With the regular season winding down and the three-month odyssey known as the NBA Playoffs set to being, it is time to hand out hardware. And unlike may of the other major professional leagues, the NBA's MVP Trophy actually still carries some clout. Can you name the last 10 NFL MVP's or baseball MVP's? Yea, me neither. But the Maurice Podoloff Trophy winners, always stand out. They make their teams run, and they make a difference. Replace any of the NBA MVP's with a serviceable player, and you have a mediocre team. The same can not be said for hockey, baseball or football. These men make a difference all by themselves.
This year the competition is as stiff as it has been in years. The dominant big men (Duncan, Shaq) have had down years due to injury. And, although their teams could very well be playing in the last series of the year, they did not carry their teams this year as in year's past. In fact, had it not been for a late-season injury, Shaq's teammate, and unquestionably the best player on the Heat, Dwyane Wade would probably the MVP frontrunner.
Last year’s MVP Steve Nash was the first point guard since Magic Johnson to win the MVP, and although he has kept his game at a very high level this year, one must also give much credit to the coaching of Mike D’Antoni. His open style of ball brought over from Italy has optimized Nash’s penetrating and passing skills and covered up a bit of his glaring defensive weaknesses. But the feisty Canadian has kept his team near the top of the pack in the West despite losing several key players to free agency and losing his biggest asset to injuries.
Speaking of injuries, the Detroit Pistons somehow avoided the injury bug all year, making them the odds-on favorite to win another title, and the man who runs their offense, Chauncey Billups, can be largely credited with that teams' success. He sets everyone on that team up, igniting fast breaks, defending the ball with tenacity and hitting the necessary shots come clutch time. But can the MVP really go to a player with four all-stars on the roster? Sure he plays near-flawless point, but replace him with Mike James and the Pistons are probably still the #1 seed out East.
And nobody has been more clutch at the end of games this year than Denver's Carmelo Anthony. He has hit the game-winning shot in seven out of their last 23 wins. That is insane. And all of this for a team that endured trade rumors throughout the off-season and then suffered through multiple injuries all year.
Dirk Nowitzki answered a lot of questions this year. He figured out how to take smaller, more aggressive defenders by utilizing newly-developed post moves and he put his team on his back down the stretch of some big games. He has never shied away from taking the big shot, and he has hit most of them this year. He is the reason Dallas tied their single-season best win total. He still could not defend his own shadow, and the MVP can not go to a guy who is a defensive liability. Well, except Nash last year.
But at least Dirk has some above-average players (Diop, Stackhouse, Terry and Howard) around him to complement his game. As for the two leading candidates for MVP, they have done most of it by themselves all year. Of course, Kobe Bryant would have it no other way. For years he has wanted his own team, and now he has it. The team is at his mercy, and Phil Jackson has basically turned the controls over to the league’s leading scorer. Admittedly, has Kobe not decided to become a one-man wrecking crew this team would not have had a chance to be a .500 club. And were the Lakers to lose Kobe to injury at the beginning of the year, they may not have won 20 games. He put on some of the best single-game performances in league history this year, capped by his 81 point performance against Toronto. But also averaged less than five assists per game, he never did anything to make his teammates better and he had the second-best player on his team looking like he wanted to kill him for the first half of the year.
LeBron James on the other hand not only averaged 30+ points this year, he also grabbed 7 boards and dropped 6 dimes a game. He is the only player besides Michael Jordan, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson to ever accomplish that feat. His supporting cast may have had more talent than Kobe’s but they often times did not live up to their potential. And he finally shrugged the label of not wanting to or not being able to take over at the end of games. King James has been an indomitable force for the Cavs. Anything they do in the playoffs will be due solely to what James accomplished. He is running the offense, defending the other team’s best player and inspiring his teammates every single night. And he would only be a junior in college. He has finally lived up to the hype, and if you replaced the best player on any of the top 5 teams in the league with James, they would be the automatic favorite to win it all for the next 10 years. He is that good. And he is this year’s NBA MVP.
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