So it's that time of the year again. The NBA season sputtered to a start after absolutely grueling labor negotiations. There's basketball in America, and I can finally put the noose and chair away, and get back to attempting to predict the MVP.
Dwight Howard (15/1) actually finished second in last year's MVP voting, the Defensive Player of the Year and "second best center in the league." He is crashing the boards and once again providing an unparalleled (are you reading this, Andrew Bynum?) defensive post presence for the Magic. Do these contributions outweigh his being a liability at the free-throw line or his offensive timidity enough to make him a league MVP?
If the Magic finish first in the East this year (which isn't very likely), and Howard actually stays in Orlando after the trade deadline to be wooed in free-agency (extremely unlikely), he's got a chance.
Which, all things considered, is more of a puncher's chance.
Dwyane Wade (5/1) is, in truth, LeBron's sidekick until the fourth quarter.
Anyone who watches Heat games knows that for the vast majority of the game, LeBron is clearly the superior player, as well as the floor leader and lead facilitator on offense for the Miami Heat. LeBron haters may have their say, but LeBron is far from being the Scottie Pippen to Wade's Michael Jordan. In fact, early in the season we've seen that LeBron, Bosh and the Heat are tangibly more effective on offense without Wade on the floor.
He received a total of 24 voting points (and zero first place votes) to LeBron's 522 points in last year's MVP voting. That further quashes the notion that Dwyane Wade is the best player on his own team. Normally a slim disparity would suggest a moot point, but 498 points?
It's obvious who America thinks is the best player on the Miami Heat.
It's not altogether outrageous that Dwyane Wade, the basketball player, would be considered an MVP candidate in any other situation. It is outrageous, however, when LeBron James plays on his team.
Derrick Rose (5/1) ran away with the MVP last year (he ran away with a lot of things last year, actually, including my favorite shoe commercial and my favorite lady pyramid), but the voters have a tendency to not elect back-to-back MVPs unless they really believe they're experiencing something historic.
Apparently, a Canadian white guy playing street ball is pretty historic.
Derrick Rose being really good (and slightly overrated) and leading his team to the top of the East this year, again, is not so historic. At least its not in this league, which boasts an unprecedented mix of young talent and future Hall of Famers playing at a high level.
Remember, the NBA MVP award isn't based so much in numbers and production as it is a popularity contest, and this school is just a little too big to have a Snowball Prince repeat as Prom King.
Chris Paul (5/1) is my dark-horse selection this year, for one reason: He might get most of the credit for Lob City running away with the Conference.
As of press time, the Clippers have a decent shot at winning the West, and if Chris Paul comes back from his hamstring injury comfortably averaging a 20/9.5-10/2.5 with the Clips winning 50 games this season, what's not to say he'll get lots of the credit for being the glue that made the house stand up?
My issue with this pick is that Blake Griffin might dilute Chris Paul's potential voting pool. Griffin, himself a 15/1 outside shot to win it this year, is still much too dependent upon his athleticism to make ends meet.
Despite significant progress being made towards being a franchise player, he is still a work in progress (that statement actually scares the hell out of me), and not quite MVP material just yet. However, that same dilution of candidates has the potential to work in Paul's favor.
The MVP remains up for grabs this year, and the pool of players talented enough to wear the crown has only grown since last year.
Kobe Bryant kicked off the season as Vanessa Laine Bryant's "Most Valuable Player." His philandering has cost him $75 million in assets and roughly $19 million in Newport Beach real estate in a costly divorce settlement, according to the LA Times.
Cheap puns aside, Kobe started the season on a bit of a tear, going four straight games with 40 points or more. Six years ago, Kobe took 46 FGs and 20 free throws (for those of you Tebow-numerologists, that's 66 shots) en route to 81 points—one of the most impressive offensive displays by a shooting guard in NBA history.
I mean, the only person taking more shots than Kobe in 2006 was Mel Gibson (insert Jay Leno palms up, furrowed eyebrow and bemused smirk here...eh? Eh?).
But I digress. The distinction that needs to be made is that six years ago, Kobe was obliterating standards of human decency by pushing himself to superhuman levels of ball-hogging.
To contrast, after the recent string of 40-point games, analysts weren't so quick to come to his defense, instead saying that it felt as if Kobe was shooting too much.
They've got a point.
The Mamba's averaging 24.8 FGA/g, ahead of second place Carmelo Anthony by almost four attempts a game, and Bryant's personal highest since that historic '05-'06 season. The results are similar to that 2005-2006 season, as the Lakers look more like a "mediocre melange of talent plus Kobe" a la '05-'06 as opposed to the back-to-back champs of 2009 and 2010.
Blame the absence of Lamar Odom or the departure of Phil Jackson.
Either way, while I see Kobe playing his heart out like an MVP, I don't see him actually winning the award in any capacity unless public perception begins to crest in his favor towards the end of the season, which is hard to do when the other players on this list are at their physical peaks and Kobe is (Dr. Miracles knee surgery or otherwise) clearly over the hill.
LeBron James wasn't going to win the MVP last year after the public relations apocalypse that was "The Decision," but he's started this shortened season playing out of his mind thus far, and it looks like the Heat will be winning at a clip similar to last year.
LeBron can't win the MVP on a team with Dwyane Wade because he's on a team with Dwyane Wade. Any time a player has to share the spotlight, it's hard to distinguish who is responsible for the glut of the team's success. Those of you who watch ESPN First Take know that Skip Bayless made the assertion that the Heat are better off without Dwyane Wade "only if the Heat never have any close games."
Thankfully, that is a statistic the vast majority of MVP voters can quantify easily.
That said, the way LeBron has played lately, and the way the Heat have fared against top-tier competition without Dwyane Wade so far in the season may indicate that LeBron is a very tangible part of the Heat's success. LeBron leads the league in win shares as of press time (4.6 to second place Kobe Bryant's 2.9), on a squad that also has Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
That has to say something about his MVP viability.
The writers will tend to ignore the fact that the Heat are winning games with centers named Joel Anthony and Dexter Pittman. (Does anyone see the parallel to the '98 Bulls who started Jordan, Harper, Pippen, Rodman and Luc Longley?)
But in doing so, they may ultimately fail to see that LeBron's presence may be a large contributing factor in the success of his teammates.
He doesn't have a fancy nickname I can make a pun with (that "Durantula" nickname wasn't very catchy), and Kevin Durant needs a nickname—badly.
Unlike other players whose names are effectively synonymous with excellence, like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, Kevin Durant just doesn't have a ring to it. I mean, if I told you that my grandma was the Kevin Durant of bingo, you'd figure she was a pretty damn solid bingo player, right? What if I told you my grandma was the LeBron James of bingo? You'd figure she'd always get four numbers in a row without actually ever getting the fifth number for bingo, right?
Exactly. Wait, what? Do I really need to make an argument or a case for Kevin Durant here?
Unless the Thunder tank horribly and end up somehow missing out on the No. 1 seed in the West, I don't see how the single player most responsible for the success of his team could possibly be counted out in an MVP race. The MVP voters favor the "easy vote," which is generally the league's most outstanding player. Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls are great.
However, you may recall that Rose failed his team in the moments where it mattered most in the playoffs last season: namely, the moments LeBron James completely shut his you-know-what down.
Sports writers will be wary of Derrick Rose after he won it last year, with the knowledge that Rose, while supremely talented, was a tad overrated. In the counterargument of LeBron, who's won the award twice already, the MVP voters tend to eschew more deserving players in favor of voting for "something new" (see the following national screw-jobs as examples: 1997 with Michael Jordan, 2005 with Shaquille O'Neal, 2006 with Kobe Bryant, 2007 with anyone not named "Dirk Nowitzki," etc.)
Kevin Durant is not "something new," so much as he is "something overdue."
If the Thunder win the West outright, this is the MVP. Durant appears to be the flavor of the year, and with Russell Westbrook calmed down and all the "issues" in the locker room sorted out, I'd say the aforementioned circumstance is more likely than not.