I know. I know. It's early. But it's never too early to dream and dissect. The Knicks fans' thundering "MVP" chants at the Garden can already be heard all the way to Times Square.
They're onto something.
Amar'e Stoudemire is staking his claim to the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, and at this juncture he has as good a chance as anyone in the NBA to win it. If Amar'e maintains his torrid offensive pace for the remainder of the season, more than a few sportswriters will feel compelled to pen "Stoudemire" in the first-place slot come June.
Stoudemire leads the league comfortably in field goals and is second in points per game and total points. He went on a franchise record-breaking tear scoring over 30 points and shooting over 50 percent nine games in a row. During that offensive explosion, the Knicks had their first eight-game winning streak since the 1994-95 season.
No wonder the Knicks lead the league in scoring (107.8 ppg). Last year, they were 10th.
That's not the only impact Amar'e has had on the team. The Knicks finished 29-53 (.354) last year. This year they sport a .588 winning percentage so far. After 34 games last year, the Knicks were 14-20; this year, 20-14. Talk about a 180 degree turnaround. Thanks Amar'e (OK, and Raymond Felton).
The fans have obviously noticed, and the Knicks are averaging their highest attendance since 2002.
By June, hopefully for those cheering fans, the Knicks will have made the playoffs for the first time since 2004. They'll have had their first true All-Star (or two, hello Felton?) since 2001, when Allan Houston and Latrell Sprewell were selected as reserves. It may be the first time since Patrick Ewing in 1992 that the Knicks will have had a starter for the East. All thanks to Amar'e.
He's got the intangibles too: a winning attitude and history, leadership, intensity. He feeds off the energy of the crowd.
Those three criteria for MVP—offensive production, historical performance and impact on/importance to team—are fully satisfied by Stoudemire, but what about defense, and how important is defense to MVP selection?
To start, Amar'e gets a bum rap on his defense. It's not that bad.
Blocks are an important category—both statistically and psychologically. Amar'e is third in the league in blocked shots. The Knicks have gone from 3.9 bpg last year to 6.9.
Surely, it would be nice to see Stoudemire haul in a few more rebounds, but he is 13th in the league, and he's tied with LeBron James for 17th in defensive rebounds. In both categories, the only realistic MVP candidates ahead of Amar'e are Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
Thirdly, can you really blame Amar'e for a Mike D'Antoni system that embraces offense at the expense of defense, that literally tries to outscore the other team every night? This needs to be taken into consideration. Stoudemire is simply doing his job, and doing it well.
If Amar'e were running amok, swatting and bumping all the time, focusing on defense, the system would break down. He does just enough and admittedly could probably do just a bit more, primarily in disrupting opponents' offensive set ups and drives. Any more than that, though, would affect the dynamic of a winning team. If it ain't broke...
Finally, does defense really matter in MVP voting? Not as much as the other parameters. That's not to say defense doesn't factor at all—minimally, the candidate has to be effective. But, if you look at the winners of the MVP over the last 25 years, how often does defense come to mind first? Steve Nash? Allen Iverson? Magic Johnson?
OK. These are all guards. Steals count, that's true.
To be fair, there's Garnett, Duncan and Malone.
But what about Larry Bird? And Amar'e's defense this season is as good as or close enough to LeBron's, Kobe's and Dirk's.
To be sure, these are some of the greatest players to ever hit the hardwood: offense, defense, brains, rings, whatever. Stoudemire isn't there yet. When you look at the list, you have to ask yourself the question: Does Stoudemire belong?
Time will tell.
NBA MVPs 1985-2009