Sunday, October 10, 2010

The big one... MVP

So as it turns out, pre-season predictions just aren't as fun to write as ranting about any idea that pops into my head. So let's just get the last one I'm going to do before resuming your regularly scheduled randomness.

Before I get into specifics I'll talk about how I view the MVP award. Winning it takes more than being the best player in the League when all is said and done; you need to play enough games, you need the ball in your hands enough, you need to be part of a winning team and you need to be the unquestioned best player on your own team. There are other factors like dominating both ends, but those are just bonuses really (see Steve Nash). So here I go, trying to explain why these seven players meet these criteria and could be in with a shot to win the coveted award - that's right, even the honourable mentions get an explanation!

Honourable mention: Lebron James
Now, a lot of you will probably stop reading right now and never view this little site again. By all means, go ahead, but if you stick around I might just give you something to think about. Rather than list why Lebron could win it, I'll try to explain why he drops this low. There are a number of reasons, chief amongst them is the dramatic shift in freedom from what he enjoyed in Cleveland; he will have to share the ball with Dwyane Wade at least half the time and Chris Bosh is going to want the rock a little too. But of course, that's obvious; less ball-dominance means lower stats.

Another reason is responsibility; with the Cavs, he was clearly their go-to guy, but Wade remains the guy who should be taking the shots in the closing minutes and will have the greatest influence on the outcome of close games. However, I'll talk more about this when I get to Wade.

The final reason Lebron drops this low is a combination of fatigue and scrutiny; he's already won it twice, and it can be tough to remain at the top for so long without people getting a little resentful and wanting a change of pace. It doesn't help when you've made a decision many people think will destroy the game. Which leads to increased scrutiny; the shine is off the apple and people will be picking apart the weakness in his game, and believe me, they are there; his jump-shot remains inconsistent and he doesn't play particularly well off the ball, which is something he'll have to get used to.

When you put these three things together you have a player who will take a backward step in production, combined with increased scrutiny and add learning a new system to top it all off, it really isn't such a stretch to make him an honourable mention. I hate having to write so much on Lebron, but alas, it had to be done.

Honourable Mention: Brandon Roy
Roy has always been a personal favourite of mine; hard-working player wins ROY and proves the doubters wrong by being an All-Star every season since - that's special by any definition. However, he's almost criminally underrated as a legit MVP candidate. The thing holding him back is his body, if he could just stay on the court a whole season he would make a better case. That said, if he can play 70+ games this year, he could be a real dark-horse to win it. With Dwyane Wade and Lebron James teaming up, the incumbent winner's chances have taken a big hit and we know Kobe doesn't dominate the regular season anymore.

However, I don't want to sell Roy short by making this a circumstantial season; he has an offensive game with really no weakness and is also a gifted playmaker with a reputation for excelling in crunch time. After a nightmare year last season for Portland, the Blazers are looking to bounce back in a big way. They have a real shot at a second or third seed in the West if they are healthy and Roy is a big part of that. Now take a look back at the criteria I gave at the start of this post and see how many boxes Roy checks... you'll find Roy checks all the boxes.

5. Kobe Bryant
Now, I just said that Kobe doesn't tend to dominate the regular season, but after finally getting the surgery he needed to fix lingering injuries, a fresh Kobe Byrant could be the regular season terror of old. We all know how good he is, and with a potential meeting with the Miami Heat in the Finals waiting, the Lakers should be trying to get homecourt advantage which only adds to Kobe's chances of winning the award. He won't need to dominate statistically, but if he can be in the top five in scoring and the Lakers win the West, this could be Kobe's chance to get a second award.

If not? He'll just settle for another ring and Finals MVP.

4. Chris Paul
Having just undergone six months recovery from an injury I know firsthand how much that can motivate and fuel you to make a statement when you return. In the long hours of rehab work and watching your team struggle and ultimately fail from the sidelines, you realise how much you love the game, just what it means to you. Now, imagine you also have to endure your draft class rival taking the crown of world's best point guard while you're away. Factor in the drama surrounding his toast to Carmelo this summer and his subsequent recommitment to the city which birthed his NBA career and you'll have a healthy, incredibly talented Chris Paul playing with a chip on his shoulder.

However, team success is important too, which is probably the only thing holding him back. That said, the Hornets made some good acquisitions in Trevor Ariza and Belinelli. With a new coach and a fresh outlook, the 2010-11 season could and should see big things for Paul and the Hornets. A top six seed in the West with a squad like this gives Paul a real shot at winning his first MVP.

3. Dwyane Wade
Yeah, you read correctly. Contrary to popular belief, having James on his team will help, not hinder, his chances of being regular season MVP. Last season, Wade had to take a step back in the regular season to give his teammates a chance to shine but with number 1 and 6 in a Heat uniform Wade will be free from such concerns, rather, he'll be looking to put his stamp on the team and emphatically deny any attempts by the media or others to call it Lebron's team.

Wade is an unstoppable offensive force, one of the most dynamic slashers since the guy who supplies his shoes was in the League. He's no slouch on D either, and should relish the chance to exert more energy on the defensive end without such a heavy offensive burden. As far as getting the record is concerned, I don't think that is going to be a concern.

Ever since Lebron made his decision, there has been a lot of talk about their being Jordan and Pippen 2.0. The comparison is a good one, but people are confused about who is who. If Wade can stay healthy, I predict by season's end people will realise that Wade is the Jordan of this partnership and he will remind the world why he was 2006 Finals MVP and the only member of the Miami 3 with a ring.

2. Carmelo Anthony
Last season, Melo started off on fire, but an early injury slowed him down. If he can avoid a similar fate this season he will earn this high a ranking in the MVP rankings. Already considered a better clutch player and scorer than Lebron, he is in a contract year and don't underestimate the importance of Coach Karl being back on the sidelines. Expect Melo to use basketball as his release from the off-court drama surrounding possible trades and whatever else is bugging him. I believe he'll stick around in Denver for the season and simply leave in free agency; if it weren't for injuries and illness striking Karl the Nuggets were good enough to be at least 3rd seed in the West last season, and nothing has changed except that Billups has just won a world championship and will be hunting for that same feeling again.

This season is both Melo's chance to put himself back in the conversation as Lebron's rival and also one big audition for the many teams eagerly pursuing his services.

1. Kevin Durant
You all saw it coming, and with good reason. Lebron is sharing the limelight finally, Kobe is a year older and Durant just won a world championship with Team USA. The Thunder have an impressive young core and should only improve on last year's surprise 50-win season.

But let's focus on Durant; the kid is already amongst the best shooters in the L and is a physical freak with a 7'5" wingspan and the handle of a guard. With the confidence he gained in the WC, he should improve on his fourth quarter play, having realised how important it is for a team to have a designated go-to guy.

However, despite his success he remains humble and is as hard-working as they come. That's a potent mix for a player who still hasn't reached his peak.

Unless something goes drastically wrong, Durant will be the regular season MVP. Book it.

So there you have it, a wrap up of all the pre-season predictions. Thank Christ. Just realised I wrote the most on Lebron, which is lame, but ultimately necessary. Ah well.

This will be my last post until the regular season starts. See you all then!

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