One Man’s Opinion: The NBA’s MVP

By Chris Le

In what has possibly been the first March when the NBA has trumped college basketball, the hotly contested race for a Western Conference playoff spot has only been matched by the equally murky debate over this season’s most valuable player.

I’ve gone back and forth from one player to another throughout the months after the All-Star break and with just over two weeks left in the season, the choice isn’t any easier. The field however, as I’ve concluded, has been whittled down to four contenders: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James and Chris Paul.

Now, KG has restored legitimacy to the Boston Celtics in less than a year—an almost unfathomable notion a couple of seasons ago—completely transforming everyone on their roster. His intensity, particularly on defense (the main reason for the Celtics’ success), has been infectious even to teammates who aren’t especially known for their defensive prowess (i.e. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce). That’s why the Celtics continued to win when Garnett was sidelined with an abdominal injury. However, also during that stretch where KG was out of commission, his MVP campaign lost some steam while other contenders seriously picked up their games—like LeBron James.

Since the All-Star break, LBJ has put up Oscar Robertson-type numbers. He has been so insane this year that spectators now expect him to post 30-8-8 every time out. If he doesn’t, it’s almost considered a mediocre game. That’s how amazing he has been. And that’s not even mentioning his defensive improvements, though still sporadic, and the fact that he’s been the best clutch player in the league this season. Despite his otherworldly statistics, however, I begrudgingly still can’t shake the .554 winning percentage (record of 41-33), in the lowly Eastern Conference no less. I realize his supporting cast sucks (even the new one after the trade) and LeBron having the Cavs playing this well is in itself a mammoth achievement, but I can’t—with a clear conscience—give the MVP to a player whose team didn’t even win its own division. I didn’t think Kobe deserved it a couple of years ago when he, while scoring a million points a game, had a horrendous Lakers team hovering around .500; same logic here.

So, with KG’s injury-induced loss of steam in his argument and LeBron’s lack of team success, it’s a two-man race between Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, both of whom have been consistently excellent on winning squads.

The way it began, with his trade demands and largely negative attitude, who would’ve thought this would be Kobe’s best overall season? With his game-changing scoring ability and clutch play, Kobe is undeniably the game’s top talent and its most feared player—he has been for years. But he’s never combined those attributes with genuine leadership and a winning record until this season. You can say the Lakers are near the top of the Western Conference standings because their bench is improved so significantly and because of the Pau Gasol theft, but you have to largely credit Kobe for Los Angeles’ turnaround. You have to pay tribute to his growth as a leader and trust in his teammates, without which they and the newly-acquired Gasol would not have matured and flourished as quickly as they have. That was why, for months, it was entrenched in my mind that this was Kobe’s year. I all but had him penned-in for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

But the more I thought about it, the more it became progressively difficult to deny Chris Paul.

His stats (21.5 points, a league-leading 11.4 assists and 2.7 steals) are exceedingly impressive yet still belie his true value as a player. That’s entering Tim Duncan territory when extraordinary numbers don’t fully encapsulate how impacting a player is. He routinely dominates the floor, regularly slicing up top defenses and at times scoring at will. When was the last time the NBA’s top assist man was also a top-20 scorer? From the looks of it, the last was Magic Johnson over twenty years ago in 1987 when he posted 23.9 points and 12.2 assists a night. Not bad company.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a floor general who runs his offense better than CP3 (and yes, that includes Deron Williams and Steve Nash). You can also argue that Paul’s season has been better than Nash’s two previous MVP campaigns. He may not quite have Nash’s repertoire of passes and ambidextrousness, but his greater ability to create his own shots and those of his teammates has led to a better assist to turnover ratio (4.65 to 1 against Nash’s 3.03 to 1). It’s no coincidence that Tyson Chandler and David West are having career years. And let’s not forget that Paul is a defensive stalwart compared to Nash, particularly in the passing lanes.

In the end, in only his third year, Paul is the unquestioned leader of the (for now) top team in the West and is completely fearless on the court. His teammates feed off of him like KG, he’s posting crazy stats like LeBron, and he’s winning and leading like Kobe. In my book, there’s no other choice.

My ballot:

  1. Chris Paul
  2. Kobe Bryant
  3. Kevin Garnett
  4. LeBron James
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6 responses to “One Man’s Opinion: The NBA’s MVP

  1. http://www.nba.com/features/cpmvp_080314.html

    I hate how they talked about Paul’s humanitarian efforts under leadership as to why he should win the MVP.

    I won’t find the stat, but did you know Paul has alley-ooped it to Chandler at least 90 times this season while the next-highest pair of teammates have only alley-ooped it roughly 30 times? Pretty amazing.

  2. hahahah, doesn’t every prominent nba player do charity work? i’m pretty sure i’ve seen everyone on this year’s all-star team doing humanitarian efforts in those “the nba cares” commericials.

    and yeah, Paul and Chandler on those screen-and-rolls are nearly unstoppable. i wonder who’s in second place. nash to amare?

  3. I gotta go with Kobe. I think you’re right Chris, KG and LeBron are not in consideration for me. KG plays with two other super-talented guys and a solid club overall. Everyone talks about KG “leading” the Celts but does he really? In boards, yeah but not points nor locker room leadership. Think about it he doesn’t even get a touch on the last shot — Allen’s probably won more games for Boston. And LeBron’s team is simple not good enough and his stats, while sick, are not what MVP is about.

    If you talk about MVP it’s gotta be Paul and Kobe. And if you take both of them from their respective teams, I honestly think the Lakers would be worse than the Hornets (even with Gasol)

    Even with a regular PG the Hornets would be a solid club and I feel a lot of Paul’s credit should actually be sent West’s way. I mean when West is draining 20 footers in people’s faces how much of that is Paul’s work? Any PG can run a pick-and-pop. It’d be an interesting stat to know how many dimes Paul averages a game on that play to West alone.

    Also, LA is rolling nowadays but think about all season long how Kobe led the Lake Show pre-Gasol. It took a lot of leadership to do that and get that team playing together even after all the offseason drama. He didn’t give up even before Gasol. That deserves props.

    Don’t get me wrong, Paul’s amazing and I think he will win a MVP eventually (maybe more) but you gotta give it to Kobe this year (it’s a disgrace he hasn’t won one yet) when he’s got the Lakers back in championship contention after all the doubters said he’d never be in this situation without Shaq.

    And to parallel the end of my post, let’s talk endgame. When you think MVP, you gotta think clutch. Who do you want with the ball in his hands with your last possession tied ball game? Kobe Bryant. Not Chris Paul.

  4. In response to Vince, I recently heard a commentator say the Celtics start with defense (obviously), led by KG, and even when he’s not on the floor, his leadership permeates throughout the rest of his team. That sounds pretty valuable to me. And with regards to LBJ’s stats, does that mean A-Rod didn’t deserve the MVP when he won it with the last-place Rangers? (Just trying to clarify your definition and consistency of the MVP since everyone has a different definition of the award.)

    I don’t remember but were the Lakers a top-4 team in the West pre-Gasol? I don’t recall so, and one can’t say his teammates were worthless before Pau because let’s not forget the explosion of Bynum this year. Just throwing all of this out there since I haven’t made up my mind yet and probably won’t until the season’s over.

    And what’s better than a Kobe J in the clutch? A Paul-to-Chandler alley-oop!

  5. Vince, I got to disagree on your assertion that the Hornets without Paul are better than the Lakers sans Kobe.

    The Lakers’ bench is 7th in the league in points per game (32.2) and 5th in efficiency (36.9). Meanwhile, the Hornets’ bench is dead last in points per game (24.3) and 29th in efficiency (25.8). While I stats don’t always tell the whole story, these disparities are too difficult to overlook.

    As for the starters, I feel that Peja, West and Chandler are the beneficiaries of playing with Paul; not the other way around. I suppose any point guard can call for a pick-and-pop or a pick-and-roll, but not many (if any) execute it as well with as great of an effect.

    The pick-and-whatever is solely dependent on how the defense plays the point–if they switch, if the defender goes under or over the screen. Paul has an answer for any scenario, and the defense thusly have to be cautious of all of them. Because of Paul’s overall mastery of the offensive end of the game, he loosens up the defense for everyone on the court. I think only Nash and Deron Williams can have the same impact, and they still don’t do it as well as Paul. With a lesser point guard, Chandler returns to being a complete non-factor on offensive and defenses now play closer to West and Peja.

    As I mentioned earlier, Kobe gets to work with a much deeper, more talented rotation. That combined with the fact that CP3 more directly makes his teammates better, I can’t think of anyone who has been more indispensables.

    And, granted, even I have to give Kobe props for taking his team to success after the offseason drama. But then again, he was the main source of the drama. So do they offset each other?

  6. Pingback: NBA Postseason Awards « SportsCouch

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