MVP prognostication

MVP prognostication
By Steve Kerr, Yahoo Sports
January 18, 2007

Steve Kerr
Yahoo Sports
The NBA's Most Valuable Player race appears to be between six players: Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Gilbert Arenas.

Nash and Nowitzki look to be the frontrunners. Nash is having another spectacular season, as his Phoenix Suns have won 30 of 33 games since an 0-5 start. Nowitzki is putting up ridiculous numbers for the Dallas Mavericks, who have the league's best record.

But think about where the Miami Heat would be this season without Wade. He has kept them afloat in Shaquille O'Neal's absence, and if the Heat's play of late is any indication, they're on their way back to being an elite team.

Kobe is playing the best ball of his career due to a newfound maturity and a willingness to submit to the team. He's averaging almost eight fewer field-goal attempts per game than last year, and he's getting his young teammates the ball. It's no coincidence that players like Luke Walton, Brian Cook, Maurice Evans and Sasha Vujacic are having career years, or that the Los Angeles Lakers are better than anyone expected.

Meanwhile, LeBron has led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the East's best record while playing his usual dominating all-around game. Arenas has become an unstoppable force for the Washington Wizards, averaging 30 points per game and hitting numerous buzzer-beating game-winning shots.

So who will win? There's a long way to go, but I'm guessing Nowitzki.

Over the years, the voters have avoided giving the award to the same player for a number of years running, even if that player was most deserving. (Did Karl Malone and Charles Barkley really deserve the award over Michael Jordan in the years they won it?)

I'm guessing it will come down to Nash and Nowitzki, but the Mavericks' star will end up with the MVP based on being "the new kid." Really, you can't go wrong with either one.

  • Speaking of awards, we might want to hold off on handing the league's Sixth Man Award to Ben Gordon. After the Chicago Bulls lost to New Jersey last week – their fifth loss in six games – Scott Skiles decided to put Gordon back in the lineup for Chris Duhon, who was in the midst of a 7-for-44 shooting slump.

    Gordon, who hadn't started a game since November 11, drained eight of 10 shots and scored 24 points, helping the Bulls end their skid with a 111-66 victory. Two days later, Chicago knocked off the San Antonio Spurs as Gordon scored 20 points on 9-for-18 shooting. It would appear that Gordon will be a starter for a while.

  • While inserting Gordon into the lineup wasn't a difficult decision for Skiles, he does have a more pressing issue at hand: finding a way to play Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha.

    One of the Bulls' goals in the offseason was to become more athletic, and adding Thomas and Sefolosha figured to really enhance the team's talent level. The problem is that neither has been able to find his way onto the court. Thomas is young and raw, while Sefolosha is in a logjam behind a deep corps of perimeter talent. How to get them onto the court has been a problem for Skiles.

    "It's a dilemma we talk about every day as a staff," Skiles said. "We'd love to get Thomas and Sefolosha on the floor, but do we play them at the expense of guys who deserve to be out there?"

    Skiles' dilemma was made easier recently by two things: the blowout win over Memphis, and the absences of Ben Wallace and Duhon. (Wallace missed two games with a back injury, while Duhon was suspended one game for missing practice.) With Wallace out, Thomas started against the Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs, and after a major struggle in the Memphis game – he fouled out and made four turnovers in 20 minutes – he came alive against San Antonio, totaling eight points, eight rebounds and five blocks against one of the league's best teams.

    Sefolosha, meanwhile, has shown flashes of brilliance all season, and his strong play continued in the two games. He had eight points and nine boards against the Grizzlies, then made all three of his shots in 13 minutes against the Spurs.

    Even if the two rookies don't get playing time, Chicago is an intriguing, if not complete, team. Between Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni, there's loads of perimeter talent. But the lack of an inside scorer continues to hurt the Bulls. Eventually, general manager John Paxson will have to trade some of the talent he has accumulated for a big man, and if Sefolosha and Thomas develop this year, that's two more bargaining chips Paxson will have on the table.

  • Will Chris Webber be able to help the Detroit Pistons recover from their recent slide and become a true championship contender? We'll see.

    Detroit has been intent all season on "not peaking too early," as they did last year in winning 39 of their first 45 games before flaming out in the playoffs. The question with the Pistons this season, though, is whether they'll peak at all.

    They have lost eight of their last 11 games and lack the fire that has made them so good over the years. The competitive void may be a result of Ben Wallace's departure or the injury to Chauncey Billups (who returned Wednesday night after an eight-game absence). In my mind, Detroit has to play with passion and toughness to be effective.

    Webber is a talented player who can do a lot of things – even at this stage of his career. But is he the spark the Pistons need? Is he nasty enough? Will he defend and knock people around? Probably not. He'll score points, pass and rebound, and he'll be a great teammate. But for Detroit to get back to being a contender, it needs to regain a defensive mentality that Webber won't provide. Then again, the Pistons are in the East, so you never know.

    Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

    Updated on Friday, Jan 19, 2007 2:58 am, EST

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