April 16, 2008 -- Sorry I'm late. With the playoffs coming up, we've been a little busy ... ah, you don't care. You want to know whether Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul sits atop the Race to the MVP presented by Kia Motors.
Good luck, because I'm going to make you scroll for it. You've waited all season long anyway, you might as well read through the list before getting to No. 1.
Last Week's Rank - 10
Still one of the premier point guards in ... NBA history. (Yeah, I said it.) The two-time NBA MVP put up stellar numbers and could pass the gold standard when it comes to shooting: 50-40-90 as he stands at .504 from the field, a ridiculous .470 from three and a stellar .906 from the line. He's second in the league in assists ... and turnovers. No player in the NBA embodies his team's style better than Nash.
Last Week's Rank - 9
T-Mac's numbers this year are far below the numbers he's put up the last seven years -- the years he's been an NBA superstud (he's averaged 26.8 ppg in the seven years after his debut in Orlando in 2000). He's here mainly because of this. He was the catalyst for most of that 22-game winning streak. That, and I couldn't think of anyone else who should have occupied this spot (Dirk, Pierce, Chauncey and Boozer all fell just a bit shy in my estimation... So sue me). I would like to see T-Mac play a full-season for once, too.
Last Week's Rank - 8
Shaq's presence is the reason he's here as much as Steve Nash's delicious dishes. Averaging career highs in field goal and free throw percentage (mmm... free points! Gahhhhh!) and a tick under his career high in points (26.0 ppg in '03-'04). Now freed from guarding and being guarded by opposing centers, Amare has carte blanche to use his athleticism to run roughshod over other power forwards. No one can guard him off the pick and roll.
Last Week's Rank - 5
I've received some e-mail about Manu being the MVP and being the heart and soul of the Spurs. Yes, every once in a while, I like to let my inner Barkley out and yell, "Gin-O-BLI!" at the top of my lungs, but as our NBA.com friend John Schuhmann says, "As long as Tim Duncan is on the Spurs, he's the Spurs' MVP." Couldn't have said it better myself. With that said, his 19.4 ppg is the second lowest of his career. For the Spurs to thrive in the Playoffs, he'll need to be his old MVP self.
Last Week's Rank - 7
I'll be frank, Deron Williams gets the best of Chris Paul in head-to-head matchups. However, it doesn't make him a more valid MVP candidate than CP3. Joe Dumars, with Chuck Daly's help, authored the Jordan rules. As great as Dumars was, do you think he should have been named MVP over MJ? Didn't think so. Still, Deron Williams is the perfect point guard for Jerry Sloan's read-and-react offense. He makes correct decisions nearly every time down the floor and can make you pay for mistakes (such as cutting under a screen, where Williams can drain a J in your grille). If he continues to play and evolve as he did this season, you'll see his name in these columns for years to come.
Last Week's Rank - 6
Unless Denver's Marcus Camby grabs 100 rebounds tonight (and with the way the Nuggets put up shots, hmmm... nah) Howard will become the youngest player to win an NBA rebounding title. Congrats to him. Howard is another young player who's game as it develops (better post moves, better from the free throw line, even more destructive on defense) will keep him in the MVP discussion for quite some time. He'll make the Magic a force to be reckoned with in the 2008 Playoffs and for the next decade.
Last Week's Rank - 4
LeBron James may be the most physically gifted player of our time (yes, even more so than Kobe.) He's 6-9 and runs like the wind, but is a rock-solid 250. Opponents bounce off him like bullets off Superman. I have no doubt that before Mr. James hangs 'em up, he could match Michael Jordan's five MVPs. He's that good. MJ won his first MVP in his fourth season at 24. Mr. James in his fifth season and is 23. With historical digits (30-7.9-7.2) and all-world game, don't be surprised to see him in thick of it again next year when LeBron is 24. Or, maybe you agree with our good friends at Cavs.com.
Last Week's Rank - 3
KG will receive some first-place votes for MVP, but more than likely, he'll be more of a front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year. Of all the top MVP candidates this season, KG's push for MVP is based more on the intangible -- heart, intensity, attitude, effort, karma, aura, feng shui, you name it -- than any other candidate this year. His individual numbers don't pop out at you, but one does -- 65 (and possibly 66). Those are wins. While many have written in and claimed Paul Pierce as the Celtics MVP, I respectfully disagree. Pierce had his time as The Man for Boston and he did well in that capacity. Just not as well as KG this season.
Last Week's Rank - 1
Chris Paul has had an exceptional season. He breathed life into a flat-lining franchise and a devastated city. He will become the fifth player in NBA history to lead the league in assists (11.6) and steals (2.7) in the same season. Paul's emergence as a legit MVP candidate this season reminded me of the first time I saw him in person at the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge at 2006 All-Star in Houston. The rookies were on offense on the same side of the court as we were and Paul had the ball at the top of the key. With three post players lined shoulder-to-shoulder in the lane, Paul disappeared behind them and in the blink of an eye, was -- FOOM! -- there he was at the rim for a layup. It freakishly and frighteningly fast -- like when a cartoon character goes through a solid object. I had never seen anything like it. This season was like that for Paul. FOOM! He announced himself as one of the game's top players. Let's hope we see it again.
Well, you can probably guess the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant didn't slip to No. 11. Even a Kobe hater wouldn't have the heart to do that. Considering I'm not a hater, let's look at why, if I had a vote in the MVP race, I would have Bryant No. 1 on my ballot.
For the second time in his career, played a full 82 games, and the last half of the season with a pinky so mangled that they'd need the team that put the Bionic Man back together to get it fixed (or so I've been told)
Subjugated his numbers to incorporate and integrate not one (Andrew Bynum) but two (Pau Gasol) key post players to the triangle offense
Led a team with few expectations to the No. 1 seed in the ultra-competitive Western Conference
Matches the intangibles that KG brings and does so on both ends of the floor
Adrian Wojnarowski mentioned that it's Kobe's time. It is. But not because he scored 81 in a game two years ago, not because he's never won it before, not because he's been the most talented player, not because this "may be his last chance to win it" (Really? Dude's 29. You think he's going to fall off the MVP cliff once he turns 30? What kind of fan are you?) and not because you have four posters in your room and "I (Heart) Kobe" etched into your school locker.
Those are the wrong reasons to name Kobe MVP. It's a disservice to him, his talent and his drive to be the player he is -- and the player you love -- to present Kobe Bryant with the MVP award because you feel sorry for him that he hasn't won it before. One of the reasons you love Kobe is because he shows no pity for his opponents. Kobe's a stone-cold closer. He's no charity case.
You give the man his due because he's earned it -- rightfully and honestly.
You don't think he'd settle for anything less than that. Do you?
Last Week's Rank - 2
If Kobe is voted to receive the Maurice Podoloff trophy this year, in his 12th season in the NBA, he'll match Karl Malone as the MVP who had the longest service time before winning the MVP. Malone won it in 1996-97, his 12th season in the NBA. Only Wilt Chamberlain (1959-1960) and Wes Unseld (1968-69) have won MVP as rookies.