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RACE TO THE MVP
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Manu Ginobili has been perhaps the one player most crucial to the Spurs' start so far.
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

The Spurs are the best team, but do they have an MVP?

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Nov 26 2010 10:25AM

For many members of the Race to the MVP committee, weighing and ranking the candidates for the award each season is a task best suited to the black boxes. As in, those mysterious machines that can process all sorts of incompatible data, sift through the various individual vs. team accomplishments, measure it all against the competency of each player's supporting cast and spit out unassailable results.

For others, though, the process is far simpler, more checkers than chess:

1. Identify the NBA's best teams. (This generally is pretty easy to do, since the info is readily available near the top of the league standings each morning.)

2. Identify the best players on those teams. (About as easy as step No. 1, based on stats and known chemistry attributes).

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As a practical definition of an NBA MVP, "the best players on the best teams" approach is fairly sound. Where it sometimes hits a snag is when the clubs near the top so spread out the workload, or are so deep, that we're left with an ensemble effort rather than a star vehicle.

The San Antonio Spurs have presented that challenge to The Race for much of the 2010-11 season's first month. At 13-1, no NBA team has been better. With 12 consecutive victories, no NBA team currently is hotter. The Spurs have won big, they've won small, they've won fast, they've won slow. But they haven't had that one dominant superstar performer owning the score sheets on a night-in, night-out basis. Which doesn't lend itself to easy MVP consideration.

Most folks who know the Spurs, though, and watch them closely will tell you -- as many told the committee electronically the past couple of weeks -- that swingman Manu Ginobili is the proverbial straw that stirs San Antonio's drink. The 33-year-old Argentinian is having a terrific season individually, with his highest scoring average ever (20.8 ppg) as a full-time starter logging a career-high 33.1 minutes.

Yet Ginobili trails 20 other NBA players in scoring and, unlike a lot of MVP candidates, doesn't lead his own team in other traditionally revered stat catgories. Point guard Tony Parker tops San Antonio in assists, efficiency and total points-rebounds-assists, but ranks 11th, 19th and 25th respectively in the league. Big man-in-decline Tim Duncan is the Spurs' top rebounder but he's 15th overall. And 12th in double-doubles.

Then there are the other key components of San Antonio's perfect-for-November success, such as wingman Richard Jefferson, burly DeJuan Blair, exacting head coach Gregg Popovich and a well-defined and disciplined bench. It's business as usual, as usual, in San Antonio and that tends to keep the experts' highlight markers capped when trying to single out specific heroes.

That supposedly was going to be the problem out of Miami this season, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade muddying the MVP waters for each other like twin jet engines propelling a supersonic Heat squad. So far, not so much. Atlanta had a little of that going on early, with no single player posting typical MVP numbers.

But the Spurs are the best team in the league right now and Ginobili is the best overall player -- most impactful player, to be sure -- on their roster at the moment. For the record, his highest finish ever in actual MVP voting came in 2007-08, when he placed 10th while starting in just 23 of his 74 appearances for San Antonio. But he's higher than that now, while landing on this list for the first time this season:

1. Dwight Howard, Magic (10-4)
Last Week's Rank -- 4
Maybe Howard shouldn't get too much credit for his 24 points and 18 rebounds against Miami Wednesday, since the Heat have become everyone's favorite punching bag lately. But he averaged 25 points and 16 rebounds for the week.

2. Pau Gasol, Lakers (13-2)
Last Week's Rank -- 2
He missed a double-double in the Lakers' blowout of Golden State Sunday ? just nine rebounds to go with 28 points ? but made up for it with his 10-of-10 perfection from the field. Leads the NBA in double-doubles and efficiency.

3. Chris Paul, Hornets (11-3)
Last Week's Rank -- 1
Toppling two spots wouldn't be a big deal, except that Paul's fall came from No. 1. The reasons? A 1-2 week for the Hornets, his 11-of-32 shooting, a 13.3 scoring average and after New Orleans' 105-87 loss at Utah, a 3-12 personal mark in matchups with Deron Williams.

4. Derrick Rose, Bulls (8-5)
Last Week's Rank -- 8
The Bulls are doing things on their dreaded annual circus trip -- namely, winning -- that they haven't done consistently since Michael Jordan left in 1998. Rose is the catalyst, averaging 30.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists since Chicago left Chicago.

5. . Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks (10-4)
Last Week's Rank -- 10
Scoring at a career-high pace (26.4 ppg), hitting a career-best accuracy (53.6 percent), taking his fewest shots in three years (17.9 FGA per game). Nowitzki had 76 points in back-to-back victories over Detroit and Oklahoma City, including a 4-point play and subsequent 3-pointer in the turning point over the Thunder.

6. Kobe Bryant, Lakers (13-2)
Last Week's Rank -- 3
This might fly in the face of the "best player, best team" perspective, because Bryant is the Laker that rival coaches fear most. It seems wrong that he has just one regular-season MVP to his name. He even outscored Gasol 63-56 in L.A.'s 3-0 week. But his lanky teammate grabbed 18 more rebounds and out-assisted Bryant 15-12.

7. Deron Williams, Jazz (11-5)
Last Week's Rank -- 5
Good week for Williams, even better week for his supporting cast. The head-to-head performance against Paul was so good, it almost is becoming routine, with the Jazz winning 80 percent of the time in their matchups. But C.J. Miles, Al Jefferson and the second unit lightened their point guard's load.

8. Manu Ginobili, Spurs (13-1)
Last Week's Rank -- NR
He doesn't rank among the league leaders in most statistical categories but he did earn one No. 1 label after scoring 14 points in the fourth quarter with a steal and a block in the final minute of the Spurs' comeback victory at Minnesota. "Ultimate competitor," coach Gregg Popovich called him. That's an MVP quality, for sure.

9. Russell Westbrook, Thunder (7-4)
Last Week's Rank -- 9
Here again, as with the Lakers, Kevin Durant is the fellow on whom opponents primarily focus their defensive game plans. But Westbrook earned Western Conference player of the week honors through Sunday, then followed up with double-doubles as the Thunder went 1-1 vs. the Timberwolves and the Mavericks.

10. Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets (8-6)
Last Week's Rank -- NR
Here at The Race, we don't favor players whose individual well-being and future whereabouts intrude on his team's priorities during a season. But Anthony isn't just getting buckets -- he's boarding at a career-best pace, shooting his 3-pointers more accurately and attacking the rim (47 FTAs the past four games).

Dropping out: Rajon Rondo, Boston (6 last week), Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City (7).

Honorable Mentions: Rondo; Durant; Amar'e Stoudemire, New York; Al Horford, Atlanta; Joakim Noah, Chicago.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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