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Race to MVP still has five players in the running

Mar 9, 2011, 2:22 PM EDT

Chicago Bulls v Cleveland Cavaliers, Game 5 Getty Images

Derrick Rose is not your MVP.

Not yet anyway. Dwight Howard is still making his case, while LeBron James’ candidacy is limping like the Heat the last five games. But that could turn around.

Right now, we don’t know who the MVP is. Which is a good thing. A real race down the stretch is a lot more fun than a runaway.

If the MVP race were a horse race, they would have just entered the top of the stretch. Like most horse races, now is when someone will separate themselves from the pack. (Sure, some seasons you have Secretariat at the Belmont, but this is not one of those.) Nobody has earned the MVP trophy yet. They have just put themselves in position to win it.

Five players must be put on an MVP ballot. While we don’t get one of those ballots, this would be our choices as of today. But this could be jumbled in any order in the next five weeks. Somebody needs to separate themselves from the pack. (You can vote for who you think should be MVP at NBC’s MVP fan ranker right here.)

1) Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic. The knock for years on Howard was he didn’t have enough post moves, that he was a one-trick pony. If you hear anyone say that now, you know they have not been watching the NBA this season — he is developed a series of trusted moves including a Tim Duncanesque bank shot. He was already the Defensive Player of the Year two seasons running, a disruptive force in the paint and defending the pick-and-roll. He remains one of the game’s best rebounders. He is having the best season of his career.

What do I look for in my MVP? A player who efficiently pushes himself to a new level and pulls his team to new heights with him. Howard has been very efficient this season and has pushed himself to new levels. I’ll also argue he is pulling the most out of this Magic roster (a roster that is likely to let him down in the playoffs, but that’s another topic). The Magic may be a disappointment, but that is not on Howard. His offensive usage percentage is at his career high but his shooting percentages have not seriously dipped. To me, right now, this is the guy.

2) LeBron James, Miami Heat. Yes, I’ve seen the last five games. That’s why he’s second — I had James on top of this list 10 days ago. Despite those recent games, he has stepped over from Cleveland to Miami and yet has maintained an immense level of efficiency — he is using 30 percent of his team’s possessions when he is on the floor (fourth highest in the league) and yet has an eFG% higher than anyone else in the top 20. He leads the league in PER.

It’s a matter of pushing and pulling his team. He’s proven he is still the best individual player in the league, but can he get his team over the hump in the final weeks of the season? That is his test.

3) Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls. He is your current front runner, if the MVP vote were today he would win. And while I said in January I didn’t think he was an MVP, he has certainly proven he is a legit candidate. In a world where we want a player to push himself and pull his team to new heights, Rose has done that better than anyone this season. He also has pushed himself — he is getting to the line more the second half of this season, and he has a three-point shot you have to respect now.

But he is still not efficient enough for my taste to be MVP. He’s 12th in the league in PER, with a true shooting percentage (which counts threes and free throws) just a hair above the league average. He also is not the key part of the reason the Bulls are contenders — their defense. I’m just not all the way there on him. But he is a legit candidacy, if he wins it is not a travesty. He’s just not my guy.

4) Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks. The big German is having his best season in years (probably since the 06-07 team that won 67 games). He is very efficient — he is shooting a career best 53 percent at age 32. He is the hub of all things the Mavs do on offense, accounting for him opens up lanes for Jason Kidd and Jason Terry and a host of other Jasons. What’s more, Dallas is certainly performing better as a team than we expected. He’s not a great defender, but he’s better than he gets credit for. He lacks the wow factor of Rose or the spectacular plays of James, in part because we’ve grown complacent watching Nowitzki do his thing for so many years. But he should be in the MVP conversation.

5) Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers. I think he has to be in the conversation, although if you want to replace him with Kevin Durant I’m not going argue much. (I had lobbied for Chris Paul for the first half of the season, but he has fallen off.) I put Kobe in because the Lakers are the better team, and nobody pushes his team to excel harder than Kobe. Except he didn’t this season until recently, the Lakers clearly coasted for a while. That’s a strike. Still, think of it this way: Kobe won the MVP in 07-08 with a PER of 24.2, this season he has a PER of 24.2. His shooting numbers are down a little from that season but his assist numbers are up. Look, he’s still one of the game’s elite and should be in the conversation. Kobe probably couldn’t care less if he is in this conversation so long as he is in the Finals MVP conversation.

  1. hnirobert3 - Mar 9, 2011 at 2:26 PM

    I’d go Rose before Howard. IMO, there’s a steep drop off after those two.

    • slaryxmariele - Oct 20, 2011 at 6:03 AM

      no lebron james is more diserving for the mvp award

  2. BC - Mar 9, 2011 at 2:36 PM

    No love for Paul Pierce? I’d put Kobe #4, bump Dirk and put Pierce #5.

    • slaryxmariele - Oct 20, 2011 at 5:56 AM

      yahhhh nowitzki is not diserving for the mvp award ,never…

  3. mickdamill - Mar 9, 2011 at 3:07 PM

    You are missing the leagues leading scorer on this list.

  4. starks3 - Mar 9, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    Another guy not on this list which should get some consideration is Amare Stoudemire. He has had an immense impact on this franchise on the court and off with him enabling the likes of Melo to want to come to NYC. I understand the latter doesn’t mean much when this is an on the court award, however look at where the Suns are without him, fighting for 8th seed after a trip to the conference finals.

    Also he has taken an Eastern Conference basement dweller to a 6 or 5 seed, and they were in that spot with or without the arrival of Melo…just sayin.

  5. chitownmatt - Mar 9, 2011 at 4:23 PM

    Efficiency stats are not all that they are cracked up to be.

    Efficiency stats do not predict wins.

    • chitownmatt - Mar 9, 2011 at 4:32 PM

      As much as I love DH, if you take into account Howard’s unassisted scoring vs assisted scoring, he almost falls off this list entirely.

  6. dirksimmons - Mar 9, 2011 at 5:01 PM

    Haha, D-Rose is in third? Must be a Helin article. Look, if it was vote for the league’s best player, it would be a two-man race between Kobe and Lebron every year. We all know that. But it’s much more complicated. Lebron and the Heat can’t beat any quality opponents. When the Bulls beat the Heat for the third time, it gave Rose the edge over Lebron indefinitely. Unless the Bulls collapse down the stretch, which is highly unlikely, Lebron should be no higher than third.

  7. pudgalvin - Mar 9, 2011 at 5:53 PM

    No way Amare is in the discussion. I don’t deny that in the literal sense of MVP he could be the guy, but a team just a smidge over .500 doesn’t contain the NBA’s MVP.

    My favorite way to look at is you take the top 3 teams in each conference and think about where each team would be without their candidate. To me, that leaves Howard, Rose and Nowitzki. I’m a Bulls fan so I’d go Rose, but I think in reality it’s a toss up between Rose and Howard.

  8. jimsjam33 - Mar 9, 2011 at 6:04 PM

    Okay Okay ! He’s not playing for a contending team . The team he plays for started out of the gate at 1 and 13 . He’s only a rookie , but he took a perennial buffoon team and made them a serious challenger against all opponets. You can’t take a victory for granted anymore against this team as long as he’s on the floor. When his team has all it’s starters healthy they may be in the top 8 teams in the NBA , that includes the West and the East. The rally cry for this franchise is ” Look out 2011-2012 season because we’re coming . ” Eric Gordon , Mo Williams , Chris Kaman , DeAndre Jordan , Eric Bledsole , Faraiq Aminu , and this player all mean business . This off-season we’re going for Danilo Galinari or Tayshaun Prince as our small forward.
    The player is Blake Griffin who may be the best player EVER at Power Forward in NBA history . Sorry Karl Malone . He’s only 21 . Griffin is the one player who has made a difference in the NBA season this year . The Clippers are a sell out at every venue . You can’t buy a ticket in LA .This team only has 24 wins , but people are excited and want to see Griffin and the Clippers play . The most valuable player ? No question about it . At the box office ? Griffin !…. Merchandise ? Griffin !….. Excitement ? Griffin ! Fan following ? Griffin ! NBA exposure ? Griffin ! The most valuable commodity to television , radio , and cyper media Griffin ! Griffin ! Griffin !
    To me there is no question who is the most valuable player in the NBA . Blake Griffin , the Secretariat of NBA basketball !

    • tubal22 - Mar 9, 2011 at 7:05 PM

      We’ll check again in about 19 years. It’s a little premature to call a guy who has played 60 games, who has already sat out a full year with an injury, the best power forward ever.

    • chitownmatt - Mar 10, 2011 at 1:45 PM

      Who is JimsJam33??? – Sounds like this comment was written by Blake Griffin’s Mom…lol.

  9. smithj21 - Mar 9, 2011 at 7:46 PM

    well in hindsight most people will think that Lebron James will get this. not he better not get the mvp. Derrick Rose deserves it more. Plus Lebron isnt even putting up the numbers that would warrant an MVP.

  10. bigjeter - Mar 10, 2011 at 2:45 AM

    Most Valuable. Think about it. With the talent around him, LeBron can’t seem to will his team to win, like a Micheal Jordan or Kobe. Most valuable includes intangibles. LeBron gets graded way, way down in the intangibles department. If he were the MVP, his team would not be in crisis this late in the season.. Michael or Larry Bird would have NEVER let that happen.

  11. sdboltaction - Mar 10, 2011 at 3:04 AM

    I agree, Kobe just wants the championship again. Hell yea

  12. downtowndanny - Mar 10, 2011 at 9:36 AM

    kids say the darndest things, huh Kurt? Not sure how much meth costs but whoever you’re copping from must be giving you a discount. D Drose has been MVP all season hands down, as usual Dwight disappears, and Lebron? really? He’d be more “valuable passing the rock to Wade”, stop hating on D Rose…..

    • slaryxmariele - Oct 20, 2011 at 6:06 AM

      eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeewww lebron is the only person whos desrving for the award .,.,.,.
      lebron is better than any other player specialy derrick rose

  13. jimsjam33 - Mar 10, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    chitownmatt ,

    I’m feeling benovolent this morning so i’ll play nice. No , i’m not Blake Griffin’s mom or dad . I noticed that not one person challenged my observation that Griffin leads the NBA in a lot of catorgories equating to mega-millions of dollars for the NBA . He’s the new kid in town so his un-equaled dunk fests have brought a lot of new found interest in the NBA. That being said let’s move on to the present subject. You should be happy with this .
    Derrick Rose is the MVP! Why ? Because he plays with energy , skill , is the consumate team player , and the Bulls , when it’s all over , will pass the Celtics for the number one seed in the East. Numbers don’t mean much if your contribution to a team means championships . Sorry LeBron . Even Bosh said you can’t score if you don’t get the ball . I hope Miami is happy with two man basketball . Chicago just might have it all this season . A Laker-Bulls re-match would be basketball heaven . Anyway , here’s one vote for Rose .

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