Mike Monroe: Photo finish for MVP
Web Posted: 04/09/2006 12:00 AM CDT
San Antonio Express-News
There hasn't been a season in the past 20 in which the race for NBA Most Valuable Player was less well defined with only 10 days remaining before ballots are submitted.
You can't even get easy agreement on the top-five candidates, let alone the player who most deserves the league's most prestigious individual honor. There is marginal consensus on the "big three" among the candidates: Pistons point guard Chauncey Billups, Suns point guard Steve Nash and Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki, and biased voters in Cleveland, Miami and Los Angeles probably think players from those locales belong.
The official MVP ballot from the league requires voters to rank the top-five players — in order. First-place votes are worth 10 points, second-place seven, third-place five, fourth-place three and fifth-place one.
Every year there seem to be some odd, mostly provincial, votes cast for the No. 5 spot on the ballot, since such votes typically are "throwaway" votes that won't affect the race at the top of the ballot. That's not the case this year — one reason it is so intriguing that the field of legitimate candidates is so large.
Each voter has his or her own criteria. The heavy bias here is team success. Individuals who play an all-around game — and at both ends of the court — get extra credit. The intangible value of "making teammates better" is difficult to quantify, but certainly a factor.
Examining the MVP candidates:
Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks:
He has been a rock for the Mavericks in a season in which they became one of the league's three best teams despite a rash of injuries to key players. He has adapted to coach Avery Johnson's approach, including the emphasis on defense. And he remains one of the league's best clutch shooters. The negative: You wish he would be more of a physical presence in the post.
Steve Nash, Suns:
The reigning MVP has had an even better season than when he won the award. The fact the Suns have 50 victories while effectively playing the entire season without their most dominant big man is tribute to his ability to make his teammates better. The negative: He still doesn't defend.
Chauncey Billups, Pistons:
He is the unquestioned leader for the team with the league's best record. He adapted to coach Flip Sanders' more free-flowing offense and is adept at setting up teammates before going to his own scoring game. And he isn't called "Mr. Big Shot" for nothing. At crunch time, the Pistons want the ball in his hands, in part because he is one of the league's best free-throw shooters. The negative: The other three All-Stars on Detroit's roster.
LeBron James, Cavaliers:
No. 3 in the league in scoring, No. 11 in assists and this season's leader in triple-doubles. James' play over the past few weeks put him on the list of those who have to be considered for MVP. Why, he even hit his first game-winning shot. The negative: The Cavs' record doesn't compare with the Mavs, Suns or Pistons.
Elton Brand, Clippers:
The Clippers are returning to the playoffs and may even win 50 games, and he is the primary reason. He has been solid all season, scoring and rebounding, and a good crunch-time producer, too. The negative: The team record doesn't compare, and you wonder if Sam Cassell's presence has been equally as important to the turnaround.
Kobe Bryant, Lakers:
He's the league's scoring leader and an amazing clutch shooter and a solid defender. The negative: He takes too many shots and the Lakers may not even make the playoffs.
Dwyane Wade, Heat:
He has carried the Heat through the wholesale offseason roster changes and a rash of injuries to key players. The negative: Can there be an MVP from a team that also has Shaquille O'Neal?
Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets:
He has been one of the league's best scorers since the All-Star break and one of its best clutch shooters all season. The negative: The Nuggets' record and defensive deficiencies.
Tony Parker, Spurs:
With Tim Duncan ailing all season, Parker elevated his game and leads the team with the league's second-best record in scoring. The negative: That midrange jumper still needs work.
The opinion here about No. 1 has wavered over the past few weeks. Just about the time Nash seemed to have secured a firm grip on the only vote I control, he was thoroughly outplayed by Billups in a head-to-head matchup one week ago.
Then, after Billups' domination of Nash appeared to make him the logical choice, Nowitzki waltzed into the AT&T Center and put on the sort of MVP performance that Spurs fans once took for granted from their favorite power forward, Duncan, in a game the Mavericks had to have.
For the moment, that puts Nowitzki on the No. 1 line on at least one ballot, followed by Billups, Nash, James and Brand.
This season, however, we reserve the right to change our mind several times before April 20.
Edit: link from San Antonio Express-News http://www.mysanantonio.com/sports/s...p.2c37f23.html