Wednesday, April 15, 2009

NBA MVP


As the NBA season concludes it is time to decide who is this season's Most Valuable Player. There are four candidates who stand above the rest: Los Angeles' Kobe Bryant, Cleveland's LeBron James, Miami's Dwayne Wade, and Orlando's Dwight Howard.

However, with all the publicity and media coverage directed at two specific candidates (and a bit more success), Bryant and James have separate from Wade and Howard as the two elite candidate. Before going into detail about the redundant Kobe/LeBron dispute, let's accredit Wade and Howard on each man's success on the season.

Wade has led the enervated Heat to a fifth place finish in the East and a final record which is guaranteed to be over .500. Wade leads the NBA in scoring with just over 30 points per game (Wade is the only player to average over 30 for this season) and maintaining a field goal percentage a fraction of a percentage under 50%. But his scoring does not tell the whole story, #3 also average 7.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game, not to mention 2.2 steals and 1.3 blocks. If you put the numbers together Wade is good for a 49.22 point swing on an average night (point swing is determined by adding points and defensive rebounds, adding twice the number of assists, steals, and blocks, and subtracting twice the number of turnovers). Wade also has had the intangibles working for him this season. He has played excellent defense, he has been an excruciating challenge in the paint as Wade has mastered the trick shot around the hoop, he has provided an emotional outsurge whenever needed, and he has come through in the clutch time and time again.

Howard is not in the same league as the other three however when considering importance, Howard is right up there. With Orlando's three-point onslaught style of basketball it is nice to have the assurance that Dwight Howard is under the hoop waiting for a rebound. Howard is almost always good for an easy two with a dump down under to him as he leads the NBA in dunks, but what has taken him to the next level is the hook shoot and the usage of his left hand that Patrick Ewing has instilled in him. If Howard can master ambidexterory and the hook shot, then we are talking Wilt Chamberlin or Kareem Abdul-Jabber caliber. On a statistical note, Howard has put up 20.7 ppg with the NBA's fourth best field goal percentage. Howard will likely finish the season leading the NBA in rebounds (with 13.9) and blocks (with 2.92). Howard is also good for a steal per game which is a nice number to throw in. In combination with Rashard Lewis, Hedu Turkoglu, and Jameer Nelson/Rafer Alston (Nelson before his injury and Alston after it), the Magic have finished third in the East and are looking forward to a bright future.

Now lets get down to business. Kobe / LeBron, Apples / Oranges, Godfather / Goodfellas, Ali / Frazier, Brownies / Cookies. This is the historic rivalry we haven't seen in over a decade. The Black Mamda against the King. Who comes out on top?

When considering MVP one should look at statisitics, playmaking ability, reliability, respective team's success, and importance (what happens when you subtract this player from his team?).

Stat-wise lets go down the list:
Kobe - 26.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 5.2 rpg, 1.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 46.7 FG%, 35.1 3P%, 85.6 FT%, 2.6 topg
LeBron -
28.4 ppg, 7.2 apg, 7.6 rpg, 1.7 spg, 1.2 bpg, 48.9 FG%, 34.4 3P%, 78.0 FT%, 3.0 topg
4.1 drpg kobe
LeBron has the best of Kobe in six of nine categories. According to NBA.com, James has a player efficency of +30.88 while Bryant has a player efficency of +24.18. Using the same method to estimate the point swing of Wade, LeBron is good for 48.9 per game while Kobe is contributes 39.5 per game. Using Mathematics, the first leg goes to LeBron.

Now for playmaking ability and reliability, LeBron is the super athlete we all know, but Kobe has baseketball savvy and the ability to see plays like most Americans can locate their nearest McDonald's. Time and time againg, Kobe always makes the best play whether the burden lies on him or not. That is the difference between him and other players when the game is on the line. He is continuously browsing for the best oppourtinity for his team and if he see an open driving lane he will turn on the jets and hit it or if he see an open passing lane to drop a dime, he is just as good. Additionally, Kobe has the best aresnal from the pivot position in the NBA. If Kobe catches the ball with his back to the basket in mid-range, consider it a guarentee that he will score. Bryant's turnaround jumpshot is the best I have ever seen which makes him so good at the end of games. Whether he is cold or hot, Kobe has the ability to turn to that shot and completely change the momentum of the game. This allows him to be effective at the end of games and is the main difference between himself and James. When it comes down to the last shot of the game Kobe can turn to anything while LeBron is limited to a shaky shot or a drive which the defense knows is coming. So unitl LeBron develop the ability to make those shots or a go-to move at the end of the game Kobe will remain more reliable. Bryant has been known as a premier defender for a time now, but it was not until this season that LeBron has stepped up his defense and removed the label as a liability. Kobe is the better player and is better in the clutch situations - the two categories do tie in together, but can stand on each other's own allowing Bryant to take a slim lead with the second and third legs going to the Black Mamba.

Now how has each team done. This is the primary factor keeping Wade out of the final run for the candidacy. Kobe' Lakers are first in the West while LeBron's Cavaliers are the best in the East. The Lakers finished 65-17 while the Cavs stand at 66-15 with one game remaining against the Sixers. The Lakers have two more road wins then the Cavs, but Cleveland is on pace to tie the greatest home record with only one loss (the Cavs succumb to the Lakers by 10 in February).The conferences have begun to balance out, so there is no longer a heavy weight placed on a western conference team. Three of the four best records are from the East, but the West is stronger through its top eight. The West has Phoenix well above .500 right outside at number nine, but there is a gradual decline in the East from nine to fifteen indicating better distributition of talent. Against .500 and above teams, the Lakers are 31-12 while the Cavs are 29-11. So by a slim margin the success goes to LeBron's Cavs since the team with the best home record has clinched homecourt throughout the playoffs.

This leaves importance, the ture significane of MVP as the last factor. Which team needs its best player more?

The Lakers start Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, and Trevor Ariza besides Kobe. Pau has played on an All-star level while Odom has a stretch as one of the hottest players in basketball. Ariza has exceeded expectations earning a spot in the starting line-up. The team also has Andrew Bynum who has been out for most of the season with a knee injury, but the rest of the bench includes struggling players :Jordan Farmer who missed some time earlier in the season an injury of his own, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, Josh Powell, and Adam Morrison who the Lakers acquired from Charlotte after a rough start (which has continued in LA). The bench has potential, but is nothing the Lakers can be proud of. The starting line up without Kobe would be Fisher, Ariza, Odom, Gasol, and Bynum; with everyone healthy the team would be in contention for a playoff spot, and would be able to workout a system that could create serious mismatches for opponents.

The Cavs start Mo Williams, Delonte West, Anderson Varejao, and Zydrunas Ilgaskas along side LeBron. Williams was named to the All-star team and West started the season off hot until it was hampered by an injury.
Anderson Varejao has two last names and is overpaid while the Big Z is one of the most underrated players in the NBA and could have had a great career if he did not run into successive injuries in the prime of his career. The Cavs' have their own Sasha with Sasha Pavlovic, while the rest of the bench is comprised of Daniel Gibson, Wally Szczerbiak, Joe Smith, J.J. Hickson - who was turned out to be a decent pick - and Ben Wallace who was earned $87,878.79 for each point scored. No let me correct that, Wallace was signed for rebounds and blocks, so that is $33,180.79 for each individual block and rebound. Basically, everytime the opposing team is too enervated to hustle for a rebound, Ben receives enough money for a nice car or a full year of college.

Both teams have other all-stars, a solid point guard to lead the team, capable big men, and sharp shooter, but without LeBron the Cavs could not stand. Williams and West could run a fast paced game with Booby Gibson, Pavlovic, and Wally, but the team would have too much difficulty in the half court game. An aged Joe Smith and Big Z combo does not scare anybody while the duo of Bynum and Gasol had pundits screaming championship. Kobe has the supporting cast of the Dark Knight while the Cavs are going straight to DVD without James. Cleveland needs LeBron to achieve any level of success. Therefore, the crown will follow the throne and the MVP will be awarded to the King.

EDIT: The Sixers beat the Cavs dropping the Cavs home record to 39-2 and record against .500 and above teams to 29-12

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