April 1, 2008 -- Welcome to Race to the MVP, I'm your new host Rob Peterson. (Yes, we've already changed the shingle up top.) We'll continue the primary format Mo began at the beginning of last season and shepherded through last week. We'll try to continue to answer mail in a timely fashion. And we'll try to do right by the rankings. I don't have a recipe to rate the candidates, but I'll use a little of what I see and read, some numbers, mix in a little team record, a dash of momentum, a sprinkle of common sense and some opinion -- finely chopped. Basically, I'll be using the same formula every voter and fan uses: their own.
That being said, I'm going to do a little, nay, a lot of shuffling at the top of the order. Certain fans of certain players will not be pleased. Also, I'm not doing the shuffling because I think the previous rankings were wrong, but because I think guys and their squads have had MVP-race changing performances in the past week. It may appear harsh, but tough choices need to be made.
Speaking of harsh, I'm ending Kobe's five-week run at the top spot.
Your new leader: New Orleans Hornets point guard Chris Paul.
Rare is the MVP or award winner who has one of those special moments or games which turns the tide in his favor. Because I'm old, I can think of Doug Flutie's pass against Miami in 1984, which sealed the Heisman Trophy for the Boston College quarterback. I remember Robin Yount hitting two homers on the season's last day to seal the A.L. East for the Brewers in 1982. For our international readers and a contemporary reference, Cristiano Ronaldo turned in one of those, "Oh my god, this guy's the best" performances this weekend.
That performance was the centerpiece of Paul's sick March. Check the digits: 24.0 ppg, 13.3 apg and 2.7 spg. Throw in his 7:1 assist to turnover ratio, and you have someone who's playing the point guard position as well as it's been played. He's also not doing this in a vacuum. His numbers translate to wins as the Hornets sit atop the uber-competitive Western Conference.
As for his season numbers, at 11.4 dimes and 2.7 steals, Paul could become the first player to lead the league in assists and steals since John Stockton did it with 13.7 assists and 2.98 steals in the 1991-92 season and only the second player the fifth player in NBA history to do it. Stockton, of course, is also the only player to do it twice, as he led the league in dimes and thefts in 1988-89.
I highly doubt it, but Paul does giveth and taketh away.
In my earlier addendum, I wrote that Paul may siphon some first-place votes from front-runners Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, possibly swaying the numbers in either Kobe's or LeBron's favor. Now, I'm wondering how many more first-place votes Paul will have than Kobe or LeBron. Regardless, we're looking at one of the tightest MVP races ever.
Last Week's Rank - 2
See above. Or, if you need more justification, let's just say Chris Paul has been lights out under pressure in a playoff race this season. So far, no player in the NBA has handled it better. Oh, and he was Western Conference Player of the Month for March.
Last Week's Rank - 4
The Celtics went 13-3 in March and the Kid helped make it happen. Yeah, yeah, I know he missed nine games earlier in the season and the Celts were 7-2 without him, but where would this franchise be without Kevin Garnett? Instead of having 58 wins, being six games up on the Pistons for the East's top seed and the best defensive team in the L, they'd be hangin' out 'round the four or five seed, that's where.
Last Week's Rank - 1
I know the Kobe cultists will fill the e-mail box, but if you lose at home to Charlotte and Memphis in the same week, you're MVP candidacy will take a serious hit below the belt, even if you drop 53 against the Grizz. If the Lakers win those two games, they're up one game on the Hornets instead of one game behind. NBA.com's Dave McMenamin, our No. 1 Kobe fan, noted how KB24 showed versatility with 13 assists in the Lakers win over the Wizards on Sunday. Duly noted.
Last Week's Rank - 3
LeBron may be having one of the greatest statistical seasons ever. Too bad his Cavs only have 41 wins (compared to Paul's 50, KG's 58 and Kobe's 50) and are 4-6 in their last 10. It'll take continued excellence by LeBron and one hell of a season-ending run by the Cavs for Mr. James vault his way back into the top three of the MVP chase.
Last Week's Rank - 11
Hi. You may not think I'm an MVP candidate, but I've been playing some of the best ball of my career lately. You know I've averaged 29.3 points and 9.8 boards for the past two months? Did you see the 41 I dropped on Denver on March 31? You heard about the 38-point, 13-rebound, four-block performance which included a perfect 20-for-20 from the line against Houston on March 22. You're a basketball fan, right? So you know this already. If you don't, then it's time to open your eyes. Either that, or look into the Bright Side of the Sun to understand.
Last Week's Rank - 10
Man, does this guy ever lose it? He's been consistently good since he entered the league, and while the numbers won't wow you, the winning does. With a seven-game win streak, the Spurs have inched their way within the top of the Western Conference rankings. We've asked this around the office, and we haven't been able to figure it out: what makes TD so good? He doesn't jump out of the gym, he doesn't run the like the wind and he doesn't appear to be a strongman? Consensus: we think it's between his ears. What's your take?
Last Week's Rank - 6
An early-season front-runner for the MVP, Superman isn't flying as high in the rankings any longer. Uneven games (three points and 14 boards in a loss to Washington) and the emergence of Most Improved Player candidate Hedo Turkoglu have slowed Howard's candidacy.
Last Week's Rank - 7
Had two 27-point performances sandwiched in between a 12-point tally in a loss to Philly and 10-point ho-hum game in a laugher against the Heat. So, an up-and-down week for The Truth. Truth is, his 27-point, six-board, nine-dime game in a 112-92 thrashing of Paul's Hornets was one for the ages. That, and he only needs 117 points to pass Bob Cousy for fifth all-time on the Celtics list.
Last Week's Rank - 8
Deron averaged as many assists in March (13.3) as Paul did, but five fewer points per game (19.6 to Paul's 24.4). He has been under double-digits in assists in only five games these past two months and his 12-point, 16-dime, no turnover performance against the Wizards on March is the fifth time this season he's had double-digit assists without committing a turnover. Stellar.
Last Week's Rank - 9
"Hey, Rob, I'm putting up more points per game this season than I did in my first MVP season and more assists per game than my second MVP season. I'm shooting nearly .500 (.484 to be exact) from three. MVP one + MVP two = MVP three. Right?" Nice try, Steve. We still have much love for you, though.
On the Outside Looking In (averages - last week's rank)
If Chris Paul does win MVP this season, he'll become the fifth point guard in NBA history to claim the award.
Bob Cousy was the first in 1956-57 and Steve Nash the most recent in 2005-06. Nash has won two (2004-05 and 05-06), but Magic Johnson has the most with three (1986-87, 1988-89, 1989-90). Oscar Robertson was the other point guard to take home MVP honors in 1963-64.
Oh, if you want to quibble, we could consider Allen Iverson a point guard (or 1.5). He won the MVP in 2000-01.