Kobe Bryant and 5 Other Long-Shots to Win the 2011 NBA MVP
For the first time since Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA MVP award in 2006-07, the season's best player doesn't stick out like a sore thumb.
With players moving around at the blink of an eye, many teams have multiple stars. Teams with players splitting stats and glory have a hard time boasting a serious MVP candidate.
The MVP award used to be primarily won by centers, but recently the league's guards have been stealing the show. There is a lack of overwhelming big men in the league.
Dwight Howard is currently the league's most renowned post player, taking over the distinction from the likes of Tim Duncan and Shaquille O'Neal. Players like Blake Griffin and Kevin Love are trying to return spunk at the position to pick up the slack for the oft-injured Yao Ming and Greg Oden.
Of the seven active players to have won the award, two still made my list despite having seasons below their usual standards.
Here are some MVP candidates that aren't garnering the attention players like Howard and Derrick Rose are, but still have a case for the award.
6. Russell Westbrook
It's hard to make a legitimate case for the league MVP when you are in the shadow of a teammate.
That is exactly the case for Russell Westbrook.
Kevin Durant is the league's leading scorer and a potential runner in the MVP race. The problem with Durant winning is that he's not the most important player on his own team.
Westbrook is the engine that makes the Thunder run—and that's exactly what they do.
He's averaging 22 points, 8.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. Throw in almost two steals a night, and Westbrook is as complete a point guard as there is the NBA.
A trio of triple-doubles, a division lead and endless energy make Westbrook one of the NBA's finest players.
Unfortunately for Westbrook's award chances, he will always be the Kobe Bryant to Durant's Shaquille O'Neal.
5. Dwyane Wade
Speaking of shadows, does anyone blanket the sun quite like LeBron James?
Dwyane Wade would be the first to say, "Who cares."
Although Wade is having another spectacular season, his name hasn't even been muttered in talks about the possible MVP. Wade is the fourth-leading scorer in the NBA and making exactly half the shots he takes.
His rebounding is at a career best 6.9 per game and he's only missed four games this season. The Heat are 43-17 and a clear contender for the Larry O'Brien trophy, but the argument against Wade is a good one.
Unlike Westbrook, Wade can't—and wouldn't—make a case against LeBron.
If a team with LeBron on it has an MVP winner, it will be LeBron himself. Period.
4. Kevin Love
Maybe I'm jumping the gun by a year or two, but I feel like the league's leader in rebounds deserves to be mentioned.
This season, Love is averaging 15.5 rebounds per contest. He currently sits 1.6 rebounds ahead of three-time defending rebound champion, Dwight Howard.
Love's 15.5 boards is also the highest average by a player since 1996-97, when Dennis Rodman pulled down over 16 rebounds a game.
Love has registered nine 20/20 games this season and is averaging 20.9 points in only his second year in the league. To add to the appeal, he has also appeared in all 62 of the Minnesota Timberwolves' games this season. Love has a deadly outside shot, hitting 42.3 percent of his attempts from downtown.
The downfall to a pitch for Love is his team's success—or lack thereof.
The Timberwolves are 15-47 on the year and their longest winning streak is a measly two games.
For Love to become a serious contender, the Wolves need to contend for the playoffs—and that's not happening this season.
3. Amar'e Stoudemire
With the move to New York, Amar'e Stoudemire is producing the numbers he is capable of.
Amar'e is one spot ahead of Wade in the scoring race, sitting in third with 25.9 points per game. Over eight rebounds and two blocks a night are good enough for MVP consideration, but it's Stoudemire's impact that makes him worthy.
Since his debut as a New York Knick, Amar'e has left everything on the floor to turn around the franchise. An improved jump shot and some spark back in his legs have been noticeable to Knicks fans.
His inspiring play has also led to the acquisition of Carmelo Anthony. Anthony saw a player he wanted to team up with in Amar'e, and the Knicks made it happen.
If the award was given based on true impact to your team, franchise and city, Amar'e would be a front-runner.
2. Kobe Bryant
One may ask how Kobe Bryant is considered a long-shot for MVP?
Answer: Most would consider this an underachieving season for Kobe, who has only won one MVP in his decorated career.
Currently, Kobe is sixth in the league in scoring with 25.1 points per game. The last time Bryant finished outside the top five in scoring was 2001-02. That year, he averaged a meager 25.2 points. His scoring average was 0.3 less than Tim Duncan, who finished fifth.
The rest of Kobe's stats are right about where they usually are, so why would he be given the award in a "down" year?
Now that I'm done arguing against him, here's some reasons he could capture his second MVP.
Since the All-Star break, the Los Angeles Lakers have been on a tear. They've won all five of their games by a combined 56 points.
Also, Kobe has been more accepting of his floor-leader role. He's challenging teammates to shoot more and to demand for the ball.
Although Kobe isn't at his physical peak, his understanding of the game and leadership skills make him irreplaceable.
1. Dirk Nowitzki
Every year, there is a solid, defendable argument for a player like Dirk Nowitzki to win the MVP.
Dirk isn't having a spectacular statistical season. He's averaging 22.8 points per contest, his lowest scoring output since 2003-04. His rebounds—at 6.7—are the lowest they've been since his second season in the NBA in 1999-2000.
Dirk is on the court less than 35 minutes per game and he's only recorded 10 double-doubles on the year.
So how is Nowitzki a MVP candidate?
For one, he is shooting a career-high 52.5 percent from the field. More importantly, his Dallas Mavericks are 44-16 and riding a seven-game win streak.
Dirk missed nine games this season. That number is equivalent to the number of losses the Mavs have suffered with Dirk on the floor. In his absence, the Mavs are 2-7. With their star, they are 42-9.
If the MVP is given to the player who is most valuable to his team, Dirk Nowitzki will win.
He's well deserving of that distinction.