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Race to the MVP: LeBron still No. 1; another voice chimes in

By Rob Peterson,
Posted Jan 2 2009 8:38PM

All season long, we've kept a running debate as to what qualifies someone to be an NBA MVP. Superior stats? Team success? A combination of the two? Can value even be quantified in such a manner?

We also mentioned that we'd try to get NBA beat writers to talk about their criteria for MVP. Well, we got a sucker ... er, writer. Alan Hahn, the Knicks' beat writer for Newsday and author of The Knicks Fix, graciously agreed to offer his opinions about what makes an MVP.

R2MVP: What makes an MVP candidate?

Hahn: I think an MVP still has to be one of the best players in the league. Obviously, you have to be on a good team, because that matters. But, I don't know, in Chauncey's [Billups] situation, if he's more of an MVP than LeBron James.

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If the Nuggets were in first place and playing unbelievably, then you could relate it to him. Like Chris Paul and the Hornets last year. They were playing great and he was a big part of it.

I think what LeBron has been doing, no one has come close.

R2MVP: And you don't care who wins? There's no bias, no favoritism?

Hahn: No. It's not like we get anything out of it. No one knows who you're voting for. So, if you care about the integrity of the award, then you care about your vote, who you're voting for and how you're voting for them.

R2MVP: When you say "best players in the league," is that something that's earned over time or something that's predetermined?

Hahn: I think you could be a nobody one season, and the following season be an MVP. I don't think you have to have established an MVP status over time. In a situation where you get traded to a team in the offseason to a perfect situation. Take Kevin Garnett, and you're clearly head-and-shoulders above the rest -- and your team is as a result of your play -- you're an MVP. I don't care who you are.

You don't have to have three or four seasons in a row of playing well and now you become an MVP candidate. I think it depends on the year.

R2MVP: What about a team like Boston, which has three guys who don't have the stats, but they serve each other? Could one of those guys be MVP?

Hahn: I think Garnett is definitely an MVP candidate along with LeBron because Garnett -- his intensity, his defense, what he brings to that team -- if you take him away, they're not a great team. That's a great team, they have three great players, but Garnett to me is the best player on that team. He's the player that makes it all happen. Just because his numbers aren't there, but you know his effect is there -- off the court, on the bench, in the game. People overlook defense, but it's his defensive intensity is what makes them such a good team. So, he's a candidate.

R2MVP: So, it's not solely numbers?

Hahn: No, I don't think so. You can look at players putting up huge numbers. Look at Dwyane Wade. He's putting up great numbers, but is he an MVP candidate? He said he's not because his team has an average record. It's not a great team and certainly not a contender. He's having a great year individually, but he's not an MVP candidate.


Despite having him as low as No. 7 here in the Race to the MVP, we have had LeBron at No. 1 for most of the season. While KG is not in our Top 10, we have acknowledged his value to the Celtics. Does that make him most valuable in the NBA? We haven't subscribed to KG's intangibles as we did last season, or as we have to Billups' this season. Who knows? Maybe we've given Garnett the short shrift.

As for Wade, we believe he's a legitimate candidate. The Heat have 17 wins, already passing last season's total of 15. Wade leads the league in scoring and is fourth in steals. Without Wade, the Heat would be looking at another trip to the lottery. Right now, they're the East's sixth seed. We'll argue for Wade's candidacy.

What do you think?

You can always let us know. Write to

Now, on to the rankings.

Hoops Line of the Week: New Jersey's Devin Harris, Dec. 19: 41 points, 13 assists and three boards vs. Dallas

This one happened nearly two weeks ago, but Harris put on a "How-Ya-Like-Me-Now?" performance against his former team, the Mavericks, in the Meadowlands.

Jamal Crawford's 50-point, five-dime night on Dec. 20 was also considered.

Rise of the week: Joe Johnson (from No. 10 to No. 6)
Drop of the week: Chauncey Billups (from No. 6 to No. 10)

Race to the MVP - The Top 10
1. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers | Team Record: 26-5
27.8 6.6 6.4 1.9 1.2 .508 .777
Last Week's Rank - 1
He's still playing the best ball in the league right now, though it must have stung for the Cavs to lose on the King's birthday on Dec. 30. That loss in Miami was Cleveland's only blemish in the last two weeks. LBJ and the Cavs have a date with the Celtics in Cleveland a week from today.

2. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets | Team Record: 19-9
19.9 5.4 11.9 2.9 0.2 .495 .879
Last Week's Rank - 2
Registered his third triple-double of the season against the Wizards on Dec. 30. He's the only player in the NBA this season with more than one. Paul has grabbed exactly 10 boards in each of his triple-doubles and had at least 16 assists. Such numbers almost make us forget the ugly Christmas loss in Orlando. Almost.

3. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat | Team Record: 17-13
28.7 5.1 7.0 2.2 1.5 .481 .755
Last Week's Rank - 5
Since Dec. 19, the Heat have gone 5-1 with their only loss coming in Cleveland, where the Cavs are undefeated. Wade also has led Miami to wins over the Lakers and Cavs at home as he averaged 31.3 points per game. He shot poorly in that win against the Cavs (7-for-23) but atoned with 12 assists and five boards.

4. Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers | Team Record: 25-5
26.3 5.4 4.2 1.5 0.4 .473 .869
Last Week's Rank - 3
Kobe and the Lakers have rebounded nicely since those two losses in Florida just after the last Race to the MVP. Since Kobe's 41-point game in Orlando, the Lakers have won four straight, including their Christmas Day win over the Celtics. The Lakers have five games in the next eight days. Four of them are at home.

5. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic | Team Record: 25-7
19.7 13.8 1.4 0.8 3.6 .551 .566
Last Week's Rank - 4
Howard is still a rebounding machine and leads the league with 13.8 boards per game. But did you know he hasn't broken the 20-point barrier since he scored 23 against the Clippers on Dec. 8? Maybe it has to do with his knee injury. Since returning to the lineup on Dec. 18, Howard has shot .474 from the field.

6. Joe Johnson, Atlanta Hawks | Team Record: 21-10
23.4 4.8 5.7 1.1 0.5 .453 .824
Last Week's Rank - 10
Regrets? Pacers coach Jim O'Brien has had a few, one of them being the Celtics trading Johnson to Phoenix in his rookie season. The Suns eventually traded him to Atlanta, where the Hawks are damn glad to have a guy who has averaged 25.2 points, six rebounds and seven assists during the Hawks' six-game win streak.

7. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs | Team Record: 20-11
20.7 10.3 3.2 0.5 1.7 .509 .695
Last Week's Rank - 7
Most of the MVP candidates' teams seem to be on a roll lately as the Spurs have won five of their last six with their lone defeat coming at home to ... Milwaukee? His 25-point, 17-board performance on Christmas in the Spurs' miracle win over the Suns was the highlight of that six-game stretch.

8. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers | Team Record: 20-12
23.0 4.5 5.3 1.0 0.4 .473 .843
Last Week's Rank - 8
After a 52-point outburst on Dec. 18, Roy followed with an eight-point stinker four nights later in Denver. Since then, the Blazers have only played four games. Roy missed the last one against the Celtics because of an injury to his right hamstring. Portland still managed to beat Boston, but the afterglow of that win dimmed when the Oregonian reported that the Blazers' training staff is worried Roy may have a slight hamstring tear.

9. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks | Team Record: 19-12
25.7 9.0 2.5 0.6 0.8 .475 .892
Last Week's Rank - 9
Statistically, Nowitzki has had a good two weeks averaging, 23.3 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game. The Mavs went 5-2 in that stretch. Of course, all was not hunky-dory as Nowitzki served a one-game suspension on Dec. 28 for smacking Utah's Matt Harpring in the face two nights earlier.

10. Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets | Team Record: 21-12
17.6 2.5 6.9 1.4 0.2 .419 .891
Last Week's Rank - 6
As valuable as he has been for the Nuggets because of his leadership, experience and playmaking ability, Billups has had a rough fortnight. The Nuggets have gone 4-4 in their last eight. While a rugged schedule and not having Carmelo Anthony for three games have contributed to the roller coaster ride, Billups shooting .390 from the field hasn't helped.

Dropping out: None

Outside Looking In (OLI)
11. Kevin Garnett
12. Carmelo Anthony
13. Pau Gasol
14. Devin Harris
15. Ray Allen
16. Steve Nash
17. Yao Ming
18. Paul Millsap
19. Rajon Rondo
20. Amar'e Stoudemire

Other reader favorites: Shaquille O'Neal, Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Paul Pierce

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