MVP

Kurt —  April 17, 2006

I’m not normally not someone who spends a lot of time on the debate-at-the-bar nature of the MVP voting discussion, because it’s usually about splitting hairs between two guys who both had great seasons. However this year, with several potentials bunched closely together, who someone votes for ends up really being about how the voter views the award. Is it just the best player? Does the player have to come from one of the best teams in the league? There are plenty of questions.

Here are my top 5, which is really more of a jumping off point for the debate.

5. Steve Nash:
He is certainly one of the top 12 players in the league, a point guard who can shoot the three and drive the lane, plus is the perfect fit for the unscripted, fast pace style the Suns play. Frankly, he’s fun to watch.

But I was in the “how can you give it to Nash?” camp last year for two reasons: 1) I would like the MVP to play better defense; 2) Giving it to Nash was a way for a lot of sportswriters who long for the “good old days” to voice their displeasure with the “hip-hop” style of basketball and player the NBA. The dress code issue and debate tapped into the same thing — I’ve written about the NBA image issue before so I won’t get into it too much. His backers said Nash “played the right way” because he set up teammates, something Nash does well, but so did John Stockton, who never got a sniff of the MVP. The Nash candidacy is more a backlash against clearing out to go 1-on-1, playground dunks, cornrows and tats, all that more urban, playground style that some see as destroying the game. I guess those “purists” don’t like defense, but whatever, they love the short white guy.

Of course, there are some, like J.A. Adande in the LA Times today, who suggests Nash should get it because of how poorly the team does without him, as in the loss to the Lakers on Sunday. I think choosing an MVP by finding out which star player has the worst backup is an odd way to go about it. Plus, how do the Lakers look without Kobe? The Cavs without LeBron? It’s just not a good way to make an argument.

My two reasons for not voting for him last season still apply. Frankly, I’m not sure I’d put him in my top 5 (Brand would replace him) but he shouldn’t be ignored.

Now on to the most deserving four, in my book.

4. Dwyane Wade: We Laker fans should have a soft spot for this pick. For years we watched as there were stretches of the season where Kobe had to carry the load while Shaq was injured or indifferent, and each year those stretches have grown (save last season, when he showed up in shape but still faded by the end). Wade carried the aging Shaq (and Walker and the rest of the Heat) as far as he could this season. The guy has a true shooting percentage of 58% and 20% of his possessions end up in an assist? That’s crazy good. A late fade and injury hurt him, but he is still a solid choice.

3. LeBron James: LeBron, at the age of 21, is third in the league in usage rate — meaning only Kobe and Allan Iverson handle more of their team’s offense than LeBron. His true shooting percentage is 56.8%, plus he’s grabbing 9.8% of the available rebounds on the floor. For fun, let’s compare LeBron’s season at 21 to Kobe’s at the same age — which was Kobe’s fourth year, the 2000 championship Lakers: Kobe’s PER, 21.7, LeBron’s 28.2; Kobe’s FG% 46.7%, LeBron 48%; Assist ratio, Kobe 17.3%, LeBron 17.6%; percentage of rebounds grabbed, Kobe 8.8%, LeBron 9.8%.

And he’s getting better, look how well he’s started to play at the end of games. He’ll have multiple MVP’s down the road.

2. Dirk Nowitzki: Dirk is having a career year (somehow, he and the Mavs got better without Steve Nash around) with his best offensive numbers ever. He has a true shooting percentage of 58.9%, a career-best rebound rate of 14.2%, a career-best PER of 28.16, all while having to take on a higher percentage of the offense than he ever has before. But what has impressed me most is that Nowitzki’s defense has gotten better — he’s not Bruce Bowen but he’s also no longer a pylon to dribble around on the way to the hoop. He’s a solid defender, because that’s what his team needed. That is the kind of improvement you see from MVPs.

1. Kobe Bryant: The bottom line is, right now he is the best player in the game. It’s not that on any night he’s likely to score 50 points (or 62 or 81), it’s that he’s doing it efficiently and playing good defense at the same time. He’s taking on a crazy percentage of the offense — and, counter to what some want to think, the blame for this falls more on the other Lakers who don’t step up — while shooting 55.8% true shooting percentage. He has a career high PER (27.96).

For those that say the problem is Kobe doesn’t make his teammates better, you need to check your facts. I can’t say it better than Kevin Pelton — when Kobe is on the floor every other Lakers’ offensive numbers improve. And while Kobe’s efficiency has gone up since that piece was penned, the rest of the team’s has improved along with him (look at Kwame Brown and Lamar Odom at the end of the year).

Plus, a few times a game (at least), he makes you shake your head in disbelief. Maybe it’s splitting the double-team then a twisting drive to the hoop for a lay-up, or maybe it’s just a fade-away deuce as the clock runs out. And he makes it look effortless. He reminds you just how fun, athletic and graceful the sport can be.

Love him or hate him, he is the best in the game right now. And that, in my book, is how you determine the MVP.

Kurt

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18 responses to MVP

  1. i picked kobe for mvp before the year started. funny thing is he’ll win it after the team gets better.

    yeah, i’m SO sick and tired of hearing the “well if you took such-and-such off this team, they’d be terrible”. hell, you take ANY superstar off, it throws that team straight into the crapper. is that how the award’s measured, through degrees of crappiness… when practically every player that wins MVP comes from a team that’s over 50 wins [i.e. has a solid supporting cast]?

    i sound like a homer still, but i might pick elton brand. are dirk nowitzski’s stats better than his? elton is one efficient mother, i know that much.

  2. Brand is very good, but I’d say just a little behind Dirk: Dirk shoots a little better, turns the ball over less and handles a higher percentage of his team’s offense. Brand is a little better rebounder. Like I said, if I had a top 5 vote, Brand would get the 5 spot.

  3. I am not saying that Nash is the league MVP, but I would like to put forth some comments.

    Rather than saying what Nash does not do, or why he won it last year, why not recognize what he has done this year, without invoking the race card? Remember, this has been accomplished without the man some felt was the Suns, “real MVP”.

    Increases in scoring, rebounding, FG%, FT%
    Shoots + 50 %, + 40 %, + 90 %
    Still leads the league in assists
    2nd seed in the west
    3rd best record in the west

    Sometimes it is amusing to look at what was said regarding Nash and the Suns when the season started.

    “About the Suns, they were taking a step back anyway, but without the team’s real MVP for at least half the season it will be a huge step. Remember, before the Suns 62-win campaign last season was the 29-win one where Amare Stoudemire played in only 55 games and was never really healthy. Steve Nash doesn’t make that big a difference alone.”

    “It’ll be very interesting how the media treats the guy they voted as MVP. The logic last year was that Nash made the Suns great. When he doesn’t win half his games this year, what will their logic be?”

    I also noticed on the same site, the Suns were not predicted to make the playoffs, but the Lakers were shown as being the 8th seed.

    So, if the Lakers get the 7th seed, with Kobe, that is more impressive to you, than the Suns having the 2nd seed, without Amare, their, “real MVP”? I have to surmise, that now some will say, “10 fewer wins, that is a huge step back”, as opposed to, “how in the world did they do that”.

    We already know what the Suns can do without their leading scorer – a top 5 talent, also without their subsitute centre, Kurt Thomas and their 6th man, Barbosa for 25 games. We also know that the loss of last years 3rd and 4th leading scorers did not impact them as much as some thought it would. Why do you have to speculate on what the Lakers, sans Kobe, or Mavericks, sans Dirk would be like, that is simply muddying the waters.

    Just asking, but I also recognize that those who are of the, ABN school, (anybody but Nash), have difficulty giving him credit or respect for his game.

    link to quotes http://www.courtsidetimes.net/articles/42/

  4. VNC, it’s a hard line for me to walk because I don’t want to trash Nash, like I said I still think he’s one of the game’s best. And he has had an amazing season.I enjoy watching the Suns play, and I think their style is good for the NBA.

    But, I think situation is part of it, and I think D’Antoni and the Suns management deserve more credit than they get (he’d be my coach of the year). I think Nash is the perfect fit for that system, plus he gets the “they got better when he got here” credit that he partially, but not completely, deserves. What the Suns do is find guys like Diaw who are both undervalued and a good fit for their system. Nash, however, certainly helps grease that wheel.

    And I don’t want this to be about race, I don’t think any voter conciously votes for Nash because he’s white. I think Billups gets a little of that same “because he plays right” vote.

    Bottom line, I think Kobe, getting the seventh seed with what they had in their system, did more compared to what Nash did with what he had in that system.

  5. VNC, I will admit, however, that I underestimated how good Nash and the Suns would be this year. Kurt Thomas and Diaw and others fit in better than I thought.

  6. When people talk about the Suns they forget that this is a team that played together last year. Look at how much better the Lakers are playing right now vs. the start of the season? Imagine if the Lakers as constituted today had played for PJ last year. Does anyone seriously think we wouldn’t have won 6 or 8 more games this year? Games we lost due to inexperience with the triangle and inexperience playing together. How many close games did we lose earlier in the year that we would have won today?

    The point I’m making is that the Lakers have make tremendous progress this year, and right now, they are looking much more impressive to me than the Suns. We’ve won 13 of the last 20. The Suns are a .500 team over the same period.

    And compare the Suns output vs. the Lakers:

    Nash: 19
    Marion: 18.7
    Bell: 14.8
    Diaw: 13.4
    Barbosa: 13.0
    Thomas: 10.6
    Thomas: 10.3

    Kobe: 35.4
    Odom: 15.9
    Parker: 11.5
    Mihm: 10.4
    Brown: 7.6
    George: 6
    Walton: 5

    The Suns have 7 players averaging over 10 points a game. The Lakers have 4. And the drop off on the Lakers side is far greater as you go down the roster. From were I’m sitting Kobe has accomplished far more than Nash has given the supporting cast and the amount of time together. And more importantly, the Lakers are finishing the season much more impressively then the Suns are.

    I’m with Kurt in that Nash is a blast to watch. The guy is great. But he’s not the MVP.

  7. Kurt, I appreciate the response. As I said I was not advocating for Nash MVP, just wanted to put my 2 cents in.

    You said, Diaw, Bell, et al, have fit into the Suns system better than one could have expected. That is indeed a testament to D’Antoni and his system. However, Nash is still the man who has to ensure the system runs well.

    By your same reasoning, should Phil not get more credit for the Lakers play than Kobe? He has allowed Kobe to showcase his talent, rather trying to make Kobe play a real team game. The triangle is back, now Odom and Kwame are playing better, Phil, COY.

    Whenever I hear pregame comments, the game plan is usually directed at a teams most important player, Kobe, Dirk, Duncan. I truly cannot remember a Suns game and this includes last year with Amare, where the first name mentioned was not Nash.

    The burden of the Suns rests clearly on Nash’s shoulders, it is he who has to help his teammates succeed.

    My own opinion, Nash has more value to the Suns than you, perhaps, give him credit for. When he plays poorly, they do not win. On their eastern trip earlier this month, the Suns got pounded. After the trip, we hear that Nash was again having problems with his hammy.

    I think second seed is more impressive than seventh, especially when looking at all the changes the Suns have had, but that is my opinion.

    Oh and I would go with Dirk for MVP, 60 wins, at least

    Rhodes, only 3 players from last year, Nash, Barbosa and Marion, (I refuse to include Amare and his 3 games), A new team with 3 new starters and the Suns started the season 4W – 5L, they too had to learn to play together. As you say, if they had a year together, the Suns may not have lost those early season games.

    Regarding the large dropoff from Kobe to the next score. On a Nash team, it is share the wealth, even Amare last year only scored 25 points. Object, keep everybody as involved and as happy as you can.

    Speaking to the Suns record in the past month, see my comment regarding Nash’s hammy. Aching Nash and no Nash = loss.

    Cheers

  8. notreallyimportant April 17, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    I realize it has been said, but defense should be a huge factor. It is literally half the game, and if Nash gets destroyed night in night out on the defensive end he is not even the best pg, let alone the MVP.

  9. First, just the fact that the accolade is being debated
    is a good thing, a nice hot stove debate.

    Recent MVPs have been,”Give it to the center, case closed.”

    I was glad to see Nash get it last year because his play
    defied the conventional so-called wisdom.

    College and pro football has the same dilemma–
    line players on either side of the ball have to go
    that extra mile and be well known by a majority of sportsfolk to get consideration ahead of the QB,
    the RB and the WR for MVP, even though somebody
    made that block that helped break that run or pass
    or stopped that drive.

    Anyway, now that the “tallest tree in the forest” rule
    has been broken, we see that more criteria are bandied
    about to justify the ultimate choice with varying degrees
    of validity.

    The term “Most Valuable” adds to the lobbying
    due to its vagueness– most valuable to one’s team?
    To the league? The Capo Valuablest of the Tutti Valuables?
    All-around player? Best Defender? Best Scorer with
    A Little Extra Something-Something?
    Consistent percentages?

    Yet… as Rhodes says, what most of the candidates
    have in common is that they have played on teams
    that were more or less intact from the previous year
    ( though I also feel that the vet Cassell has contributed
    to the Clippers fortunes, allowing Brand to get the
    overdue attention this year for his consistent play,
    and I think the Heat sometimes found fire from
    Alonzo Mourning when Wade and O’Neal were
    achy and breaky )

    The Lakers?
    Brown, Divac, Medvedenko, Atkins, Butler, Rush
    Grant , Jones, Fisher, Fox, O’Neal, Payton, Malone
    AND Tomjanovich–all gone.

    All the teams have similar W-L records compared
    to last season, and even then L.A. had a shot to make
    the playoffs until the last 18 games.

    Common factor: Kobe Bryant; who played
    through Smush’s brain fades and Lamar’s Barcalounger
    approach to offense, Mihm and Cook’s slow emergence,
    the disappearance of Devean and the recovery of Walton.

    Kobe would be a standout on any of the other candidates’
    squads; what would have been the result for the Lakers with one the other four onboard?

    Probably with Wade, Nowitzki and Nash,
    Monty Python’s Flying 3-pointer Circus
    aka Mavericks West;

    Brand and James would provide needed D,
    but maybe only James could draw out some of what we’re
    seeing from Kwame and Lamar, but not in a consistent
    and cumulative fashion– I’ve already waxed off
    about that “making teammates better” canard.

    That being said, non-relevant factors like “likeablity”
    will come into play, and Steve Nash may be the benefactor
    of the same “give it to the last guy who won it” custom
    that he broke last year.

    But for me and my house, we rep for Kobe.

  10. 3 reasons why Kobe can’t win.
    12/28
    1/1
    1/3

    None of the other candidates COST their team a look at home court with their direct actions. Kobe might have. I realize maybe the Clippers don’t shut it down so soon if the Lakers still have a shot, but those were 3 winnable games until Kobe takes himself out of it by being a jerk.

  11. notreallyimportant April 17, 2006 at 10:20 pm

    Way to get an A in NBA 101 from ESPN.com

  12. interesting arguments. i do have problems with brand because cassell has been a closer, and no doubt has helped the clippers in the confidence game tremendously.

    it just doesn’t feel like d-wade or lebron’s year. kobe is too polarizing of a force to win either, just yet.

    if i had to bet money, i’d say it’s going to come down to dirk and steve.

  13. John R…if you hate the Lakers so much, and Kobe, and their fans…why do you come here?
    please go someplace else, and spew your nasty-ness.
    thank you.
    i just wrote a comment to your other posts, and then I come here and see some more.
    my mom told me if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.
    and BTW, what’s wrong with wanting some free taco’s???

  14. I don’t hate the Lakers. What gave you that idea? I know that the voice of someone who isn’t a homer can be confusing and possibly scary so I try to watch my tone and explain things to the fullest going above and beyond what should be necessary.

    4(+) MVP candidates carried their teams to home court advantage in the first round. 1 cost their team a shot at home court. If anyone cares to reconcile how this is ok, feel free.

    When there is no clear winner, the little things, like, oh, foolishly taking oneself out of 3 games, do matter. Sorry homers.

  15. MVP is not just all around offense. It has to include defense. All the Nash fans tout his improvement on offense but are silent on any improvement defensively. How do all Nashes teammates fair defensively? Have they improved? Has their record improved from last year? Amare is out I forgot. So why doesn’t all mighty Nash pick up the pieces for Amare. Why doesn’t he go out and be the stopper. He CAN’T, because he small and sucks on defense. All NBA defensesive team. I don’t think so. But I like his offensive game. Kobe guards almost all the MVP candidates that are being considered. How do you account for getting your teammates involved on Defense. The coach even said it himself. We think we could out score you. The whole teams philosophy is one sided. They should move to Denver so that they could just out run everyone. But they will never win the big one and there will only be one Showtime and that’s in LA.

  16. DJ not damon jones April 18, 2006 at 10:40 pm

    hey just a heads up for kobe if he wants mvp:score more than 50 points and have at least 5 assists because if the lakers lose they’ll be playing San Antonio because Sac-town just won……….

  17. I’m not sure what makes Kobe the favorite over Lebron.
    Lebron has done everything Kobe has but more.

    James averages a more efficient 31points/game, more rebounds, more assists, more blocks.

    Plus, he led a less than spectacular supporting cast to 50 wins.

    Yes, Kobe had a great season, but James had a better one.

  18. I think this tie up my comments on Laker fans AND the MVP race quite nicely.

    http://adandeblog.typepad.com/overtime/2006/04/ot_on_the_mvp.html

    If you don’t agree with Laker fan there can be no rational debate. You are just a “hater”, whatever that means.

    WE WANT TACOS!