By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Mar 18 2011 11:33AM
The ballots haven't even been mailed, much less cast. What eyewitnesses, admirers and victims across the NBA have been volunteering -- Michael Jordan, Doc Rivers and Avery Johnson are among the latest to board the Derrick Rose-as-NBA-Most-Valuable-Player bandwagon -- has been strictly unofficial.
But there is momentum in play. Twenty-one of the NBA regular-season's 25 weeks (84 percent) are nearly complete. While Rose, Chicago's third-year point guard, has won nothing at this point, the Bulls' spot atop the Eastern Conference standings, his individual improvement and his impact on teammates make a compelling argument on his behalf.
Dwight Howard isn't close to being done as an MVP candidate. LeBron James still might have to figure out where to stage a third straight acceptance ceremony (somewhere outside of Ohio, presumably). Kobe Bryant or Dirk Nowitzki could close in a rush and carry the Western Conference precincts.
But if -- just if -- Rose were to be named 2011 MVP, a fair amount of history would be made:
• He would become the youngest MVP in league history. Rose turned 22 on Oct. 4, which would leave him with about six months on Wes Unseld, the Baltimore/Washington great who turned 23 just days before winning the award in 1969.
• Rose would be the first NBA MVP to earn the honor while still chronologically eligible to be playing in the NCAA tournament. Rose would be a senior at Memphis this season -- no MVP winner ever has been within four years of his high school graduation when he won.
• Rose would become the first MVP winner in 38 years who never received a vote -- not even a measly fifth-place write-in -- in previous balloting. The last guy to do that was Boston's Dave Cowens in 1973. Unseld and Wilt Chamberlain (1960) did it since they earned MVP and Rookie of the Year awards simultaneously and Bob Pettit obviously did it in 1956 when he was the inaugural MVP.
Cowens, a left-handed 6-foot-9 center battling not only with Bill Russell's huge footsteps in Boston but with opposing giants such as Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Nate Thurmond, had seemed a solid, blue-collar type in his first two NBA seasons. Sort of a Kevin Love type, averaging 17.0 points and 15.0 rebounds as a rookie, followed by 18.8 ppg and 15.2 rpg.
But in his third year, Cowens broke through wth career highs of 20.5 ppg and 16.2 rpg. His intensity and hustle still made him look more like a 12th man trying to stay employed, Boston finished 68-14 and people noticed. Make that "players noticed" -- peers selected the MVP until 1980-81, when the league shifted that duty to the media.
"Being named MVP by my peers means a lot to me," Cowens once said. "I was always out to gain the respect of the players. They are the only ones who understand your work habits."
Cowens got 67 first-place votes from his fellow NBA players, finishing with 444 points for a comfortable margin over Abdul-Jabbar. Cowens' individual stats (20.5 ppg, 16.2 rpg, 4.1 apg, 45.2 FG pct) sagged next to the Milwaukee center's (30.2 ppg, 16.1 rpg, 5.0 apg, 55.4 FG pct), but the Celtics won eight more games than the Bucks.
Nate (Tiny) Archibald led the NBA in both scoring (34.0 ppg) and assists (11.4) -- imagine how crazed some stats mavens would get over that today -- but his Kansas City/Omaha Kings finished 36-46. Chamberlain, in his final season at age 36, averaged 13.2 points, 18.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists while making 72.7 percent of his shots and helping the Lakers to 60 victories. Numbers that would demand a max contract today told Chamberlain it was time to go.
Every MVP winner since Cowens has "prepped" for the award by getting mentioned on one or more ballots in seasons before the one when they actually won. Bob McAdoo, for instance, finished second in 1974 before winning it in 1975, his third season in the league. Moses Malone was in his fifth pro season and third in the NBA when he won in 1979, after finishing sixth in 1977.
Here are the rankings for this week's Race:
Dropping out: Tony Parker (No. 9 last week), Paul Pierce (No. 10).
Honorable mention: Carmelo Anthony, New York; Luol Deng, Chicago; Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers; Al Jefferson, Utah, and Tony Parker, San Antonio.
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