The NBA’s most prestigious award honoring an individual’s excellent season performance is the MVP. Unfortunately the criteria seems to change each year, making it tough to identify the front-runner.
Sometimes the award goes to the player with the freakish stats from an average team, other times the league chooses to recognize the greatest team’s best player.
All in all, there doesn’t often seem to be a clear cut favorite for the MVP. And even when there is, some see the prospect as open to question as a BCS midseason ranking.
The season is technically just past the halfway point and the MVP debate is starting to gain momentum. Personally I believe LeBron James is the front-runner. That said, let’s sort through some of this year’s top names and see if we can come up with a solid opponent to challenge LeBron for the award.
Steve Nash is known for his amazing ability to take his team down the court with perfect passes and shrewd looks. He is the unmistakable leader of his squad. Nash has very good numbers averaging 17.4 points and 11.7 assists per game. But while his leadership is notable, his defense is probably average.
Honestly, there are a couple factors precluding Nash from real MVP contention. First, his stats barely rank him at the top of his own team (Stoudemire has 23.2 points 9.3 rebounds per game). And while a 17-point, 11-assist game would be seen as consistent for Nash, this kind of game would qualify as an off-night for LeBron.
With 30.3 points, 7.8 assists, and 7.3 rebounds per game along with better defensive play, James outranks Nash. Plus, there is a significant gap between James and the second best Cavalier, while the performances of Nash’s squad are a bit more uniform.
Next let’s take a look at Kobe Bryant—one of the more legitimate contenders. Kobe is a very complete player, and like LeBron and others he is undoubtedly the leader of his squad.
First off, defensively the edge goes to Kobe—though I’ll bet LeBron will be in the thick of things when the NBA's all defensive team is announced.
Kobe is a great scorer, and supports his teammates with intuitive looks. But James’ averages top Bryant’s: 30.3 points as opposed to 28; 7.8 assists as opposed to 5.3. James also beats Bryant in boards, with 7.3 as opposed to 6.1.
Their supporting casts are fairly similar, but overall the advantage goes to LeBron.
Now here’s where the questionable criteria used to decide upon an MVP is similar to the data used to compile a BCS ranking.
Dwight Howard is developing as the true dominant force of the NBA's big men down low, and we’ve all seen how this kind of presence benefits a team (e.g. Shaq in his prime).
A big man you can’t control, and can only pray to contain, truly defines dominance—and truly defines Howard. He’s the toughest down low right now and he has his team back in the thick of the playoffs as well.
So how do you choose which player is more valuable? I think the best way to determine worth is to picture a team without that one player. Then gauge just how much that one player's absence would affect the team negatively.
With James and Howard I see a virtual tie.
Reviewing the stats, it’s also tough to choose. Howard has a significant edge in rebounds, but LBJ's significant margin in points (8.6 more per game) and his ability to make the perfect pass in traffic (creating 7.8 assists a game) still gives him the arguable advantage over Howard.
Other players are in consideration, such as Chris Paul who is leading New Orleans to an unbelievable season in the West. But again the stats don't compare. Paul at 20.5, 10.9, 2.6 is impressive. But it’s not LBJ.
Ming: 22.2, 2.4, 10.8. Great, but not LBJ.
Dirk: 22.8, 4.0, 8.8. Good, but not LBJ.
Garnett: 19.2, 3.8, 9.9. Okay, but far from LBJ.
The bottom line is, if you were to compile all the possible data thought to factor into the MVP decision, you’d find the winner in LeBron James. Kobe comes close in individual play and Howard is right there, too. But it’s just got to be LeBron.
Now I’ll leave you with my ranking, No. 1 through No. 5.
1. LeBron James
2. Dwight Howard
3. Kobe Bryant
4. Chris Paul
5. Steve Nash