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Rob Peterson

Race to the MVP

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Taking next step up in MVP race takes time as well as talent

By Rob Peterson,
Posted Mar 30 2009 8:35AM

It took Magic Johnson eight seasons. It took Charles Barkley nine and Hakeem Olajuwon 10. And then there are Kobe Bryant and Karl Malone, who won their first NBA Most Valuable Player trophies in their 12th NBA seasons.

For some, the excellence is there, but taking that next step to MVP status has taken time. This season, the top three candidates -- LeBron James, Bryant and Dwyane Wade -- have a combined 25 years of NBA service and only one MVP among them.

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One of the reasons it takes time is that the best players often are drafted by the worst teams. And while the individual numbers tend to be great, the team's records are lacking. The Cavs were 35-47 in LeBron's first season. Wade's Heat were 42-40. Bryant's Lakers were 56-26, but he was a raw 18-year-old who averaged only 7.6 points in 15.5 minutes per game in 71 games.

Considering NBA newbies already have an award -- Rookie of the Year -- precociousness seems to be a hindrance to winning the MVP award.

Only two players have come into the NBA and staked their claim as the league's best player: Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld.

Chamberlain made the competition seem Lilliputian. He averaged 37.6 points and 26.96 rebounds per game in his 1959-60 rookie season -- both NBA records at the time. No one had seen anyone like Wilt. Given that the league had only eight teams and nearly every team these days has 7-footers, we may never see the likes of Wilt again.

As for Unseld, the numbers for his MVP season in 1968-69 season (13.8 points per game, 18.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists on .476 shooting) more than likely wouldn't even get him into this season's Top 10. But one number did stand out -- 57. The Bullets finished with a league-best 57-25 record, a 21-game improvement from the previous season.

Unseld was the biggest addition to that Bullets' squad and the players, who voted for MVP back then, rewarded him with the league's highest individual honor. In terms of MVP voting, that season would be Unseld's best. He never finished higher than ninth in any other year.

Earlier this week in our Race to the MVP Daily, we examined the candidacies of Dwight Howard and Chris Paul and tried to piece together why these bright, young stars sit outside of the top three.

There are three other candidates in the Top 10 who have the potential to be future MVPs. We'll put Tim Duncan and Chauncey Billups on the shelf for right now. Duncan is already a two-time MVP and Billups, who has helped lead the Nuggets to the top of the Northwest Division and has a Finals MVP, is 32 years old. Only Malone, at 33, was older than Billups when he won his first MVP.

So that leaves Utah's Deron Williams, Portland's Brandon Roy and Houston's Yao Ming. What do they need to do throw themselves into the thick of the MVP race?

Let's take a look.

Deron Williams

Along with Paul, Williams is one of the top point guards in the NBA. As a matter of fact, we had him at No. 10 in our first rankings this season.

He's perfect for the Jazz's high-side pick-and-roll offense and, in four seasons, seems to have mastered the nuances of the offense. The biggest knock against Williams is two-fold: One, he has missed 14 games this season and durability is a big factor in being valuable. Two, the Jazz have to be a better road team. They are 0-12 against teams with a winning record on the road.

Brandon Roy

Roy, in just his third season, has the least experience of any player in our Top 10. Still, he's the centerpiece of a young and talented Trail Blazers team which, at 45-27, is one game behind the Nuggets for the Northwest Division lead.

Roy is averaging a career-best 23 points per game and shooting a career-high .478. The only thing that is preventing Roy from being in the top five is time. If he keeps improving, his name will be mentioned among the league's best.

Yao Ming

With this being his seventh season in the league, Yao is the most experienced of this trio. One of the issues with Yao has been his health. He has missed 86 games in the three seasons prior to this one. Yao has missed only four games this season as the injury-ravaged Rockets nip at the Spurs' heels for the Southwest Division lead.

Another factor going against Yao is that his numbers this season don't match his numbers of the past three seasons. Yes, he was injured those seasons, but he always seemed on the verge of having a breakout year. When voters see 19.6 points and 9.7 rebounds per game for a 7-foot-6 center, they think he could be doing more.

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28.5 PPG 27.5
7.6 RPG 5.4
7.3 APG 4.9
1.8 SPG 1.4
1.2 BPG 0.5
.488 FG% .470
.770 FT% .865
LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers :: Team Record: 58-13
Last Week's Rank - 1
Each week new numbers pop up to prop up LeBron's MVP candidacy. In addition to having the NBA's best record, last Monday, James won his seventh Eastern Conference player of the week award. Only Dwyane Wade has as many as three in the East. On Wednesday, he became the only player besides the great Oscar Robertson to record as many as four 2,000-point, 500-rebound, 500-assist seasons as he led the Cavs' to a franchise-record 58th win.

Another thing that has developed this week has been James' killer instinct. He's always had it (check Game 5, Eastern Conference Finals in 2007 against Detroit), but when he's not sitting out because the Cavs have a huge fourth-quarter lead, he can still use it. Against the Nets on Wednesday, he had a hand in all 12 points in the Cavs' closing 12-2 run. It's this aggressiveness which could be the difference between the Cavs' hosting every Game 7 or having to win one on the road.
Kobe Byrant
L.A. Lakers :: Team Record: 57-14
Last Week's Rank - 3
Mr. Bryant, welcome back to the specially designed No. 2 pod. You have the Lakers at 57-14, a mere game behind LeBron's Cavs for best record in the NBA (and thanks to the Lakers' two wins over the Cavs, you hold the tie-breaker) and home-court advatange throughout the playoffs. You have mentioned being at home for every Game 7 (should a series reach that point) is nice, but you believe the Lakers can win anywhere, anytime. With the league's best road record, 26-9, who's to doubt you?

You're also backing up your road warrior words as you have helped the Lakers to a pristine 3-0 on this current seven-game swing as you head into the Meadowlands on Friday to take on the struggling Nets. The biggest question about that game will be: how many Lakers fans will be in the crowd to chant "M-V-P!"

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Race to the MVP - The Others

3. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat | Team Record: 38-34
29.8 5.1 7.6 2.3 1.4 .488 .764
Last Week's Rank - 2
After a season of brilliance, topped by six weeks of transcendent excellence, Wade and the Heat have hit a rough patch in the schedule. Wade's individual numbers, of course, were still stellar overall (29.0 ppg, 6.4 apg, 4.0 rpg), but the Heat have played five games in the seven days since our last rankings came out, and they've lost three of them, including a back-to-back to Indy and Chicago. The game against Indiana was especially gruesome: 5-for-24 from the field.

4. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic | Team Record: 53-18
21.1 14.0 1.4 1.0 3.0 .578 .601
Last Week's Rank - 4
On March 25, Howard had his second 20-20 game in 10 days with 24 points and 21 rebounds in the Magic's huge 84-82 win over the Celtics in Orlando. "When he first came into the league, he beat people with pure athleticism. Then he started beating them with skill," Celtics coach Doc Rivers told Yahoo! Sports. "When he gets the whole package together I hope I'll be doing television." Good sentiment, as Howard denied Paul Pierce a chance to tie the contest with a game-saving block. But, when Doc mentions the whole package, he's right there too. Howard didn't score in the fourth quarter of that game.

5. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets | Team Record: 44-26
22.2 5.4 10.9 2.8 0.1 .502 .870
Last Week's Rank - 5
Why have the Hornets been successful this season? The main reason: Paul, of course. The other reason? Defense. So says Hornets coach Byron Scott in the Times-Picayune: "I think if you look since the All-Star break when we got back into it, I think our defense has been fantastic. I think that's one of the reasons we're (14-6) since then." That, and you have an MVP candidate in Paul who leads the league in steals with 2.8 steals per game.

6. Deron Williams, Utah Jazz | Team Record: 44-27
18.9 2.9 10.5 1.1 0.3 .471 .832
Last Week's Rank -- 6
Northwest Division point guards are finding the going rough in Phoenix (see also: Chauncey Billups, No. 9). Williams and the Jazz's most recent road stumble (they haven't beaten a team with a plus-.500 record on the road this season) came against the Suns on Wednesday.

7. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs | Team Record: 47-24
19.8 10.6 3.7 0.6 1.8 .502 .698
Last Week's Rank - 7
And the Spurs' MVP is ... Tony Parker? So says the Big Fundamental: "I think absolutely. Of course I'm biased, obviously. But with the position that we're in -- second or seventh in the West, however many games it can switch -- we're right in the mix with that. The amount of injuries we've been dealing with all year ... he's keeping this team consistent. He's been the consistent one all year long. Absolutely, he should be at least given an opportunity to be one of those top five." The sentiment is nice, Tim, but you're the man on the Spurs.

8. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers | Team Record: 45-27
23.1 4.7 5.2 1.1 0.3 .478 .829
Last Week's Rank - 8
After four games in five nights last week, Roy and the Blazers have had only three games since the last Race column. They sandwiched two nice wins, one on the road in Milwaukee and one at home against Phoenix around a nasty loss to the Sixers at the Rose Garden on Tuesday. Roy being a cold 5-for-18 from the field had something to do with the loss. Roy's 26 in Portland's 129-109 shellacking of the Suns was more like it.

9. Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets | Team Record: 46-26
18.4 3.0 6.3 1.2 0.2 .422 .908
Last Week's Rank - 9
Cliche alert! March came in like a lion for Billups and the Nuggets as they lost five of six. Since then, the Nuggets -- who seem a little chippy -- have won six of seven with the only loss being a tough one in Phoenix and the most impressive win coming on Wednesday in New Orleans as Billups went for 26 points, six boards and six dimes. The Nuggets have a 1 1/2-game lead over the Jazz in the Northwest Division.

10. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets | Team Record: 47-26
19.6 9.7 1.8 0.4 1.9 .546 .870
Last Week's Rank - 10
Could Yao and the Rockets be a little pooped? Possibly. Yao has scored a mere 41 points in the last three games as the Rockets concluded a stretch of 15 games in a 25 days ... and now, they a game Saturday and not another 'til next Wednesday. The break should allow the Rockets and Yao to rest and work out some kinks according to the Houston Chronicle: "We practiced (Monday)," Rockets coach Rick Adelman said. "We actually went two hours. Even though it wasn't a strenuous practice, we covered a lot of stuff. That?s what we're planning on doing for the next week."

Outside Looking In (OLI)

11. Pau Gasol
12. Paul Pierce
13. Dirk Nowitzki
14. Joe Johnson
15. Tony Parker
16. Ray Allen
17. Kevin Garnett
18. Devin Harris
19. Mo Williams
20. Carmelo Anthony

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