MVP Race As Tight As They Come

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - April 23, 2008
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Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and outlandish expectation, Or to take arms and score against a sea of troubles and man-to-man defense, To which no traveler returns confident in his vote, puzzles the will, And by opposing end them to choose a winner amongst the sea of competition, Be all my sins remembered for choosing incorrectly.

History recalls not whether William Shakespeare covered the NBA as a young scribe for the Stratford Times, but even such a brilliant man of letters would pause in selecting the MVP in a year where every vote is a good one and none is correct. Whereas voters across the country were given a reprieve during the Jordan years, and whereas Kevin Garnett’s 2003-2004 campaign was so one-sided that he bested runner up Tim Duncan by 120 first-place votes, this year could be the tightest race ever. Handicapping the results would be easier if this were a Heisman Trophy race. Regional voting would eliminate Chris Paul. LeBron James and Kobe Bryant would offer a tight battle for second as Kevin Garnett gobbles up the massive East Coast vote and cruises to victory. It may just play out this way.

* Kobe Bryant 28.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.8 steals, .459 FG percent .840 FT percent.

The Lakers’season was in doubt following a 42-40 season and the release of a summer cell phone video of Bryant bashing teammate Kwame Brown. The often-labeled “best player in the game” was called a great individual scorer and defender who didn’t play well with others. He even once shut it down in the post-season because of his frustration with his teammates. Now, several months later, the Lakers find themselves a favorite to win their first NBA title in the post-Shaq era.

* Chris Paul 21.1 points, 4 rebounds, 11.6 assists, 2.7 steals .488 FG percent, .852 FT percent,

With their home city in shambles, the New Orleans Hornets moved part time to Oklahoma City and finished four games under .500 a year ago, good for fourth place in the tough Southwest division. Fast forward a year, and the team is the flip side of the Miami Heat. The Hornets finished one game behind the Lakers for the best record in the Western Conference because of a player who is, at 22, the best at his position and the most exciting young player to enter the league since, well, his four competitors for MVP.

* Kevin Garnett 18.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.2 blocks, .539 FG percent, .801 FT percent.

No sooner had Boston brought in Garnett and Ray Allen to team with Paul Pierce than the Celtics were seemingly granted the NBA title. The Celtics didn’t disappoint, going from worst to first in the Eastern Conference while winning an incredible 42 more games than the year before. Their mid-season victory lap through Texas last month proved to any remaining critics that the Celtics are more than just a good team getting fat on easy Eastern Conference prey.

* LeBron James 30.2 points, 7.9 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.8 steals 1.1 blocks, .484 FG percent, .712 FT percent.

Laker fans may not like to hear it, but James is the best player in the NBA. Too quick to keep from driving to the basket and too strong should he decide to post up some unlucky foe, James is the biggest match-up nightmare in the NBA. With all due respect to Dwight Howard’s All-Star Game high-wire extravaganza, James is the true superhero of the NBA. And God show pity on the innocent team whose unwise and boisterous fan dares to challenge the king’s superiority.

And the winner is:

Garnett? Of course not. You know how these things work. The winner is always mentioned last. Garnett did help rescue the Celtics from the abyss and he was the most important part of the NBA’s second-best defense, but the man had a lot of help. He was outscored by Pierce, and Allen freed up the inside for Garnett with his near 40 percent three-point shooting.

Lebron? Wrong again. Without LeBron, Cleveland would have secured a lottery pick. The Cavaliers have role players, but no one to take any of the scoring load off James. Things got worse in February when they picked up over-the-hill gang members Ben Wallace and Joe Smith along with Wally Szczerbiak and Delonte West. The team sputtered to a 20-17 post-trade record and five fewer wins than the year before. James is the biggest “V” in the business, but you can’t win with a team going backward.

Kobe? Oh so close. Playing with a mangled finger on his shooting hand, Kobe did the unthinkable - he played his usually dominant role while discovering he actually had teammates. Kobe’s willingness to get everyone involved showed as L.A. vaulted to the top of the Western Conference. The only real knock against Kobe is that the Lakers’winning percentage rose from .636 - good enough for a seventh place finish in the West - to .750 after acquiring Pau Gasol. Also, in the games that Gasol missed after joining the Lakers, the team went just 5-4.

Chris Paul. Saving the best for last. Paul was hardly alone, with David West and Peja Stojakovic, but no one was more responsible for the 17-game turnaround than the game’s most dominant point guard. Under his leadership, the Hornets improved their offense from 95.5 points to 100.9, and their defense by 1.5 points per. Most impressive was that Paul’s numbers weren’t pumped up against poor competition. Paul averaged 22.6 points and 11 assists against Western Conference playoff teams and was even better against his biggest adversary for the award.

Versus Bryant, Paul scored 23.2 per game while dishing out an average of 15 assists.

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