Wade. But a record of 28-8, as compared to a record of 18-16, isn’t a tiebreaker; it’s a dealbreaker. And if there’s any debate between which player has been better individually, I’ve got to go with the guy on the legit title contender.
5. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
See above for the most part, but what makes me look seriously at a guy on a .500 team is the efficiency with which he operates. Early in the year, DWade had the percentages to separate his year from a late-76ers AI-type year, but his scoring efficiency has dipped to 55.6 percent, and he leads the League in turnovers. And Wade shooting 9 3s and 11 free throws total over the course of three recent losses gets him a serious finger-wagging from me.
6. Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets
The People’s Champ. Nuggets are surging, Chauncey’s the man at the helm, and nothing in his sky-high efficiency numbers suggests there’s anything he should be doing differently. How the Nuggets perform with Melo out will be a litmus test for his MVP creds, although I just can’t really see him pushing any of the guys above him out of a top-5 spot at the moment.
7. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
The Machine’s Champ. The gigantic engine that could, quietly continuing to chug away and gear up for another playoff run that’ll probably go well into May.
8. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers
Falling because of injury.
9. Kevin Garnett, Boston Celtics
Falling because of team mini-implosion, which I penalize more harshly.
10. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
Rounding out the top-10 is Dirk, who gets the nod over Devin Harris for being a bit more of a go-to guy on a significantly better team.
Previous 2008-09 MVP Race editions: Dec. 23