The Smart Money MVP Case

Let’s go inside the head of a person still blissfully unaware of the NBA lockout. Suppose he just woke up from a coma he’s been in since the end of the Finals. Let’s do this because I want to talk actual basketball, and couching every statement I make with “lockout permitting…” is a drag. So let’s play pretend. Say you wanted to hypothetically wager some hypothetical money on a hypothetical bet. Say the bet was for who would win the MVP in the 2011-2012 season. Who would you want to bet on?

Lebron is probably the easy choice. He’s the best player in the league, by a relatively wide margin. He’s still in the prime of his career; in fact, he’s just entering his physical prime. By all accounts, this should be his to lose. But two things count against him. The Decision, and his showing in the Finals last year. Unfair as it may be, MVP voters will hold it against him. Regardless of his brilliance (and he will be brilliant, mark my words), people will say he needs to prove himself. Whether they’re right or not is a matter for another time, and immaterial. He’s not a very good bet, considering the risk.

Kevin Durant is the other favorite. Everyone is talking about how great he is, sportswriters love him, and he might win based on sentimentality alone. But I think the honeymoon will end sooner than later. Even though I don’t think Durant will get worse, I do think his improvement will plateau. I also think voters will become wise to his flaws. Namely, the fact that he’s an amazingly gifted pure scorer who doesn’t really make his teammates better and who hasn’t yet harnessed his defensive potential. It may not hurt him much, but I do think it’ll affect his MVP chances.

Dwight Howard is a really dark horse who probably shouldn’t be. He’s the best defensive player in the league, and an extremely underrated offensive player to boot. The problem is his offensive game isn’t really pretty. When he isn’t dunking on hapless little girly men, he’s throwing a line drive running hook at the rim or shooting an ugly jumpshot. It’s effective more often than not, but the lack of grace still counts against him, as people still harp on his lack of post game. Also, if Lebron is killed for not winning the Finals in his first year with a new team, you can bet voters will MURDER Dwight for losing in the first round to the Atlanta Hawks.

Dwyane Wade is another guy you wouldn’t really expect to win. This isn’t really a knock on him though. He’s got essentially a perfect game. His only flaw is his size. But he won’t win not because of any lack of spectacular play. Rather, he’ll suffer from one of the same problems Lebron will: having an MVP candidate teammate. There’s really almost no chance voters give him the award, unless he absolutely shocks the world or Lebron goes down with an injury.

Which brings me to my personal choice for your hard earned money: Chris Paul. Sure, last year he was subpar (compared to his usual stellar performances), but we can say that was due to his injury and subsequent recovery. If his six playoff games are any indication (and they are probably too small of a sample size, but c’mon), Paul is healthy. He’s primed for murder. As Matt Moore described him, he’s Kratos. Let’s look back at the last time Paul was healthy for an entire season. In fact, let’s look at the last two seasons he was healthy for an entire year. This is a list of all seasons for pure guards(so no Kobe or Michael Jordan), organized in order of descending Win Shares per 48 minutes. Notice who’s at the top? The two best seasons are from Paul. You see, he’s no joke. And if he’s healthy, that’s what we could see next year. I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that he’s a top 5 player. And the obstacles the other candidates will run into will really help him. Paul, on the other hand, has nearly no flaws, voting-wise. He scores gracefully and beautifully. He’s regularly delivered for his team in crunch-time situations, and while he lost in the first round last season, it was to the most blessed frontcourt in the NBA. Sportswriters love him nearly as much as Durant, if that’s even possible. Even though it hinges on his health, Paul is the best combination of risk and reward if you want to wager on the MVP results without getting your thumbs broken.

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