Tuesday, April 18, 2006


The NBA has one thing on all the other major American Sports, their MVP really matters. No one cares about the MLB most valuable player, same goes for the NFL. I think the reason for this has to be that basketball is an actual team sport; therefore being "most valuable" really means something. This coupled with the fact that there are often multiple worthy candidates makes the NBA most valuable player argument the most interesting in sports.
This year there are at least ten players who will (should) garner votes and can be argued for the MVP. They are in no particular order:

· Dirk Nowitski, Dallas Mavericks
· Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
· Dwayne Wade, Miami Heat
· Carmello Anthony, Denver Nuggets
· Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers
· Elton Brand, LA Clippers
· LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
· Chauncey Billups, Detroit Pistons
· Chris Paul, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets
· Pau Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies

5. Elton Brand, LA Clippers
The Clippers have been the joke of the league for years, make that decades. This year they made some off-season moves, most notably acquiring veteran point guard and E.T. look-alike Sam Cassell. Elton Brand has always shown he can be a solid player, even an All-Star, reliably putting up 15-20 points and 8-10 rebounds most nights. Maybe it was Cassell in his ear, getting tired of all the jokes (LA Paper Clips anyone?), or something else, but Brand has been a monster all season. The numbers don’t lie: 11th in points (24.8), 7th in rebounds (10), 5th in blocks (2.55), and 8th in FG% (52.7%). He played very good interior defense, missed a total of four games all year, and shot a good percentage from the line (78%) for a big man.
For my money Brand is the best two-way player on this list. He clogs up the middle, can block shots, occasionally grabs a steal, and oh yeah, goes for 25 and 10 every night on the other end. Had the Clippers gotten a few more wins, especially against the elite of the West, Brand would be higher on the list.

4. Dirk Nowitski, Dallas Mavericks
I can say unabashedly that Dirk is among the top of my list of favorite NBA players. What’s not to love about a 7’ German with scraggly blonde hair, a killer jump shot, 3-point range, and a nasty disposition? This guy has improved his game every year, going from a long range “center” with no inside moves to an impossible match up for every team in the NBA without men named Artest and Bowen. Dirk is 8th in the league in scoring at a 26.6/game clip, augmented by his stellar free throw shooting (90% 4th in the league).
The Mavs had the third best record in the league at 60-22, many of those wins coming at the hand of Dirk. A 7’ power forward with range that can kill you from the line and has no fear about taking (and making) game winning shots? I’ll take him any day.

3. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
No player has had as much hype thrust upon him before he finished high school, not to mention before he played an NBA game. He was next in the long line of “next Jordan’s”. After living up to the hype and even surpassing it, LeBron is showing that maybe this time he is the next Jordan, Magic, or Oscar Robertson. Scoring 31.4 per game (3rd), dishing 6.6 assists per (13th), and grabbing 7 boards per game (30th), and trailing only Iverson in minutes/game (43 to 42) is something to behold. Averaging essentially 30-7-7 would nail down an MVP in almost any other season. With the injury to new sidekick Larry Hughes, an up and down Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and a young coach, without LeBron the Cavs would probably be challenging the Knicks for lottery supremacy.
If the Cavs could have squeaked out a few more wins or maybe LeBron not passed up on a few of those potential game winners, he could have made the case stronger than it already is. As it stands you can’t feel too bad for the kid, at 21 he has a tremendous, almost unheard of ceiling, and probably a couple more MVP caliber seasons left in him.

2. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
It is tough to follow up an MVP season, no matter how much maligned it was. The whole “black/white Shaq/Nash” thing seemed downright ludicrous to me. Nash won because he was more valuable than Shaq was, plain and simple. He didn’t win because a bunch of predominantly white sports writers wanted him to. I don’t know the inner workings of the MVP voting process, but I can guess if they wanted a white boy to win, John Stockton probably would have an MVP or two. Alright, enough ranting. The Suns lost Joe Johnson to the Hawks, Amare Stoudemire to injury, and had guys named Barbosa, Raja, and Diaw supporting. And you know what? The Suns didn’t skip a beat. They lead the NBA in scoring (108/game) and kept the run-and-gun style offense that brought them so much success last season. At 19 points and 10.5 assists per game Nash was the field general of a team of fairly inexperienced players.
No one would have blamed the Suns for being bad this season, but Nash lead the team to 53 wins and the #2 seed in the West. Nash had probably the best sidekick of any of the other five players on this list, Shawn Marion who undoubtedly made things a little easier for Nash. But he won the MVP last year with Marion and Amare and a better supporting cast. Nash has easily done “more with less” than everyone on this list except…

1. Kobe Bryant, LA Lakers
I am pretty sure the hierarchy of hated individuals in sports goes like this: #1 Bonds, #2 Terrell Owens, and #3 Kobe. When you take into account the sex scandal, getting Shaq out of LA, and the ball hoggedness, Kobe is the player everyone loves to hate. He is like a dark version of Jordan, evil Jordan if you will.
Black Mamba. Is there anymore badass nickname in all of sports? It’s so perfect for him too, brooding, deadly, quick, a loner. Kobe is the definition of a one man team. Impossible to guard, can go for 40 every night, and will jack up 30+ shots a game. All this seems negative but when you factor in that every team knows that it’s just Kobe out there and still can’t stop him is a testament to how unstoppable and dominant he was this year. His supporting cast was atrocious, Lamar Odom was the number 2 option and looks so angry when he is on the floor with Kobe it’s almost laughable. Kwame Brown showed flashes of averageness. Parker, Mihm, Cook, and George were the rest of the “watch Kobe destroy the other team” club. It was so easy for opposing teams to lock down the other players and let Kobe go crazy that he had to score 35/game (1st in the league by a full 2 points) for his team to sneak into the playoffs.
I can’t talk about Kobe without mentioning his 81 point game (better than Wilts 100 point game in my opinion, Wilt was a seven footer playing against a bunch of 5’6” white jump shooters.) against the hapless Raptors and 62 in three quarters against Dallas. The 81 point game is one for the ages, and the 62 point effort could have easily been 80+ if they weren’t blowing out Dallas. To put things in perspective the score after three quarters- Kobe 62 Dallas 61. After these mammoth efforts Kobe threatened to go for 50 every night, he was an absolute must watch for any basketball fan, no matter how much you hated him. If you take Kobe off this team, sure the Odoms and Parkers may score some more points but the Lakers wouldn’t be in the playoffs and would have struggled to win 25 games. Kobe Bryant’s season and countless spectacular games will be remembered all-time, whether you like it or not.

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