Wednesday, April 15, 2009

R2MVP Daily -- April 15

Tonight, 28 teams will play the final 14 games of the 1,230-game 2008-09 regular season. As Fran Blinebury notes, those 14 games feature a million different storylines.

That's great, but we've followed one storyline here all season, and on the final day of the regular season, we're gonna wear it down to nub. On Friday, we'll publish our final Kia Race to the MVP column highlighting the exploits of the top three players (in alphabetical order): Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Dwight Howard, man of the people.
-- David Dow/NBAE/Getty Images

Admittedly, I focused a lot of the attention in this space to those three, and because of that, maybe we didn't always recognize the stupendous play from the rest of the top 10. Heck, the top 15. It's been that kind of year for the NBA. In 20 years, when those high-def highlights look grainy because we've gone to 2160p on our TVs and we're floating on those WALL-E chaise lounges in space, we'll talk about how good these days were. We'll reminisce about LeBron and Kobe and Wade ... and CP3 and Howard and Billups and Roy and Ray and Yao.

I hope we can look back at this season with appreciation, because, if you think of it, it has been one of the better seasons in recent memory. We have the Cavs and the Lakers with at least 65 wins and a third, the defending champion Boston Celtics, notching 60 wins for the second consecutive season, one in which Kevin Garnett missed 25 games.

Because of this, one of the things I've tried to avoid this season is knock anyone. It's not that I can't. I can lob criticism with the best of them. I never saw the purpose of tearing one man down to build another man up.

But when you place people in a list in which you rank them in descending order from the best on down, comparisons -- and sometimes negative ones -- need to be made. It's the nature of the column and the blog.

With that being said, I could give you the negative reasons why Howard and Paul and Billups and Roy and the others aren't in the top three (Howard, still needs to refine his offensive game; Paul's Hornets have been sliding lately; Billups doesn't have the raw stats; Roy has game and the Blazers are on the rise, but his stats also pale in comparison to the top three), but today, we're going to heap the praise.

But before we get into the players, I have two others upon whom I'd like to heap praise. One, Jeff Case at the newsdesk in the ATL. Case patiently waits as I pound away at a New Jersey Starbuck trying to focus on the task at hand. And on the occasion I'm stuck for an angle, Case will provide one. Think of this thank you as me taking a fake photo, Cavs style, of Case in his cube.

And finally, you, the readers. We started this blog on Jan. 3 as a way to fill the space in The Court Reporters. You have responded and, at times, kept me on my toes. (Me? Make mistakes? Rush through research? Not me...)

Today's entry will be the 57th. The first 56 have drawn 19,895 responses, the most of any blog on Granted, most of the comments aren't about the column, but I think of this space like those huge inflatable Moonwalks you find at carnivals and street fairs. We'll provide the space where you can bounce around, we just ask that you remove your shoes and try not to knock anyone over.

After all, we don't want to knock anyone. It's about fun. Now, on to the best of the rest.


Although he is only 23, Howard is old school in the sense he's a classic back-to-the-basket big man who needs to be accounted for on both ends of the floor. He has the best NBA body ever, even better than David Robinson, who was the previous holder of that unofficial, completely made up title and Karl Malone, who may have been 1B to Robinson's 1A. This season, Howard will lead the league in rebounding and blocks, becoming just the sixth man in the history of the NBA to do so. If he doesn't win Defensive Player of the Year, I'll be as surprised as these people.


You already know my proclivity for point guards. I love them. Why? Because they are players from which everything flows. They control the tempo on offense and they're the first line of defense. And no point guard does both better than CP3, the best point guard in the NBA. Yes, I know Deron Williams and the Jazz own CP3 and the Hornets in their head-to-head matchups, but no little man, no point guard is more complete than Paul, who has the highest Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of any player not named L. James or D. Wade. Paul, like Howard, will end up leading the league in two categories: assists and steals. Only the Hornets' regression, mainly because of injury, keeps him at No. 5.


You already know my procl... Anyway, Billups' numbers pale in comparison to the others on this list, especially in field goal percentage (.419). With 6.4 assists per game, he's 17th in the league in assists behind players such as Chris Duhon, Raymond Felton and Stephen Jackson, who's a point forward. So why is Billups here? Simple. Leadership. He's the prime example of an MVP candidate in which his entire reason for being here rests on what can't be measured: he's calm, he instills confidence and he has a basketball creed. Billups has now led his teams to seven consecutive 50-plus win seasons with his measured style. If he had put up these numbers in Detroit, well, ho-hum. Been there. But because he did it with Denver, a team that needed a ringmaster instead of another high-wire act, he will be mentioned. He deserves to be mentioned. Anyone who disagrees doesn't know hoops.


Here's another player who will be on this list for a long time. Only 24, Roy's in his third season and is the MVP of a team that's on the rise. He's already proven himself to have large onions in the clutch. Just look at the company he keeps. (Hey, what's Nate Robinson doing in there?) As I mentioned in a Race to the MVP column earlier this season, he's a taller, stronger version of Billups. I can think of no higher compliment. He's even getting Most Improved Player love.


I said I was going to keep these nice, so consider the following statement a mild rebuke. Yao needs a little more Gordon Gekko in him: "...greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works." Would the Rockets be a better team with Yao calling for the ball all the time? Yelling at his teammates? Would they be better if he were more Machivellian? It may be better for Yao's MVP candidacy (we like big men who put up big numbers), but it may not necessarily be better for the Rockets. And by contributing to the whole, rather than focusing on his personal accolades, Yao becomes more valuable to the Rockets. Strange, but true. Yao once had a teammate who did all that other stuff, and look where it got them. No, Yao, with 76 games under his belt this season, his most since 2004-05, has been the Rockets' anchor instead of an 7-foot-6 albatross around their neck.


If you could pick any big man for the Triple-Post, aka Triangle, Offense in the NBA, you'd point a finger in the direction of Pau Gasol and say, "That guy. That guy right there. The one who can pass. The one who can set a pick and quickly roll to the hoop. The one who can hit a mid-range jumper. The one who can get weakside offensive boards because of his high basketball IQ. That, guy, because he's tall. That guy, because he's happy and motivated. Him." Pau's not going to wow you with freakish athleticism, but you have to, have to, love the way he thinks and moves in the Lakers' offense. Smart and full of guile, Gasol has given the Lakers 81 games of one of the best season's of his life. Kobe makes the Lakers great. Pau make them greater.


I've wavered on the value of individual Celtics players all season. KG, Ray-Ray, The Truth, all of whom contributed mightily to the Celtics' 17th title last season. KG was the heart-and-soul, the maddest of the mad scientists in Boston's swarming defense. Pierce lived up to his nickname, hitting clutch shots and refusing to let Boston lose. And then there's Allen, Mr. Smooth, with an occasional bout of friskiness. But with Garnett missing 25 games this season, a lot of the responsibility has fallen to Pierce and Allen to keep the defending champs looking like champs. While the defense suffers with KG out, Pierce and Allen (with a lot of help from Rajon Rondo), have driven the Cs to their second consecutive 60-win season. And damn it, they deserve consideration, regardless of my foolish insistence early in the season that the Celtics were too talented across the board to single out one player. OK, fine. I'll notice them both.

Happy now?

I am. Thank you for reading. It's been a privilege writing it for you. See you next season.