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Race to the MVP: Another point guard joins the mix

By Rob Peterson, NBA.com
Posted Dec 6 2008 7:52PM

If you've followed me here at Race to the MVP or at my old column, Central Intelligence (and I know you did), you'll know that I have a thing for point guards like tweenage girls have a thing for the Jonas Brothers.

"Did you see that no-look pass?"

Swoon!

"Did you see how he broke his ankles?"

Oh my god, he's so dreamy!

"Does anyone control the flow of the game better than him?"

Sigh.

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Whether it's an old-school point such as Oscar Robertson or a new school floor general such as Chris Paul, I've always been fascinated by excellent point guard play for many reasons.

Running a basketball team from the point isn't easy and it's hard not to admire the guys who make it look effortless and efficient.

As the individual with the game's most precious possession in his hands a majority of the time, a point guard must not only know how to run an offense and how to react to a defense but he must also control the game's pace (good ones have an impact on both ends of the floor), have a good rapport -- almost a sixth sense -- with the head coach and he must know his teammates' tendencies. Oh, and if called on, you need to score, and score at will, please.

Rare is the player who can do all of those things and do all of them well.

Again, it's not as if the point guard position has been unimportant or unheralded. Since the game's peach basket days, point guards have always started the offense and Boston point guard Bob Cousy won the NBA's second MVP award in 1956-57. But since Cousy's MVP, only three other point guards (four if you consider Allen Iverson a point guard) have earned the league's highest individual honor: Robertson in 1963-64, Magic Johnson in 1986-87, 1988-'89, 1989-90 and Steve Nash in 2004-05 and 2005-06.

But that's it.

Tiny Archibald didn't win MVP when he led the NBA in scoring AND assists in 1972-73. Karl Malone won two MVPs, but the first half of the "Stockton-to-Malone" equation, John Stockton, never finished higher than seventh in MVP voting. Jason Kidd took a moribund Nets franchise, led it to its best-ever NBA record in 2001-02 and still couldn't edge out Tim Duncan for MVP.

Basketball has always favored the big man's game, and for decades it was the point guard's job to feed the big man in the post. But thanks to two rule changes in the last 30 years, we're living in the golden age of point guards.

One happened nearly 30 years ago, the other is more recent. The three-point line, which the NBA adopted before the 1979-80 season, has, over time, spread offenses and given smaller players an equalizer. The other, a more literal re-interpretation of the hand check rule, has allowed players such as Paul, Chauncey Billups, T.J. Ford and Steve Nash, to name a few, to scoot around the court unimpeded. Gone are the days when a guy like Derrick Harper can stick a meat hook into a guard's side and guide him into positive position for the defense.

And it's not limited to point guards either. Four of the players in the Top 10 -- LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Brandon Roy -- spend a lot of time handling the rock. They're guys who can start an offense as well as finish. It's as if those teams have a second point on the floor. With the exception of Wade's Heat, those teams are well over .500 this season.

So, think of those things when you watch Paul or Devin Harris weave his way through traffic with defenders trailing like cosmic dust trailing a comet or Chauncey expertly direct a game as a conductor would conduct a world-class symphony.

Or don't think at all. Just sit back and take it all in.

Swoon.

Quick thoughts on some guys not in the Top 10 this week:

Chris Bosh, Toronto: Chris, I love your game and your personality but I don't love your team's record. I know you want to win MVP, but you and the rest of the Raptors need to get on a roll. Maybe coach Jay Triano can get you guys on the right track.

Amar'e Stoudemire, Phoenix: Last week, I wrote that I missed STAT's ferocity. Now I know why it was missing. "I want to be that guy," Stoudemire told ESPN.com's Stephen A. Smith. MVPs don't want to be that guy, they are that guy. If you want it, take it and prove how unstoppable you can be.

Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas: Sir, I hear you. You're knocking on the door.

Another knock at the door ...

Vince Carter, New Jersey: Oh, um ... Hi. Yes, yes, I am surprised to see you. No, there is no problem, it's just that, well, it's been a while, Vince, and I didn't expect to see you in the Top 10 neighborhood again to be honest with you. I thought you had moved far away. And, yes, yes, it is good to see you. I mean, you definitely have the talent and ability to be here. I don't think anyone has ever denied it. I just thought ... well, lots of water under the bridge since you've made an impact. What? Oh, yeah, Devin's here. He's inside the Top 10. OK, I will tell him "Hi" for you. Maybe sometime soon, you can come on in and tell him yourself. It was good to see you too, Vince. Come around again, will you?

Hoops Line of the Week: Devin Harris at Phoenix, Sunday, Nov. 30: 47 points, 8 assists and 7 boards

More point guard love. Just a damn impressive line.

Drop of the week: Chris Bosh, Raptors; Amare Stoudemire, Suns (out of the Top 10)
Rise of the week: Brandon Roy, Devin Harris (into the top Top 10)

Race to the MVP - The Top 10
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers | Team Record: 15-3
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
27.4 7.2 6.1 2.1 0.9 .491 .787
Last Week's Rank - 1
The Cavs have been playing so well, James has not had to step onto the court in the fourth quarter in four of the last five wins. It's like he's the smartest kid in school needing only 36 minutes to finish what it takes everyone else the whole 48. Of course, when he does need to play in the fourth quarter, as he did against Milwaukee, James scored 13 of the Cavs' final 15 points.

2. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers | Team Record: 15-2
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
25.1 5.2 4.1 1.6 0.6 .477 .856
Last Week's Rank - 2
I've been getting a lot of e-mail about "Why is Kobe still at No. 2? His stats, etc. are lower..." Yes, his numbers are down compared to the last few years, but there's one that's up: field goal percentage. If the season were to end today, 47.7 percent would be a career high. He's become less of a high-volume shooter and more of a high-efficiency shooter. The always-excellent J.A. Adande pointed that out last Monday. (By the way, J.A. was the LeBron of our freshman philosophy class at Northwestern. He finished his final exam essay in 15 minutes. Most everyone else took the full hour. By the way, my philosophy prof would call that analogy flawed logic.)

3. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets | Team Record: 10-6
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
20.6 5.6 11.8 2.8 0.2 .516 .868
Last Week's Rank - 3
Only two games this week for Paul and the Hornets, and of course, Paul averaged his usual points-and-dimes double (20.0 points and 10.5 assists) and completely abused the Steve Nash-less Suns on Wednesday with 24 and 15. The Hornets have a strange schedule, almost Euroleague-like in it's infrequency. They only have two games next week before our next Race to the MVP.

4. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic | Team Record: 14-5
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
21.5 14.0 1.5 0.9 4.0 .593 .575
Last Week's Rank - 5
Mr. Hustle Board Stats rang up 50 boards (nearly 17 per game) and 14 blocks (4.7 per game) in his three games last week, and 13 of those rebounds were on the offensive end. Howard is so big and so strong, getting around him is a near impossibility. Could you imagine if he had an offensive weapon like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook? Goodness, the possibilities.

5. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat | Team Record: 10-9
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
28.4 4.9 7.7 2.4 1.7 .491 .763
Last Week's Rank - 5
Dwyane Wade is having such a good season, I felt compelled to dedicate the first part of my Eastern Conference Insider to him this week. Enjoy. Oh, and he took over the league scoring lead this week, thanks to his 32.3 average in four games.

6. Tim Duncan, san Antonio Spurs | Team Record: 10-8
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
20.9 10.3 3.3 0.3 1.8 .519 .697
Last Week's Rank - 7
A very un-Duncan week in the scoring column for the former two-time NBA MVP. He tallied 11 in a win against Memphis and 17 in a loss to Houston on a gruesome line from the field: 6-for-18. Big Fundamental, is that you? Duncan picked it up later in the week, including a 21-12-7 line in a Spurs' whuppin' of Denver on Thursday. It'll be interesting to see Duncan's numbers now that Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have returned.

7. Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets | Team Record: 13-7
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
17.8 2.6 7.1 1.4 0.3 .419 .903
Last Week's Rank - 10
Despite their thumping at the hands of the Spurs (who always thump them), the Nuggets are 12-3 with Billups running the show. He also had an awesome week, scoring 27 while going 12 for 12 from the line against the Timberwolves, going 28 and 10 against Houston and 24 and 14 versus Toronto before the forgettable 12-point output against the Spurs. Billups filled it at a .538 clip for the week. That's the Mr. Big Shot we all know and love.

8. Devin Harris, New Jersey Nets | Team Record: 9-8
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
24.8 3.6 6.1 1.2 1.4 .568 .836
Last Week's Rank - OLI
I don't know how long Mr. Harris (I call him mister because we share the same hometown, Milwaukee) will be in the Race to the MVP rankings, but he's a lock to stay atop anyone's Most Improved rankings ... if anyone does something so silly. (Oh, wait.) As we noted above, no one can stop him one-on-one, and that benefits his team. Not only are they are winning because of him, but they're also exceeding expectations. Reads like a valuable impact to me.

9. Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics | Team Record: 18-2
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
18.6 6.5 3.3 1.1 0.4 .403 .828
Last Week's Rank - 9
I'm still down on Pierce for his low field goal percentage and his digits this season are well below career highs. He offset a six-point stinker against Philly last Friday with 24-7-7 against Orlando on Tuesday. Pierce's down moments don't hurt the Celtics as much as his great moments help them. Also, check out S.L. Price's excellent piece on Pierce in this week's Sports Illustrated.

10. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers | Team Record: 14-6
PPG RPG APG SPG BPG FG% FT%
21.1 4.5 5.3 1.1 0.2 .465 .835
Last Week's Rank - OLI
Welcome to the Top 10, Brandon. It's good to see you here. I saw you on Tuesday at MSG and came away impressed with your poise, talent and killer instinct. One night later, SI.com's Ian Thomsen had similar warm fuzzies in the nation's capital: "Roy is the most valuable piece of the league's most promising young team not because of his athletic instincts, but because he has spent his short career taking the time to think things through." If you can go into Boston and help the Trail Blazers steal a win, then I'll be really impressed.

Dropping out: Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire

Outside looking in, for now, in alphabetical order: Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Danny Granger, Joe Johnson, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Derrick Rose, Amar'e Stoudemire

Other readers' favorites: They're mostly in OLI above, but I did get an e-mail about Rajon Rondo. Nice triple-double this week, but ... no.

As usual, if you have a comment, complaint or great basketball anecdote, drop us a line at RacetotheMVP@gmail.com.

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