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Race to the MVP: Kobe starts season on top ... again

By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted Nov 2 2008 12:26AM

Welcome back to Race to the MVP. We missed you. We missed writing it. We missed the arguments between the Kobe Bryant lovers (a lot of you) and the Kobe haters (possibly even more of you).

But most of all, we missed the NBA and watching the best players in the world lace 'em up and get to work for real. And after watching Kobe Bryant rightfully win one of the more compelling MVP races in NBA history, we want more. You want more. And so you have it, another year of Race to the MVP.

Of course the big question is: Can Kobe repeat as the league's Most Valuable Player (as chosen by writers and broadcasters covering the league)?

Certainly. He's more than capable, and according to fans of No. 24, last year's trophy should have at least two or three other Maurice Podoloff trophies to talk to.

If Kobe's Mo-Pod gets a bookend at the end of this season, it wouldn't be unprecedented. He'd be the 10th player in NBA history to win consecutive MVP awards joining Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash.

Kobe will have pursuers including last year's runner-up, Chris Paul, Cleveland's LeBron James, Orlando's Dwight Howard, Boston's Paul Pierce (Really? Yes, at least for now...) and scores of others. We should have no shortage of excitement in this year's race.

Couple quick things to get out of the way before I launch myself head-first into the season. I don't have an official vote for MVP, so don't bring any wack arguments about how I can directly influence the MVP voting. No vote equals no influence. Get me? With the election on Tuesday, you should know that if you don't vote, you don't affect anything.

Also, this column is just my opinion and I have no formula. It's a mixture of art (what I see) and science (some stats). With that in mind, and only a couple games under our belt, this inaugural 2008-09 Race to the MVP will be a mix of preseason rankings and first-week musings. Because of this, the Line of the Week and the second 10 (which people also get worked up about: "How can you move 'Melo down to 12 from 11? You don't know what you're talking about! Do you even know what a basketball is?) will debut next week.

Finally, don't take these rankings personally. I'm commenting on the player, not your obsession with your favorite player. Then again, it is kind of funny to see how certain people get worked up over these rankings. Anonymous e-mail has become the internet version of someone writing a letter to the editor in crayon ... and then eating the crayon.

Still, I'll do my best to spice things up and stir the pot. But I'll always order the favorites as I think they should be ordered. You can complain, and I'll read those complaints, but I doubt if they'll sway me. Much.

All right, on to the rankings, where we take another step into the NBA's new golden age.

1. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers

Stats: PPG -- 19.5; RPG -- 9.5; APG -- 4.0; SPG -- 1.5; BPG -- 0.0; FG% -- .483; FT% -- .833
Comment:
Love him or hate him, Kobe's greatness can't be denied. He's talented, he works hard and he plays hurt. For anyone other than Kobe to win MVP this season, they'll need to take it from him. Think he'll let that happen easily? His initial individual numbers for this season aren't eye-popping, but his Lakers have won their first two games by an average of 29 points.

2. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets

Stats: PPG -- 20.5; RPG -- 6.5; APG -- 10.5; SPG -- 3.0; BPG -- 0.5; FG% -- .484; FT% -- .833
Comment:
Paul is rapidly becoming the best 6-foot-and-under player in NBA history. No, seriously. After a breakout season, Paul picked up where he left off last season. Digits for the first two games -- 20.5 points, 10.5 dimes and 6.5 boards. Impressive for a man of any height.

3. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics

Stats: PPG -- 27.0; RPG -- 3.0; APG -- 4.0; SPG -- 1.0; BPG -- 0.0; FG% -- .526; FT% -- .625
Comment:
So what if he cried at the Celtics ring ceremony as if he'd watched a Beaches and Steel Magnolias double feature? It was his banner party and he could cry if he wanted to. You would cry too if it happened to you. Dropping 27 on Tuesday against the Cavs' D after that emotional opener was equally impressive.

4. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

Stats: PPG -- 22.0; RPG -- 8.0; APG -- 7.5; SPG -- 1.0; BPG -- 1.0; FG% -- .444; FT% -- .600
Comment:
LeBron may be the most physically gifted player not only on the planet, but also in NBA history. To be 6-9 and 250 and move like he does? Otherworldly. But dude's got to get his mind right late in games. Yes, he can take over, but you can't miss four free throws down the stretch as he did opening night in Boston.

5. Chris Bosh, Toronto Raptors

Stats: PPG -- 27.0; RPG -- 11.0; APG -- 4.0; SPG -- 1.0; BPG -- 1.0; FG% -- .563; FT% -- .900
Comment: The addition of one Jermaine O'Neal means less wear and tear for the sixth-year forward out of Georgia Tech. I know it's only one game so far, but if Bosh can play as he did in the Raptors' opener, the rest of the East needs to beware.

6. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets

Stats: PPG -- 25.5; RPG -- 11.5; APG -- 1.5; SPG -- 0.0; BPG -- 1.5; FG% -- .586; FT% -- 1.000
Comment:
Who knows if Yao will be here when Race to the MVP turns out the lights on another season in April, but I believe no one is more important to the Rockets' success than the 7-6 center. He got off on the right foot this season, especially with a 30-13-3 performance in a win in Dallas on Thursday. Speaking of feet, it'd be nice if Yao stays healthy for a change.

7. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic

Stats: PPG -- 22.0; RPG -- 15.0; APG -- 1.0; SPG -- 5.0; BPG -- 5.0; FG% -- .533; FT% -- .462
Comment:
Howard has a world of talent and the Magic should take the Southeast. His 22-point, 15-rebound, five-block and five-steal performance was one for the ages. But the Magic still lost to the Hawks on Wednesday. Can a guy get some help, please? Oh, and can a guy get some help with his free throw shooting? Yikes!

8. Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix Suns

Stats: PPG -- 21.5; RPG -- 10.0; APG -- 3.0; SPG -- 0.5; BPG -- 0.5; FG% -- .630; FT% -- .750
Comment:
In his first two games, STAT has put up impressive stats with 21.5 points and 10 boards per, but the most impressive may be this one: .630 from the field. Yeah, I know, it's early, but with Shaq demanding the opposing center stick to him, Amare has free reign on pick and rolls.

9. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs

Stats: PPG -- 32.0; RPG -- 6.0; APG -- 3.0; SPG -- 0.0; BPG -- 0.0; FG% -- .619; FT% -- .600
Comment:
Really? This is Duncan's 12th season? Hard to believe, but the man can still bring it on a nightly basis. It's true that the Spurs lost their opener to the Suns, but Duncan tallied 32 to go with six boards. He may not spend much time in the top 10 this season, but we needed to pay our respects to Mr. Duncan early.

10. Deron Williams, Utah Jazz

Stats: PPG -- 0.0; RPG -- 0.0; APG -- 0.0; SPG -- 0.0; BPG -- 0.0; FG% -- .000; FT% -- .000
Comment: He may miss the first two games of the season with an ankle sprain, but the reason Williams is here is because he's the best player on one of the West's best teams. That, and he and Chris Paul will forever be linked as the two premiere guards in the 2005 Draft. Who's better? Paul is right now, but in head-to-head matchups, Williams has owned Paul. And that has to count for something.

Outside looking in, for now, in alphabetical order: Ron Artest, Elton Brand, Kevin Garnett, Al Jefferson, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade,

Comments? Questions? Irrational, spittle-flecked rantings? Drop us a line at RacetotheMVP@gmail.com (for now).

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