Sunday, May 06, 2007

Kobe for MVP--Just Hear Me Out

Even though I have an iPod and an unhealthy number of CDs, long car trips like the one I took last week still find me exploring the antiquated medium of AM sports radio. Compared to the instant gratification and quick sound bites of my usual sources of sports debate, "Sportscenter" or blogs, the repetitive, purposefully drawn-out nature of radio shows is striking. Amid the dramatic pauses and bone-headed listener comments, it's easy to lose an hour or five. (I laughed when Dan Patrick warned me about a Reggie Miller interview coming up in three hours, but when that interview actually began, I knew it was time to stop to pee.)

I happened to do most of my driving during the week of the Golden State-Dallas upset, and the discussion centered around both whether or not Dallas had any chance of winning and whether or not their star Dirk Nowitzki, who was leading his team into die toilette, deserved the Most Valuable Player award that seems coming his way this week.

It should be noted that the press voted on the awards before Golden State paced Dallas. But that won't help matters when Werewolf at Sunset hoists the Maurice Podoloff trophy at a humiliating, hollow ceremony, already bounced from the post-season play that defines a player who is truly great.

There's more Bud Select where that came from, podnuh; it's going to be a long summer. What I wouldn't give for WWatS' Golden Tee user name though. You know he's on the network.

(This is a sidebar from the real topic of the post--who should be this year's MVP for those who wanted to skip that sixty-one word sentence a few paragraphs ago--but why doesn't the NBA just award the MVP after the post-season? Someone always peaks during a playoff run. The pro side of that argument is that we could reward a player who stepped it up for a championship team; e.g., Rip Hamilton would have been the MVP three years ago. The con is that the league MVP would almost always be the Finals MVP.)

Every year NBA fans squabble over the rightful winner of the league's most coveted honor. Very rarely is there a consensus pick. Looking back on it, people even contested some of Jordan's wins; at some point, voting for him just became a sportswriting reflex. Anyway, that disagreement is usually rooted in what exactly the term "most valuable" means.

Does it mean...
1. Generally, most valuable in basketball? Skillwise, who is the best pro player at this point in time?
2. Most valuable to a team? That is, which team would suffer the most if a certain player was gone?
3. Most valuable to the league overall? Which player will be remembered historically from this season and which one is responsible for the most memorable moments of it?

To me, the ideal MVP would satisfy all three criteria. In voting for the award, I would at least evaluate who combined most of those different aspects. More than that though, I would extend the award with a historical reverence and an overall concept of the greatness the MVP entails.

By that, I mean that every great player--and I'm trying to prove that that term isn't as subjective as you may think--has won it. If you're one of those dudes who defined a generation, one of the few guys my mom could name, one of the men who influenced the play of countless players to follow, one of the people who changed the game at will and was never completely stopped by the other team, you've won an MVP. From every decade, if you were to name the top five players, each one would have won the shit. In fact, the handful of players informally considered to be the best of all-time have won multiple awards almost accordingly: Abdul-Jabbar (6, just because he played so damned long), Jordan (5), Russell (5), Chamberlain (4), Bird/Johnson (3 each).

I'm not saying that everyone who has won it is great (Dave Cowens stands out in this regard), but if you are great--excusing a few ABA-related bank robberies--you've got a statue. Otherwise, even if you're Elgin Baylor, you just don't belong in the same conversation.

With respect to this understanding of it, the MVP does an important job in quantifiying something intangible, in being a symbol of a player's transcendence. For the most part, awards are political, disappointing, and counter-productive. But the NBA's award has been eerily accurate in its estimations of a player's impact on the game.

So look again at those three definitions of "most valuable" and add a bit more weight to that intangible idea of greatness. Analyzing it that way, I would conclude that Kobe "Mamba" Bryant, not Werewolf at Sunset, the expected winner, or Steve Nash, the probable runner-up, deserves the MVP.

1. Most Valuable Overall: Who is the best player?

Routinely, analysts refer to Mamba as "the best player on the planet" or praise him for his preternatural talent. But there always seems to be a caveat to that. He doesn't make his teammates better. He won't really prove how good he is until he wins a championship on his own. He's selfish and one-dimensional.

The answer to the question is that Kobe is the most gifted basketball player alive. LeBron might come close, but Werewolf at Sunset and Nash don't. As you saw in the Golden State series, a well-drawn gameplan--a defender wiry enough to both contest his high release and follow him to the three-point line, double teams coming from different angles--can minimize Nowitzki's impact. Likewise, Nash is, in part, only as good as Mike D'Antoni's system. When he played with Herr Nowitzki, he was just an above average pointguard. Now he can run and gun to his heart's content.

Furthermore, Werewolf and Nash are defensive liabilities, while Kobe was just voted onto the NBA's All-Defense First Team. Even if you measure this part of the argument by how complete the player's game is, Mamba wins.

If you can subtract all the other factors from the discussion (and there's room for them in those other criteria I mentioned), Kobe is the best player. If you want to get technical with it, even his efficiency rating was higher than everyone in the league other than Garnett: Mamba- +24.80, Werewolf at Dusk- +23.17. Nash- +21.20.

As much as I love him, take away the trophy and add a headset, and most people would mistake him for the greeter at Express. I think the solution to this is a badass nickname.

2. Most valuable to His Team

Nash is probably more essential to his team's success than any other player in the league. I don't really know how to reason otherwise. He has this part of the argument sewn up. That's the basis upon which he won the award the past two years. Also, you could argue that if a player is really effective and important to his team, his team would still be successful at this point in the playoffs: Nash's team is the only one still in the mix.

When evaluating Nowitzki and Kobes, however, it should be noted that Nowitzki has another all-star on his team, and Kobe shares the backcourt with a guy named Smush. I'd rather play for the Mavs without Dirk than the Lakers without Kobe.

The Internet is weird.

3. Most Valuable to the League Overall

This, and that greatness stuff I lump in with it, is the most important factor for Kobe's consideration.

In those other categories, you can easily say, "Nowitzki, Nash, and Bryant have obviously different skill sets. You can't compare them to one another. It's like apples and oranges. Or apples and wolverines." Kobe will never dole out as many assists as Nash, Nash will never score as much as Kobe, and neither will ever do...a bunch of things pretty well as well as Nowitzki does. But from a historical standpoint, you can compare the men's crowning accomplishments this season.

For instance, Kobe notched ten games this season in which he scored fifty points or more. The fifty-point barrier has long been a benchmark for scorers, and Kobe did it ten times in one season. To put that in perspective, Jordan did it "only" thirty-nine times in his entire career. Well for a distributor, the equivalent of a fifty-point game would be twenty assists. Each accomplishment happens with about the same frequency during a season, and the feats are equally impressive to me. Nash only had two twenty-plus assist games this regular season. When he was at his best, Mamba was better than anyone else. But day in and day out, he was better than Nash and Nowitzki as well. Other than rebounding, Kobe paced Nowitzki in every single statistical category.

With regard to greatness, I'm also not ready to give Nash a third consecutive MVP. It's not his fault that he didn't deserve the first one, but giving him a third would put him in the same boat as Larry Bird, the last man to win three straight when he did it in the mid-'80s. Is that selfish and relevant only within my own construction of what the MVP is? Sure. But it matters.

Maybe selfishness is what the award is about though. Something that came up again and again in those sports radio shows was Dirk's hesitation in the playoffs. Many callers attached a European softness to Dirk's comments that he could "only take what [Golden State] is giving me, and they're not giving me a whole lot." You would never hear Mamba saying something like that. Not only can he create and be willing to take the final shot of a game, he relishes the opportunity. I've seen him do it for ten years now, and he has a level of control over a game that I haven't seen since Shaq's prime. If the national media is already going to give the MVP to a player whose team is no longer in the playoffs, it's about time Kobe Bryant's greatness was recognized with the award. And if you don't want to give it to him, show my man LeBron some love.

1 comment:

Will said...

Die plz, kthxbye.