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Rob Peterson

Race to the MVP

Fernando Medina & Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images

Rise (and fall) of MVP contenders easy to track down

By Rob Peterson,
Posted Apr 11 2009 2:42AM

With our final Race to the MVP scheduled to publish next Friday, April 17, we wanted to step into the Internet version of a time machine (thanks, Google!), to not only see where our mind was when the season started, but we also wanted to look at how our first attempt at ranking the league's best compared to today's top 10.

In retrospect, we did pretty well, as six of the current top 10 were in our first Race to the MVP from this season. None of them, however, will finish in the spot where we first placed them. It would have been seven of the top 10, but San Antonio's Tim Duncan, who was ninth in our first rankings and ninth last week, tumbled out of the top 10 this week.

(Sorry, Timmy.)

The other three players who are no longer in the top 10 -- Boston's Paul Pierce, who started the season at No. 3, Toronto's Chris Bosh, who was No. 5 and Phoenix's Amar'e Stoudemire, who debuted at No. 8 -- fell out of the top 10 for different reasons.

Pierce's fall out of the top 10 was the longest, but it had more to do with the Finals MVP hangover and how the Celtics were constructed than anything with Pierce's play.

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In The Finals, Pierce showed he could be the man, and did so often during the 2008-09 regular season, hitting clutch shots and carrying the team at times. But the Celtics' success rests on their defense and their combined talents of the Big Three of Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. Allen has had one of his best seasons as a pro -- and is another reason the Celtics are close to winning 60 again -- and Garnett has shown how valuable he is by his absence.

Bosh, with 22.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game, has put up better overall individual numbers than Pau Gasol, Yao Ming and Chauncey Billups (three players ranked in this week's column). Yet, there is one number that trumps all -- 48, as in losses.

As we have discussed many times, winning is key to being in the Most Valuable Player discussion. Bosh's slide out of the top 10 coincided with Toronto's slide under .500 when they lost to Denver on Dec. 2 to fall to 8-9. It was also after that loss that the Raptors relieved coach Sam Mitchell of his duties. Combine all those factors and Bosh's MVP candidacy never recovered.

Amar'e's candidacy also took a hit when the Suns were slow to adapt to then-coach Terry Porter's half-court style. Amar'e took exception to the Suns' new slowdown style and made his thoughts about it public. The players' general malaise and their reluctance to walk when they knew they could run hastened Porter's exit out of Phoenix.

The Suns and Stoudemire showed promise after the All-Star break by scoring 282 points in their first two games after Alvin Gentry took over. But Stoudemire suffered a season-ending eye injury and that was that.

So, now we have four interlopers: Denver's Chauncey Billups, Portland's Brandon Roy, the Lakers' Pau Gasol and Miami's Dwyane Wade.

If anyone tells you they thought Billups would be an MVP candidate this season, don't believe anything they ever say again. He started the season with the Detroit Pistons and has emerged as possibly the most valuable player outside of our top five of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade, Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

No one saw Billups' MVP candidacy coming, and it goes deeper than his moderate numbers.

It all changed when he was sent to Denver in exchange for Allen Iverson and Antonio McDyess on Nov. 3. Billups, the 2004 Finals MVP, changed the tenor and the tone of the Nuggets from a throw-it-up team who would throw up all over themselves at crucial times (especially the Playoffs) to a measured and solid defensive squad.

With Billups running the point, the Nuggets have leadership on both ends of the floor and are poised to be the No. 2 seed in the West. Valuable? Very.

As for Roy, the former Rookie of the Year was overshadowed by the arrival of one big rookie, Greg Oden. But as Oden struggled, Roy emerged as The Man in Portland. Steady and possibly most importantly, clutch, Roy has put the Blazers onto his shoulders and helped them navigate the nasty Western Conference. His poise and his presence will make him a mainstay in these rankings for seasons to come.

At No. 10, there's Pau Gasol. We've been enamored with Gasol's work with the Lakers since they acquired him last February for his brother, Marc and the loose change Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak found in the cushions of his office couch. As we noted in Gasol's blurb this week, it would be tough to find a big in the NBA who fits the Lakers' triangle offense better than the eight-year vet.

In addition to the reigning MVP, Gasol has been the other reason the Lakers have been able to weather Andrew Bynum's injuries in back-to-back seasons. His solidifying presence in the paint is the reason he merits mention here.

And finally, we have Wade, who has turned in a season that deserves more attention than we can devote here today. Our final Race to the MVP will look at his impact in full.

Well, that's it until next week when we reveal our final top 10 including who we think should win the 2008-09 Most Valuable Player. And readers, if you have a great reason as to why anyone in this week's top 10 -- from LeBron to Yao -- should be MVP, let us know. We'll try to incorporate your comments in the final Race to the MVP. You know where to send it:

28.3 PPG 27.1
7.7 RPG 5.3
7.2 APG 4.9
1.7 SPG 1.5
1.2 BPG 0.5
.487 FG% .467
.777 FT% .856
LeBron James
Cleveland Cavaliers :: Team Record: 63-15
Last Week's Rank - 1
On today, you will see John Schuhmann's article about Defensive Player of the Year. And in it, you will see LeBron second in the rankings behind Dwight Howard. And that's one of the many reasons -- defense -- that LeBron is a heavy favorite to win his first Most Valuable Player award. According to, no Race to the MVP top 10 player's team suffers more than the Cavs do when James is off the floor. His -7.3 per 100 possessions ranks is sixth in the league overall. Then there's his influence on the offense, where he is +13.8, giving him a net of +21.1 per 100 possessions -- tops in the NBA. As they pursue home-court advantage in the postseason, the Cavs will need all of what James can give them in the last four games of the season, starting tonight in Philly.
Kobe Byrant
L.A. Lakers :: Team Record: 63-16
Last Week's Rank - 2
Kobe and Co. seem to be on cruise control as of late, winning five in-a-row. TNT's Cheryl Miller reported during Thursday's Nuggets-Lakers game that Mr. Bryant has played a lot of games in the last two seasons -- playoffs, Finals, Beijing, preseason, regular season -- so he's learned to pace himself and let his teammates learn how to react in certain situations. Then again, it's good for the Lakers to have one of the greatest "bailout" players in history on their side and a guy who can score 33 points, as he did in L.A.'s win Thursday over a hot Nuggets team, while pacing himself. In their quest for the NBA's best record, the Lakers have a big test on Friday in Portland, where they haven't won in seven games.

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Race to the MVP - The Others

3. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat | Team Record: 41-37
29.8 5.0 7.5 2.3 1.4 .489 .766
Last Week's Rank - 3
Of all of Wade's spectacular numbers, this number may be the most impressive -- 277. That's Wade's combined number of steals (173) and blocks (104), which puts him 21 behind the league leader, Dwight Howard, who will probably win Defensive Player of the Year. Don't be surpised to see Wade get some first-place votes for that award. They're one game up on the struggling Sixers for the fifth seed in the East. Staying at fifth would mean Atlanta; slipping to sixth could mean either Boston or Orlando.

4. Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic | Team Record: 58-20
20.9 13.9 1.4 1.0 2.9 .576 .597
Last Week's Rank - 4
It appears as if Howard will win the rebounding title and the blocked shot title, becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to lead the league in both categories -- joining Ben Wallace, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Bill Walton -- and the first since Wallace in 2001-02. Howard and the Magic are just one game behind the defending champion Celtics for the No. 2 seed in the East and are two games away from clinching the franchise's second 60-win season, the last being the Shaq-era team of 1995-96.

5. Chris Paul, New Orleans Hornets | Team Record: 48-30
22.6 5.4 11.0 2.8 0.1 .501 .868
Last Week's Rank - 5
Paul and the Hornets have hit a rough patch (see also, Deron Williams -- No. 8), losing three of their last four, and even his 43 against the Warriors in Oakland wasn't enough to save his squad. Paul and the Hornets are the No. 6 seed, but a mere one game ahead of the Jazz and Mavs in the loss column. You don't want to slip to eighth. Then again, I'm down with CP3 on his gastronomic choices.

6. Chauncey Billups, Denver Nuggets | Team Record: 53-27
18.0 3.0 6.4 1.2 0.2 .421 .910
Last Week's Rank - 9
After their only appearance at Madison Square Garden this season on Dec. 28, 2008, I asked George Karl what he'd like Billups to do better. Karl said speed it up. I told that to Billups, who responded, "I'm sure he would." Because Billups plays tortoise to Karl's hare, not only are the Nuggets primed to clinch the No. 2 seed in the West, but they could escape the first round this season.

7. Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers | Team Record: 50-27
23.0 4.8 5.2 1.1 0.3 .479 .826
Last Week's Rank - 7
Roy and the Blazers went 3-1 on their recent four-game road trip, which ended with the Trail Blazers clobbering the hobbling Spurs. Who knows if that win over the four-time champs is like the first time you beat your bigger brother in hoops or whether it was just a win over an old team that's cruising to the postseason. If they want to make another statement, the Lakers are in town Friday night.

8. Deron Williams, Utah Jazz | Team Record: 47-31
19.2 2.9 10.6 1.1 0.3 .472 .845
Last Week's Rank -- 8
Yipes! Saying the Jazz have hit a rough spot is like saying the economy has slowed a bit. Williams and the Jazz have lost four of their last five and are in a virtual tie with the Mavericks at 47-31 as both teams try to avoid a first round series with the top-seeded Lakers. The Jazz did, however, beat their first team with a plus-.500 record on the road when they topped the Hornets last Sunday. Then again, the Jazz own the Hornets.

9. Yao Ming, Houston Rockets | Team Record: 51-28
19.6 9.9 1.8 0.4 2.0 .547 .864
Last Week's Rank - 10
Yao has been a chairman of the boards recently, as he's grabbed double digits in rebounds in his last six of his last seven games and 37 total during the Rockets' modest three-game win streak. It's strange to think Yao has only averaged 10 or more boards per game twice in his career and never in a season in which he played at least 80 games. C'mon Yao, you can do it.

9. Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers | Team Record: 63-16
18.9 9.5 3.5 0.6 1.0 .568 .780
Last Week's Rank - OLI
There have been times this season where I've thought Gasol has been the Lakers' most valuable player. (I know, shhhh!) He's a perfect complement in the triangle offense. He can pass, he can shoot (.619 in true shooting percentage) and he can board (15th in the NBA, but fifth in total offensive rebounds -- 257 and he had 11 on Thursday). Kobe is the their MVP, but the Lakers wouldn't be as good as they are without Gasol.

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

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