With one-third of the 2008-09 season complete, it is a good time to assess our MVP candidates and see who has the best chance to win:
LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
James is the clear favorite to win the MVP award. The Cavaliers are 23-4, second best in the league behind the Celtics.
The Cavs also have the best defensive team, with James taking charge on the defensive end.
He is still putting up monster numbers despite playing four fewer minutes thanks to the elevated the play from his teammates.
In short, no one is more important to his team than LeBron James is to the Cavaliers.
Kevin Garnett (Boston Celtics)
Garnett is a close second behind LeBron James. While he may not necessarily be as important to his team compared to James, it is what Garnett does for his team that makes him a viable MVP candidate.
Garnett is anchoring the best team in the NBA. He has helped lead his team to an NBA best 26-2, with an 18-game winning streak.
More importantly, he has brought the same high level of intensity and defense every night, inspiring his team to give the same effort every night.
Garnett will do everything to win, even if it means screaming at a Big Baby.
Chris Paul (New Orleans Hornets)
After a stellar playoff run by the Hornets last year, Chris Paul is making another strong case for the MVP award.
Paul's Hornets are second in the Western Conference, despite dealing with injuries to Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic.
He also broke the record with 106 consecutive games with at least one steal, and amazing feat. He has also improved his game by averaging career-bests in numerous categories.
Only time can tell if the Hornets can make another deep run at a championship, but you can be sure that Paul will be leading the way.
Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs)
When the crippled Spurs lost Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to injuries, who did they turn to? Old Mr. Reliable Tim Duncan.
At age 32, Duncan shows no sign of slowing down, matching career numbers.
When it appeared the Spurs may fall off the charts, Duncan kept the team afloat long enough for Parker and Ginobili to return.
Now it's back to business for the Spurs to win the Southwest Division. For Duncan, it was another day at the office.
Brandon Roy (Portland Trailblazers)
Roy has emerged as a legitimate MVP contender after his 52-point performance that scorched the Suns. Earlier this season, we saw Roy bury a 30-foot buzzer-beater against the Rockets.
We clearly see that the future of the Blazer franchise goes through Roy, not Greg Oden. Roy has been a leader since entering the NBA, and he is only going to get better.
The big question is how far can Roy lead his team in the competitive Western Conference, and if the Blazers can make a deep playoff run.
Dwight Howard (Orlando Magic)
Howard is putting up virtually identical numbers as last year.
What's the difference? Howard's spike in blocked shots, which makes him the catalyst of the interior defense.
That defense has led to the fourth-best record in the NBA at 21-6.
What's stopping him? Poor free throw shooting and two Orlando road wins—one in Utah, without Howard.
Chauncey Billups (Denver Nuggets)
The Nuggets looked like contenders in the West when they acquired Billups from Detroit. At one point, the Nuggets were 16-4 with Billups, but the team has recently lost three-straight games.
Still, it doesn't change that the Nuggets finally have a leader that anchors a good defense and commands a structured offense.
It may be too early to tell whether the Nuggets can really contend in the West, but Billups finally brings a defensive identity to the team.
And Billups knows a thing or two about championship defense.
Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers)
Last year, Kobe clearly deserved the MVP award, so it may be hard to believe that my list puts Kobe at the bottom of the list, and I'll likely get crucified for this. But I don't think he deserves to win MVP, and I also don't think he will win.
The Lakers are 21-5, but have lost three in their last seven after starting out 17-2.
Here are several reasons why the Lakers are struggling: no defense, no intensity, and lack of leadership.
After getting shut down by the Celtics' defense in last years' final, the Lakers vowed to bring a better defensive identity to complement their offense.
We expected to see that defense with the return of Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza, yet the Lakers are still giving up over 98 points per game.
The fact is the Lakers defense is still as soft as a marshmallow, and Kobe has not done anything to fix this problem. He has not been to Lakers compared to what Garnett has been to the Celtics.
Kobe has also appeared to have lost some edge in taking over games. It could be due to the amount of talent the Lakers have that he expects his teammates to keep the team in the game or win. But when the role players falter, Kobe has appeared to falter too.
In any case, Kobe has failed to replicate the leadership he showed when he won last season's MVP award. It is still early, but if the same trends continue, we could see Kobe and the Lakers get bounced out of the playoffs sooner than expected.
Realistic Odds: 6:1
My Odds: 25:1
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