Dirk Nowitzki - Dallas Mavericks
Most Valuable Player

Named Western Conference Player of the Month for December ... Ranked seventh in the league in scoring (26.6), 16th in rebounds (9.0), fifth in free throw percentage (.901) and eighth in double-doubles (35) ... Recorded career-highs in scoring, field goal percentage (.480), three-point percentage (.406) and free throw percentage ... Became the third player in league history to average 26-plus points while shooting 90 percent or better from the line (Rick Barry and Larry Bird).

Our take:
The Mavericks had the third best record in the NBA this season. Without Dirk Nowitzki, would they have even made the playoffs? Nowitzki's importance to Dallas is obvious, and given that the Mavericks far surpassed preseason expectations, Dirk must therefore have been far more capable of carrying a team than we imagined he could be. He's got the numbers of the MVP. You could make a case that Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and LeBron James mean as much to their club as Nowitzki does, but those guys don't play for a 60-win club. Only San Antonio and Detroit qualify in that category, and they did so more a result of playing as a unit than riding any one player.
-- Brad Friedman

From a fellow candidate (and former teammate):
I think Dirk is as deserving as anybody. He's been outstanding. His team is having an outstanding year. I'd love to see him get it. They brought in some terrific players, but you gotta give Dirk most of the credit. It's him team. It's his responsibility and he's been outstanding. He's an MVP for sure.
-- Steve Nash

From the owner:
This is a team that most sportswriters picked to be in the bottom half of the playoff hunt with some saying they would barely make the playoffs and could fall out with injuries. This is a team that no sportswriter I can think of, predicted would win anywhere near 60 games. This is a team that has clearly exceeded the expectations of everyone who follows the game.

Its a team carried by a player who has improved in every area that the team has needed him to improve. While some talk about making the players around them better as a sign of value, this player has made the team around him a better, more successful team. The true sign of value.
-- Mark Cuban, blog maverick

A fan's take:
The most consistent No. 1 guy leading his team to one of the best records in the NBA. Improved in areas that used to be weaknesses such as interior play and defense. Maintained ridiculously high shooting percentage from the field and the free throw line. As good a clutch player as there is in the league. He is pretty much unguardable one-on-one (I can count on one hand the number of times his J has been blocked in the last seven years) and makes great passes out of double teams. Overall, a great player and leader of a great team. Dirk for MVP!
-- Philip - Los Angeles, Cal.

The Numbers:
81 38.1 26.6 9.0 2.8 0.72 1.02 .480 .406 .901

Most Valuable Player - The Candidates:
Chauncey Billups - Detroit Pistons
Elton Brand - Los Angeles Clippers
Kobe Bryant - Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James - Cleveland Cavaliers
Steve Nash - Phoenix Suns
Dirk Nowitzki - Dallas Mavericks
Dwyane Wade - Miami Heat

Others worth consideration: Carmelo Anthony, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Shawn Marion

Most Improved Player
Rookie of the Year
Defensive Player of the Year
Sixth Man Award
Coach of the Year

Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images