As the end of the regular season approaches, the MVP chatter is starting to heat up, and for the first time since 2005, the Suns are nowhere near the thick of it. Steve Nash is still an awesome point guard whose story is far from finished. He's likely to get a Hall of Fame call after he retires, and hopefully will pick up a ring or two along the way. But, he's probably won his last Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Amare will undoubtedly be in the discussion a year from now, but he's not quite there yet for this season. And so, we Suns fans are left to choose between a player many of us despise, one that may be too young, and one who's playing for a team that's struggling to hang onto the fourth seed in the (L)East.
Then of course, there's the guy who's helped lead one of the biggest single-season turnarounds ever in Boston, the always-steady rock who plays for the Spurs, and the freakishly athletic center who made that memorable Superman dunk at the All-Star game. Clearly, there are plenty of deserving candidates to choose from this year, even if none of them play for the Suns. Let's look at a few of them, and why they would or wouldn't be at the top of my non-existent ballot if the voting happened today.
If the MVP award was just about sheer individual scoring ability, one could argue that Kobe should already have as many of these trophies stacked on his shelf as Michael Jordan. But there's that pesky thing called team success that has kept getting in his way--until now. Despite the fact some of his team's good fortune is the obvious result of that inexplicable trade that landed Pau Gasol for a bag of peanuts, the Lakers were actually doing pretty well even before the trade happened. The breakout of Andrew Bynum deserves some credit, as well as a healthy season from Lamar Odom, and the swapping of Smush Parker for Derek Fisher. But the main reason the Lakers are so good is that Kobe is individually great, and now that greatness has been paired with an improved roster with which Kobe has graciously blended into nicely. Ironically, in a season when Kobe's individual numbers are down, he's more likely to win--and deserve--an MVP award than ever before.
If you consider Player Efficiency Rating (PER) to be the end-all indicator of a player's worth, then LeBron is your guy. He's right at the top of the list (for the record, Kobe is 8th). He's having a career year in just about every statistical category: scoring, shooting percentage, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Plus, with this now being his 5th season in he league, it's time to stop thinking of him as "too young" to be the MVP. The only problem is, his team isn't that good. They're currently hanging on for dear life to the fourth spot in the East. If they played in the West, they would be on the outside looking in if the playoffs started today. There seems to be an unspoken requirement for serious MVP contention that your team has to win at least 50 games. With a 41-33 record, that is no longer possible for LeBron.
The argument against Chris Paul for MVP is simple: He's hasn't paid his dues yet. Otherwise, what's not to like about a guy who's likely to finish the season with more assists--and points--per game than two-time MVP Steve Nash ever has? He's also leading the league in steals, and most importantly has the Hornets (the Hornets!) vying for the top spot in the ultra-competitive West. This is a team that wasn't even a blip on the radar last season. How is this all that different from Nash and the Suns coming out of nowhere in 2005? CP3 without question represents the best combination of team success and individual contribution among the list of MVP candidates. (As an interesting side note, Charley Rosen disagrees with the CP3 for MVP argument, but does a nice job of breaking down the strengths and weaknesses of CP3, Nash, and Utah's Deron Williams).
KG should probably be getting more consideration, given that his arrival had a major hand in changing the entire culture of a Celtics team that is now on its way to one of the largest single-season turnarounds ever. Unfortunately, his team was too good without him, going 7-2 in the nine games KG missed with the abdominal injury. He'll finish in the top five, but will have to look for a Finals MVP as his prize.
More than anything else, McGrady will be remembered for leading his team on an unbelievable, historic 22-game winning streak, nearly half of which was done without Yao Ming. But, can the Rockets hang onto a top four seed? Even if they do, will T-Mac's many first round exits be held against him?
Howard hasn't been near the top of this discussion for quite some time, as his team has fallen off the radar a bit. Also, he's likely to be remembered more for his exploits in the All-Star dunk contest, than for his play during the season. Still, he's the main reason the Magic sit atop the Southeast Division, and he'll probably be in the mix for the #5 spot in the MVP voting.
No list of MVP candidates can be complete without mentioning the guy who keeps leading the Spurs to championships, while flying quietly under the radar.
Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire
Most in the national media (and the blogosphere) still seem to be tabbing Nash as the token MVP representative for the Suns, even though Amare is #3 on the aforementioned PER list, and looks to be gradually becoming the undisputed focal point of the offense. I'm going to dodge that issue for now, and just mention them both at the same time. It's unlikely that either will finish in the top five, and that's fine by me. The Suns have bigger fish to fry these days.
You've got to include last season's MVP on a list like this, if for no other reason than as a sad reminder of how fast things can change in this league. With the Mavericks going down in flames, and Dirk forced to watch from the sidelines, there's zero chance he'll follow his buddy Nash as a repeat Podoloff winner.
Barring a late season surge by the Jazz, it's highly unlikely that Williams will finish anywhere near the top five. But, he can console himself with knowing that he's maybe the only point guard in the league who can slow down Chris Paul.
Who gets my vote?
I understand all the people who think it's time to give Kobe his due. I really do. He's stood by the past three seasons while voters ignored his amazing individual achievements in favor of players with lesser numbers who played for better teams. Now that he's one of those players, are we really going to deny him just because his numbers aren't as good as they were in the past? It seems rather hypocritical doesn't it? Still, the MVP isn't supposed to be a Lifetime Achievement award given to someone just because "it's time". Even though Kobe has done everything he needed to do to finally win this thing (even playing with a busted pinkie!), I have to give my non-existent vote to someone I feel deserves it even more.
I think if Chris Paul had a few more years under his belt, and had the kind of year he's having, the vote wouldn't even be close. The MVP award is supposed to be about the the current season, not for all the times a player has been snubbed in the past. It isn't supposed to be about age either, nor about what a player has proven during the playoffs. It's a regular season award for the current regular season. I think CP3 is having a better season than Kobe, and he's doing it on a team that has no earthly reason to be as high in the standings as it is. But don't despair, Kobe fans. My vote doesn't count, and I imagine the votes that do count will favor your guy in the end. For the first time ever, I can live with that.