We all want to be smart, clever, cutting edge. Nobody wants to give the tired, same old answer. Even if it’s the right one.
Ask “experts” and fans who the best player in the NBA is and they’ll talk about how Player X is better than LeBron James. Kobe has more rings and finishes better, Durant has taken his scoring mantle, etc. Sorry, but the answer is LBJ. Has been for a few seasons now. Nobody is forcing you to like LeBron, but respect the game.
The same theory holds with the MVP discussion. We don’t want to state the obvious few guys because they don’t show us as forward thinking. We seem staid and boring saying LeBron should have a third straight MVP.
So we fall in love with the new guy and their fresh narrative. We sell their story. Amar’e Stoudemire has brought the Knicks back to relevance, carrying all of Manhattan on his broad shoulders, so he should be MVP. Derrick Rose has made this Bulls team the best since you know who, so he is in the MVP discussion.
Both Rose and Stoudemire are having genuinely fantastic seasons, they deserve truckloads of praise. Neither should have to buy a dinner in their respective cities. But MVP is another discussion entirely. Neither of them should be in that discussion once it gets serious.
Here’s the thing about Stoudemire — he’s the same player now he was in Phoenix. The numbers are close. Go ahead and point out he is scoring three more points per game than he was in Phoenix and I’ll note his shooting percentage — traditional and true shooting percentage — is down. Yes, he’s scoring three more points per game but he’s taking four more shots to do it.
Spare me the “defenses are focusing on him now” bit — if you think that defenses didn’t plan for him in Phoenix, you didn’t watch any of their games.
Which is kind of the point — Stoudemire was great in Phoenix but never got credit because people weren’t watching and too many of those that were became captivated by Steve Nash. Again, not to bash Nash, but he drew some of the attention that rightfully belonged to Stoudemire. Now, Stoudemire is getting that adulation on the big stage.
He has lifted the Knicks up to… average. The Knicks are not a good team folks, they’re just no longer craptastic. Credit Stoudemire for that — but that is very different than the MVP discussion. And you’d be shortchanging Raymond Felton. The truth of the campaign is that Stoudemire is New York’s favorite son and so all these Knick fans — including my bosses, so enjoy this column because I am biting the hand that feeds me — think he is now deserving of the league’s highest honors. No. He didn’t change, the Knicks changed a little with him and Felton. Stoudemire is not even having his best season (07-08).
As for Rose, you can make a better case for him — he is having his best season (of three, but still) and the Bulls are on the bubble of contender in the East. So he passes those criteria.
But Rose is also doing that in part because the team around him is better. The real MVP of the Bulls is Tom Thibodeau and his ability to coach defense. Then there are the comparisons: Rose is undoubtedly good, but he is not as efficient a player other elite team leaders such as LeBron or Dwyane Wade. Chris Paul has a true shooting percentage of 60.4, LeBron is 57.7, Rose is closer to the league average at 53.8. He’s about the same in terms of usage as Kevin Durant but not nearly as efficient a scorer. Rohan broke it all down well right here, I will not rehash it.
As Tom Ziller points out, the Durant of last season is a good comparison for Rose now because the casual basketball fan base is falling in love with his game for the first time, hence the glowing stories like Rick Riley’s on espn.com. The “he’s a good person, we love his game” meme. Which all may be true, but that is different than an MVP discussion. For me MVP should be about efficiently leading your team to a higher place than they could go without you. Rose and Stoudemire both do that to a degree, but others do it better.
The problem is the NBA issues no guidelines on how to define MVP. Best player in the league? Best player on the best team? Guy who meant the most to his team? Best player to make a rap video cameo? You can define it however you wish.
In the absence of direction, many NBA writers are drawn to the guys with narratives. Writers like stories. We do. Here’s the thing: We’re like the rest of you — we want our job to be easier. Guys who come with their own narratives attached make our jobs easier. So many in the media root for those storylines. Guy changes the fortunes of New York/Chicago makes a great story.
It does not make an MVP.
To be fair, here are the three guys at the top of my list right now. Feel free to tell me how inadequate they are:
Chris Paul. The Hornets stunk last year and are good this year — 30-16 and currently riding the longest winning streak in the league. What’s the difference? CP3 is healthy. (And Monty Williams deserves a nod here in part). Paul is the best point guard in the game — you may be wrong, Barkley — and he somehow gets undervalued. He can shoot or dish like Nash. He carries this offense. He has lifted his team farther than any other player this season and done it efficiently.
LeBron James. Best player in the Association on one of its elite teams. Sure, he’s the same guy as the last two seasons, but that guy was MVP.
Dirk Nowitzki. If you’re one of those who say you can tell how good a player is by his absence from his team, then Nowitzki is your guy. Remember that Dallas was 24-5 (largely against a tough schedule of above .500 teams) while Nowitzki was shooting 55 percent (a career best) before his injury. He left and the team collapsed. What hurts his candidacy is what has happened since his return, which is unimpressive.