by: Kevin Sawyer
I think the most useful and meaningful discussion to have on the eve of the start of the NBA season is a baseless, pre-emptive breakdown of the MVP Race. Here are the top 10 candidates as I see them.
1. Kobe Bryant
Kobe has everything going for him. He has never won the award. He is unquestionably a top 5 talent. He lights up every statistical category, and plays his teams into playoff contention. What really puts Kobe in the pole position is the fact that he is likely to be traded to a team that will assuredly improve upon his arrival. Can’t you just see the stories now about Kobe putting the team on his black, and willing them to the playoffs with his surprisingly unselfish play? I can.
2. Yao Ming
Yao was getting MVP buzz before he went down with injury last season. This year, the Rockets look very solid on paper. If they get an obscene number of wins, it will be easy to credit the 7’6" guy, especially if he can break the magical 10 rpg number and maintain his gaudy scoring numbers. A healthy Yao is not a given, but all he really has to do is be himself and stay healthy to stay in contention.
3. Gilbert Arenas
Arenas was actually just as productive as Steve Nash, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett were last season. He also has the "as he goes, so does his team" factor that allows sportswriters to throw out stats like "Washington is 17-3 when Arenas scores 40+ points", as though readers ought to be stunned to learn that there is a correlation between points scored and victory. He’s also beloved for his eccentric personality. If he can keep said personality on this side of nauseating, he should stay in the MVP race.
4. Dwyane Wade
I think the Ricky Davis giveaway (I think Kevin McHale and Isiah Thomas should team up for a buddy picture in which they play Santa Claus for other sports franchises… Antoine Walker? Are you kidding me?) propels the Heat back into the contention discussion. Wade is arguably the best player in the NBA, and Shaq isn’t going to be taking away any votes this year.
5. Kevin Garnett
Like Kobe, he will have the "new team" factor going for him, and he also fills out a stat sheet. Unlike Kobe, he carries with him a tremendous amount of goodwill after spending a decade in McHale’s Gulag. He will also have the "MVP in both conferences" narrative going for him. The Celtics will have to overachieve for KG to enter the discussion, and we can no longer argue that he is the best player in the NBA, but he will assuredly be in the discussion.
6. LeBron James
He’s a one-man team, and that will keep him in the discussion. But one-man shows don’t ever seem to take down the prize (see Kobe) and LeBron will have to fight the perception that he will have about fifteen opportunities to be MVP. That said, the dude clearly has yet to realize his potential. He could put up some numbers that will make it impossible to turn him down.
7. Tim Duncan
Now that he is finally getting his due as a defensive powerhouse, Duncan might be able to make a fresh case for another award. It’s hard to say that there is anyone else I would rather have on my team. Duncan never puts up splashy numbers, but he is widely recognized as one of the best players in basketball history. He and the Spurs will make their usual compelling case, and Duncan will probably finish somewhere in the top five.
8. Chris Paul
Yeah, I’m hitching my wagon here. If Paul is healthy, he’s going to be very, very good, and I don’t see NO finishing just out of the playoffs for a third consecutive year. Without a stellar supporting cast, Paul will get every ounce of credit for their success. His biggest limiting factor here might be the success of Deron Williams, who many regard as a comparable talent. If their numbers are similar, they may divide media allegiances here.
9. Pau Gasol
Memphis might be in for a big turnaround, which might be enough to get Gasol the credit he deserves. Savvy fans are aware of his tremendous gifts, but a conference stacked with big men has kept him even out of all-star appearances. But Gasol has led Memphis to the playoffs before, and another run might make him the sexy MVP pick.
10. Gerald Wallace
Speaking of sexy picks, Wallace is exactly the sort of player that writers pimp for the award when they want to seem smart. When healthy, he has been a multi-category beast, and he could put together the sort of season that Artest might’ve had in 04-05 if he hadn’t, you know, gone all Artest. The Bobcats have the tools for a playoff run, and Wallace stands a strong chance of making the All-Star game. He won’t actually BE the most valuable player, but that didn’t sop Steve Nash.