|The last three MVPs have gone to these two.|
My 2011 NBA MVP is...going to be given at this post's conclusion, after I've figured out who it is. Undecided is what I am at this point. A decidedly victorious player may not ascend above the rest, but I'll try my best to unpack what an NBA MVP is and who is most deserving this year. Choose the best answer. I apologize to those losing electrolytes after flashing back to standardized testing. Go drink Jordan's elixir.
What is, and isn't, an NBA MVP?
An NBA MVP is the transcendental signifier of his particular team, the base upon which the concepts and principles of a successful team are presumed and carried out. Being part of the equation for a team isn't enough to be MVP; the player needs to be the logic upon which the equation- the team's makeup itself- is based on.
It's kind of weird. An NBA MVP needs to have the perfect blend of being a great player, having a great supporting cast that allows the player to flourish by allowing him to carry the maximum possible weight for the team, have that supporting cast give enough help to maximize the results of his efforts (and have those results look good relative to the league's other teams), and not have a similarly talented base, or constant, on his team. It's incredibly difficult to win titles this way. MVP winners usually aren't on title teams. It takes one hell of a blend to accomplish that dish.
The Most Valuable Player award is such a simple yet descriptive title for an achievement. Beautiful language. Refusing to put the word "best" into the title should make confusion regarding what the award represents dissipate. Steve Nash may not have been a top five player in the league in 2005. But he was more valuable to his team than anybody else was to theirs, which is why I had Nash as my MVP that season.
LeBron James has been the best player on the planet for three consecutive regular seasons, and a legitimate MVP candidate on his hilariously flawed 2009 and 2010 Cleveland teams. This season, he's been slightly better than ever before in my opinion. But he isn't really relevant in this year's MVP race.
LeBron's Irrelevance, and Why it's so Relevant to Talk About
James joined forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh last summer, ushering Miami into the South Beach Experiment era. One of the hyped critiques of the move was how exactly James and Wade would fit with each other since they essentially fill the same role. They are elite-level offensive anchors at the wing position who are solid defensive pieces. Ignore for a minute the diminishing returns that this duo would suffer in theory. What is the need for them on this Heat team?
It's reasonable to assume the team is better with both James and Wade acting as co-anchors of the offense. When one isn't in the game or if one is having an off night, the team can rely on the other to counter deficiencies. They've even been learning how to work together, using pick-n-roll plays and the like. But what would the team look like without one of them? Surely the team wouldn't rise to 58 victories on the back of high-end talent. Bosh and Wade or Bosh and James aren't as good as James, Bosh and Wade (obviously). But take one of those two off the team, and the Heat can still create a successful equation based on the Constant offensive anchor that is James or Wade, with Bosh as a dependable secondary option. Add in the 3-point shooters and dedication to defense that head coach Erik Spoelstra could institute given the fact that Wade or James with Bosh would be doing the heavy lifting on offense, and you likely get a solid- flawed, but solid- 50 win team. They'd be less compelling as a contender in the playoffs, but they'd still be pretty good.
The current construction of the Miami Heat is flawed, especially with their holes at center and point guard. James and Wade and Bosh needed to produce a lot for this team this year, which is why they combined to have more win shares as a trio than any other trio in the league. The Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller injuries make the job they did even more impressive. But take Wade or James away and the team can still run using the same principles and operate at a decently high level in the regular season. Spoelstra wouldn't need to rush to a radically different plan B.
That's why the best players in the league can't win this award in 2011.
Naming the Contenders
Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, San Antonio's Big Three, Amar'e Stoudemire, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are suitable enough to be at least looked at.
I'm going to eliminate Westbrook, Williams, Stoudemire and Gasol first. Westbrook isn't as important to the Thunder offense as Durant is. Durant's super-efficient production of points, particularly coming off-ball, is incredible. Westbrook, while electric, is prone to making bone-headed decisions and turns the ball over a lot despite not having to carry as much weight offensively as his teammate. The team has other ball handlers, like Eric Maynor, James Harden, and to a lesser extent, Durant. Obviously the team would suffer, but I think they'd suffer without Durant a lot more. Westbrook's defense has regressed a bit, as he gambles way too often now.
Williams was traded mid-season and was injured at his new destination, so it's tough to gauge his value. Amar'e started off strong, but a mid-season trade changed the dynamic of his team, and they ended up with a lesser record than I had hoped. Gasol is on the huge frontline of the Lakers, and his normal replacement just won Sixth Man of the Year. By now, I hope the logic of my choices is becoming clear enough that I don't need to explain why Pau Gasol isn't an MVP candidate.
Paul and Nash are similar. Both led middling teams with inferior talent. Both were incredibly valuable to their respective teams. Neither had the help to get just enough positive results to be contenders here though. Nash is probably in my top five for most valuable players in NBA history, but his under .500 team hurts him here.
Regarding Boston: I can't seriously put a Celtic on here. Rondo is the reason why the offense goes- and stops. Nobody does enough heavy lifting to be included. If I had to pick an MVP for that team though, it'd be Garnett. With the injuries Boston suffered, if they didn't have KG, they'd have a horrific frontcourt.
The overrated Spurs are in a similar situation. Tim Duncan would be my choice for that team's MVP because he makes the team respectable defensively with his shot-blocking and rebounding. However, I think Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker's offense create the incredible offense that the Spurs displayed. If you take one of those two away, I don't think the other players, including Duncan, could pick up the slack. That would make the Spurs a lesser offensive team, and since the team isn't built to play strong defense anymore, I believe the effects of not having a Parker or a Ginobili would be significant. Nobody's important enough.
This leaves Durant, Bryant, Nowitzki, Rose and Howard.
The Fab Five
And this time, their accomplishments will count!
Let's start with the Black Mamba. Offensively, Kobe needs to shoulder an immense load initiating, scoring, handling the ball and making plays for others. On his blog, ElGee notes that Kobe's offensive responsibility is gigantic, second to another remaining player, Derrick Rose. Remember that fact.
L.A. is a difficult team to gauge because they are an older team, a tired two-time champion that is known to coast at times during the regular season. Observing them is a chore simply because you never know if and when they are operating at their highest level. Are they badly equipped for the regular season? Are they badly equipped for the regular season without Kobe?
Dr. MJ talked about Kobe's impact here, citing the fact that he doesn't lift his team as much as other superstars which at the very least indicates that he isn't as valuable to his particular team as they are to their respective teams. Now, an argument against me using Doc's argument is that a player can't lift a talented team that high- a damning argument against Kobe if we're positing that Kobe's team is talented- except that there is a profound concentration of the team's top-end talent in the frontcourt. Kobe's presence balances things out for L.A.- ironic if you've followed Kobe's career.
Kobe would be my MVP. But...Derrick Rose has a similar problem with his team. The difference is Rose doesn't even have that concentration of high-end talent at any position on his team- offensively anyway. He also doesn't have anybody who can handle the ball. At least L.A. has Lamar Odom and the point guards to bring the ball past half court. Pau Gasol can create a bit in the half court. Chicago's best ball-handler not named after a flower (as far as I know) is Earl Watson, who isn't a high-minutes player.
|Two of the Fab Five.|
Nowitzki and Durant are similar. The main value they bring is efficient off-ball perimeter scoring that essentially opens things up inside and outside for the peripheral players. Nowitzki's team has more depth, while Durant has more players named Westbrook. Dallas seemed to really struggle without Dirk this year, which would give Dirk the edge over KD. However, if you take KD off his newly formed team, you'd lose any frontcourt scoring, or positive effects of frontcourt offense outside of Serge Ibaka's off-ball game, that exists. Number-one option Westbrook is a bad fit with the interior based Ibaka-Kendrick Perkins frontcourt; he'd have been better with Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. After that trade, Durant is more valuable than ever. His ability to spread the floor, allow Westbrook to do other things, and produce volume scoring from a non-backcourt position makes the offense work.
Still, I don't see either of those two forwards doing what Rose needs to do. Think about it like this: Rose essentially plays two positions for the Bulls. He's the volume scoring threat and the floor-general point guard. The run he's on has been compared to 2001 Allen Iverson's MVP run, but I reject that comparison. Iverson wasn't the ball hog that season that people like to characterize him as- otherwise, how did Eric Snow and Aaron McKie manage 7.4 and 5.0 assists per game, respectively? Philly could at least run some offense and get the ball up the floor. Rose doesn't have anybody who averages over 2.8 assists per game on his team. Rose plays two positions for the Bulls on offense- he's Allen Iverson, and he's Eric Snow.
That brings us to Dwight Howard. Howard has improved by leaps and bounds this year, turning his mechanical offensive game into a confident-looking, fluidly effective source of points for his Orlando team. The Magic had clearly regressed in the beginning of the year as Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter struggled. Howard kept the team afloat. The team traded those two, along with his backup, Marcin Gortat, for Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu. Hedo and J-Rich have been solid, while Arenas has put up a disappointing 8 point per game on woeful percentages. Howard got the team to 52 wins with his 22.9 points and 14.1 rebounds per game, along with DPOY-type defense.
Who rebounds for that team? Orlando has the best defensive rebounding percentage in the league this season, a crucial part of their defense. I happen to think Orlando's team defense, orchestrated by Stan Van Gundy, would be greater than the sum of its parts without Dwight. But rebounding is part of defense, and you can only scheme so much for "I'm bigger than you."
Orlando would drop off offensively as well. A big part of their offense is their eFG%, but without Howard's efficient post scoring, what happens to that stat? I think Orlando sans Dwight Howard would be a less explosive version of last year's Golden State Warriors, with better defense. That's not a very good team. Solid, but not very good. Kinda sucks actually.
Chicago? Without Rose, the team's offense sputters. They were a bit above average this year with Rose. Without him, they'd turn the ball over even more than they did (they were pedestrian in terms of turnovers this year). Their claim to offensive fame was offensive rebounding, but you need to get shots up to get offensive boards, and it helps to have a guy drawing attention 18 feet away from the basket. Intuitively, their league-leading eFG% Against would go up since they'd be turning the ball over more often. Their defense would suffer without their two-positions-in-one star, and that isn't even taking into account Rose's stellar defense this season.
Above average defense and nearly league worst offense. Well, that likely results in a team better than Orlando without Howard, but that doesn't solve much considering Rose's team did win more games than Dwight's.
It's Rose's effects on offense as a double-duty star that are so great that it spills into the team's awesome defense vs. Howard's all-around effects on defensive possessions and scoring efficiency. Different effects on different teams by different types of players.
At this point, both are viable candidates. However, my choice for MVP would be Derrick Rose. Such a concentrated flaw in a team is dangerous, as shown this year in the LeBron-less Cavaliers. They went from over 60 wins to less than 20. The balancing act necessary to maintain a respectable team would be enormous if Chicago's base player was taken away. Howard's departure would obviously hurt, but Rose's departure puts Chicago in a black hole- we don't know where they'd land.
As I said, Howard as MVP is certainly reasonable. I'm taking Rose strictly because of my belief that the concentration in Rose's effects on Chicago would hurt the Bulls to a greater degree if Rose weren't there. They'd very much need to change what they are. The team's principle logic and makeup would dissolve without- well, without its MVP- to a greater degree than Orlando without Howard.
I think my three seconds in the paint are up....