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Rob Peterson

Race to the MVP

Nathaniel S. Butler & Ronald Martinez/NBAE via Getty Images

MVP candidates often sport Battier-like qualities

By Rob Peterson,
Posted Feb 20 2009 2:58PM

If it weren't for the NBA trade deadline and all the talk surrounding it, this article by Michael Lewis in last Sunday's New York Times magazine, about the underappreciated value of Houston Rockets forward Shane Battier, would have been the most talked about story of the week.

Lewis, the author of Moneyball, the most argued over (maybe most misunderstood) sports book ever, interviews Battier and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who works to apply the principles outlined in Moneyball -- a book about finding value in underappreciated players in baseball -- to basketball. The story, unlike any of the trades this week, is a blockbuster.

"Here we have a basketball mystery: a player is widely regarded inside the N.B.A. as, at best, a replaceable cog in a machine driven by superstars," Lewis writes. "And yet, every team he has ever played on has acquired some magical ability to win."

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Throughout the story, Lewis tries to show why Battier has that magic touch. By revealing the forward's tricks of the trade and how he used them against Kobe Bryant on Jan. 13 in the Lakers' 105-100 win over Houston, Lewis essentially provides a scouting report on Bryant's weaknesses, which, of course, are few. Still, Lewis shows us how Battier uses Bryant's limitations to force Bryant to take 32 shots (plus nine free throw attempts) to score 33 points.

(I would love to see Lewis do a comparable article about Battier guarding LeBron James. The Rockets host the Cavs on Thursday, Feb. 26. I can dream, can't I?)

Though we appreciate Battier's brains, his defense and his tenacity, you won't find Battier anywhere near the Race to the MVP -- or anyone's MVP list for that matter -- because his traditional stats (6.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game) are, frankly, dismal.

But is he valuable? Not in the traditional sense, but to the Rockets, Battier has value beyond traditional quantification. These intangible values don't only apply to Battier. They apply to all of our "legitimate" MVP candidates, too, and raise a question we've touched on all season: Do stats make the man "The Man" or is it something else, like a player's confidence, his aura, his presence, his enthusiasm and his attitude?

The debate goes on. You can e-mail us your thoughts at

Line of the Week
Orlando's Dwight Howard, Feb. 17:
45 points, 19 rebounds and 8 blocks vs. Charlotte.

Nearly 45-20? Throw in the eight rejections (which is my record at the eighth grade dance, "No, Rob...") and you have an epic performance.

Rise of the week: Pau Gasol (back into the Top 10)
Drop of the week: Kevin Garnett (out of the Top 10)

28.4 PPG 27.4
7.5 RPG 5.5
7.1 APG 5.0
1.8 SPG 1.3
1.3 BPG 0.4
.491 FG% .472
.776 FT% .868
LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers :: Team Record: 41-11
Last Week's Rank - 1
I can't deny Kobe Bryant's recent brilliant play, but it's still tough for me to move LeBron James out of No. 1 for the simple reason I think LeBron's had a better overall season. While it's true the Cavs started 1-2, it's also true that James has been the driving force behind the Cavs' 41-11 record while he operates in a new offense with a new No. 2 option while losing option No. 3, Zydrunas Ilguaskas, for 16 of the Cavs' 52 games. Has the gap closed? Yes. Could Bryant end up here when we do our last Race to the MVP? Sure. But over the course of the season, I can't help but feel that James has been a better rebounder and a more effective and efficient playmaker than Bryant. That's why he's still my No. 1.
Kobe Bryant
L.A. Lakers :: Team Record: 44-10
Last Week's Rank - 2
There is only one time during the Race to the MVP where it's wrong to be No. 2: at the end. With 28 games to go in the Lakers' season, Bryant has plenty of time (and plenty of help) to achieve his two goals for the regular season: grab home-court advantage throughout the playoffs and become the 10th player (Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan and Steve Nash) to win back-to-back MVPs. Fluidly working within the triangle offense, Bryant and the Lakers haven't missed a beat since Andrew Bynum went down with a knee injury. Though having Pau Gasol, one of the game's best passing big men, and a rejuvenated Lamar Odom doesn't hurt. If the Lakers finish the season with the league's best record, it could be hard to deny our current R2MVP No. 2 his second MVP.

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Race to the MVP - The Others

3. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic | Team Record: 39-14
20.8 14.1 1.2 1.0 3.0 .568 .591
Last Week's Rank - 3
The Magic have gone 3-3 since losing Jameer Nelson to a shoulder separation (Hmm... how valuable is Nelson?), but Howard's done his share with 22.7 points and 15.5 rebounds per game in those six. Getting Rafer Alston on the squad will help Howard and the Magic.

4. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat | Team Record: 28-25
28.4 4.9 7.1 2.2 1.4 .479 .745
Last Week's Rank - 4
D-Wade, as usual, has been brilliant (27.4 points per game, 4.2 boards and 6.4 dimes per game), but the Heat have gone 2-3 since our last R2MVP column. The Heat hover three games above .500. While it's unlikely they'll fall below it, what happens if they do? Do we drop D-Wade out of the Top 10 despite his incredible season? Discuss.

5. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets | Team Record: 32-20
21.6 5.3 10.7 2.8 0.2 .501 .854
Last Week's Rank - 5
With the exception of his assists (which are down by 0.9 per game), Paul has better averages across the board than when he finished second to Bryant in last year's voting. So, why does it feel as if Paul's not having the same kind of season? Maybe it's because the Hornets were 37-15 through 52 games last season, five games better than this year.

6. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs | Team Record: 36-17
20.8 10.7 3.8 0.5 1.9 .518 .699
Last Week's Rank - 7
Admit it, when Tim Duncan retires (and takes Gregg Popovich with him), you'll miss The Big Fundamental. His consistent excellence is comforting in these uncertain times, especially to the Spurs. Sure they've gone only 4-3 so far on their eight-game rodeo roadie, but Duncan's like an atomic clock: You can set your watch to him.

7. Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets | Team Record: 37-17
18.1 2.6 6.2 1.4 0.2 .418 .903
Last Week's Rank - 6
I know Carmelo Anthony deserves love somewhere in R2MVP, but I can't help but continue to recognize Billups' worth to this franchise: on offense, on defense, to Billups' hometown itself. If you read this every week, you know my predilection toward the point guard position (and players who handle the ball a lot -- James, Bryant and Wade). Billups is the reason the Nuggets are the No. 2 seed in the West right now.

8. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers | Team Record: 33-20
22.8 4.7 5.1 1.1 0.3 .477 .822
Last Week's Rank - 8
If Roy's last five-game sample is any indication, he needs to do ... less? In the Blazers' two losses in their last five, Roy played an average of 43.5 minutes, scored 69 points and took 48 shots. Maybe he just needs to play at home in Portland. Both losses -- one to the Thunder, the other to the Warriors -- were on the road.

9. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks | Team Record: 32-21
25.8 8.3 2.3 0.7 0.8 .475 .908
Last Week's Rank 10
Nowitzki's 44 against the Bulls on Feb. 7 was the third time this season he's gone for at least 44 points. Can you believe that's three more times than he did it in his MVP season of 2006-07 (when his season high was 43) or all of last season, when he didn't crack 40 once?

10. Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers | Team Record: 44-10
18.3 9.5 3.6 0.4 0.9 .563 .783
Last Week's Rank - OLI
Everyone, this is Pau Gasol and he's the second-most valuable player on the team with the league's best record. If he takes a shot, there's a better than 50 percent chance it will go in. If he doesn't shoot, he's probably the best post passer who has ever played in the triangle offense. There's noting like finding a Kobe Bryant or even Luke Walton cutting to the rack. The Lakers could survive without him. But they couldn't thrive.

Outside Looking In (OLI)

11. Kevin Garnett
12. Yao Ming
13. Deron Williams
14. Joe Johnson
15. Paul Pierce
16. Devin Harris
17. Steve Nash
18. Ray Allen
19. Tony Parker
20. Carmelo Anthony

Readers' favorites: Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Danny Granger, Al Jefferson, Chris Bosh, Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Mo Williams

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