A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

2011 NBA POY Watch

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In the grand tradition of the MVP Watch, here I’ll be doing the Player of the Year Watch.  For more explanation on what the POY concept is, here’s the post I introduced it to this blog.  Quick & dirty though, think of it is as my MVP Watch, except that when the regular season ends, I’m going to keep going, and my POY won’t be settled until an NBA champion is crowned.

We’re 2 weeks in to the 2010-11 NBA season, which in my experience is about the first point at which it makes sense to start thinking about this.  Granted it’s still ridiculously early, but for those of us who like this sort of thing, we want to get to it as soon as it’s at all meaningful.  So we’ve hit meaning now?  Yup.  The good the Lakers have shown us and the bad the Timberwolves have inflicted upon us aren’t illusions.

My top 10:

1. Chris Paul

There’s really not much room for debate with Paul at #1.  There are only 2 undefeated teams in the league, and Paul’s Hornets have far less supporting cast talent than the Lakers do.  With their defeat of the Heat, it’s just not reasonable to dismiss what they’ve done, even as I think we all have our doubts about how well this performance can be maintained.

2. Pau Gasol

No one feels comfortable ranking Gasol this high.  Pretty much everyone feels that the Lakers are still Kobe’s team and for good reason.  It’s important though not to let our expectations for what will come get in the way of what’s happening right now.  Right now, Gasol is the one carrying the bulk of the load for the Lakers – who are playing out of their minds.

3. Kobe Bryant

What’s that?  2 Lakers in the top 3, have I lost my perspective?  I don’t think so.  I realize that it’s not going to be easy for 2 guys from the same team to finish in the top 3 in MVP voting, but that’s primarily because it’s going to be so hard for 2 guys on the same team to maintain as strong of a case as Pau and Kobe have right now.

People are undoubtedly making statements about Bryant & Gasol having so much to work with compared to a guy like Dwight Howard, but look Howard isn’t exactly racking up 40+ minute nights himself, and the Magic’s biggest test, they got slaughtered by the Heat, with Howard having a mediocre foul-plagued game…

4. Dwight Howard

…but obviously Dwight looks pretty damn good right about now.  Orlando looks a lock to be an elite team once again with Howard continuing to expand his game.  It’s unreasonable to say he’s been the best player thus far, but if someone were to say that based on what we’ve seen and what we expect of other teams Howard is the favorite for the MVP, that’s plenty reasonable.

5. Dwyane Wade

I’m not entirely satisfied with having Wade so high.  The Miami Thrice gang have been very good, but not otherworldly.  This doesn’t worry me much for the future, but in terms of crediting Heat players with great value, it seems a bit odd.  Wade being the MVP of the Heat thus far feels less a statement about him, and more just a side-effect of the team working through their kinks.  Still, the Heat have been very good, and Wade is doing things very few guys can do, I can’t see putting him lower.

6. Dirk Nowitzki

Old reliable.  The man is always in the top 10 somewhere.  We express frustration with his inability to progress further in the playoffs as Mark Cuban constantly tries to bring in new talent to put the team over the top, but we also know that every year Dirk & his Mavs will be strong.

7. Rajon Rondo

Rondo has become a regular on top 10 lists and I’ve got mixed feelings.  On the one hand, he may be the most fun player to watch in the league right now (For me a title long held by Steve Nash).  He makes brilliant plays as a passer, rebounder, and defender – and he’s the backboard of the Celtics at this point.  On the other hand, he really can’t shoot and has the very good fortune to play with 3 future HOF members who may be past prime, but can still score.

When I evaluate guys in these lower spots in the top 10, I do spend a good amount of time thinking about how sure I am that a player’s impact is truly as big as it appears – particularly early in the season, and particularly for younger players.  At this point I’m willing to tip my hat toward Rajon, more than to a few other guys.  The stability of that preference though is not high.

8. Carmelo Anthony

I’ve never been a big Melo guy.  I think people who are enthralled by him tend to focus too much on some combination of residual hype and pure scoring ability, spending not enough time on how wisely he actually uses his latent abilities, and the obvious lack of ability he has in other areas.  To this point though in the season, he’s had a solid start – not top 5 worthy, but, well for once in his career, better than LeBron.

9. LeBron James

And beyond this point, it just becomes too crazy to ignore LeBron.  Clearly he isn’t having anywhere near the impact he’s had through his prime to this point in the season on his new superteam.  As mentioned before with Wade though, the Heat are still playing quite well, and LeBron’s part in that even at partial strength is quite large.

10. Monta Ellis

Major concerns about fool’s gold here.  Both for Ellis being the true star of the Warriors over Stephen Curry, and for the Warrior’s ability to keep going their early success.  Gotta give props to Ellis though, he’s been playing his heart out thus far.

Honorable Mention

<insert your favorite Spur> – The Spurs are off to a strong start again, and I don’t know when the time will come where I actually have major doubts about the Spurs ability to maintain performance.  However, the Spurs really are no longer a superstar-led team in my book.  The Spurs’ Big 3 are all still there, and all still contributing crucial value, but the team isn’t reliant enough on any of them to really warrant MVP attention.

The guy on the Spurs who really demands MVP attention right now, is a guy who at this point no one takes seriously even as being the Spurs best player:  Richard Jefferson.  This is where one could spend time agonizing on the nature of ‘value’ early in the season if one were so inclined.  I actually am so inclined, but I’m busy.  Shooting a True Shooting % of 76, as Jefferson’s doing now, is a very good thing, but nobody does that over the long haul, thus it’s not a reflection of an impact that Jefferson generally has on his team, it’s just a small sample size that’s bounced in the right direction.    If Jefferson really does keep some truly great stuff up, well then I’ll soften my stance, but for now, he won’t go above HM.

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Written by Matt Johnson

November 8, 2010 at 11:47 pm

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