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jayC
03-10-2003, 03:12 PM
Meet the top 10 candidates for MVP

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By Marc Stein
ESPN.com


The ballots will arrive soon. The selections are due back to the league office before the playoffs start. So there are only 38 days left to sort this out.

This being the tightest MVP race in memory.

OK, OK. We media folk are prone to say that. That's probably because there's rarely a slam-dunk pick and because the most excruciating vote is always the one in your immediate future.

This one, though, really is a whopper. Predicting the actual Most Valuable Player, this far out, is basically futile, because opinion seems to sway nightly in this season of deep-running individual brilliance.

Best we can offer for now, then, is to trot out our MVP scorecard as it stands with five-plus weeks to go. You could make a passionate case for pretty much anyone in the top four and you get the feeling the next three or four still have time to force their way into serious consideration.

In this cyberspace, the selection of an MVP is based, rather unscientifically, on the idea that the best individual season will be rewarded ... with team success factored in heavily. I don't subscribe to the theory that rhetorically wonders: Imagine How Many Wins Team A Would Have If It Didn't Have Player X. You can't have the best season in the league individually unless your team had a memorable regular season. At least not to me.

So

Here's where we are as the stretch run beckons:


1
Kobe Bryant, Lakers. Let the hateration commence. The masses won't like it, but we can't ignore the 40-point average in February -- yes, for the whole month -- and how Bryant has lifted a half-speed Shaquille O'Neal and plenty of players you wouldn't want on your team out of an 11-19 hole. All while playing on sore knees/groins for much of the season, no less. If the Lakers can continue their sudden surge and open the playoffs having restored a good chunk of their Fear Factor, as perilous as their plight looked on Christmas Day, Kobe has to be the MVP.

2. Tim Duncan, Spurs. Duncan won it last season, so seemingly no one wants to vote for him this season. Problem there is that he's so damn good. As such, Duncan might well repeat as MVP, because the Spurs -- who started 19-13 compared to Dallas' 14-0 -- suddenly have a shot at catching the Mavs and winning the Midwest. TD's case is boosted further by the fact that his supporting cast is improving daily, which only makes Duncan look better. He's lifting Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and Bruce Bowen and they're lifting him, all while David Robinson creaks to the close of his classy career.

3. Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves. A week ago, KG had unexpectedly vaulted to the top of this list. Reasoning being: If Minny can really challenge for home-court advantage for the first time in its history, after losing Terrell Brandon and Chauncey Billups and playing without Wally Szczerbiak for 30 games, KG has to be the MVP choice over Kobe or anyone else. Then the Wolves started playing road games again and it became apparent that they could well finish fifth or sixth again. Which would almost certainly mean First-Round Exit No. 7. KG has been brilliant, but he needs to lead the Wolves to a No. 4 seed to beat out the tough comp.

4. Tracy McGrady, Magic. If he weren't in the East, where it's easier to prop up a skeleton team, McGrady would undoubtedly be higher. He's probably going to hold off Kobe for the scoring title and has played brilliantly and manfully in the face of yet another Grant Hill letdown. Like Duncan, T-Mac looks even better now that he has a semblance of assistance since the arrivals of Drew Gooden and Gordan Giricek. Yet I'm afraid he's going to have to settle for East MVP honors, although that's no consolation prize in a conference with Jason Kidd and Allen Iverson.

5. Jamal Mashburn, Hornets. This is the only up-for-grabs spot on the official five-man ballot, as the aforementioned four are essentially locks to occupy those spots in some order. Mash is nosing out Kidd and Iverson here as a prime exhibit of the leadership that has to come from a true MVP. Mash came back from his frightening case of vertigo, earned his maiden All-Star selection and has since justified it by leading the Baron Davis-less Hornets to an eight-game win streak in his new role of point forward. Of course, once Mash sees the next three names, he'll know staying here won't be easy.

The Next Five
6. Allen Iverson, 76ers. Iverson's energy was iffy there for a spell, perhaps affected by his ongoing exclusion from Larry Brown's Team USA, but now look. The Sixers are the hottest team in the East, for what that's worth, and A.I. is balling anew. Fact that Eric Snow is having a career year doesn't hurt; Iverson feeds off Snow more than you know.

7. Jason Kidd, Nets. JKidd is usually an automatic for the Stein Line MVP Top Five but the Nets' 5-10 swoon since the All-Star break has temporarily dropped him. The problem: New Jersey's injuries have forced Kidd to do too much and, as a result, he's fading, especially as a shooter. Yet there's still time for Mr. Triple-Double and his Nets (for now) to rebound.

8. Chris Webber, Kings. Webber has missed 15 games this season and only one MVP in history has missed that many: Portland's Bill Walton missed 24 in 1977-78. Absences, however, are the only variable keeping Webber out of the top five. With CWebb hobbling around on one leg and tossing in killer jump hooks in OTs, maybe he should be a top-fiver regardless.

9. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks. The Mavericks and Kings are in the same MVP predicament -- each team has so many good players that it's tough to single one or two out, but the teams are too good to submit no one for MVP consideration. Especially Nowitzki's Mavs, still on pace for a 63-19 finish. Could be worse, though. Detroit's Ben Wallace can't even crack our top 10 because he doesn't score, even though he'll be a top-fiver on some real ballots.

10. Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers. We didn't see the real Shaq until this weekend's detonations against Minny and Philly, some 60 games in, but he's got to be on here somewhere. We're guessing he'd settle for another Finals MVP trophy anyway.

The Next, Next Five
Ben Wallace (Pistons), Stephon Marbury (Suns), Paul Pierce (Celtics), Jermaine O'Neal (Pacers), Karl Malone (Jazz).

Friendly reminder: Before your inevitable protests, take solace in the knowledge that your favorite MVP candidate has 38 days to change my mind.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, send Stein a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.


Kobe well 40 points per game for the month of Febuary is phenomenal. Why are the mavericks dissected because they came out of the gate so fast at 14-0 That's another argument.

My MVP is Duncan.

BrianJ
03-10-2003, 03:29 PM
Top 5 seems about right, I mean come on u got to through out the leastern conference scrubs.

Murphy3
03-10-2003, 03:39 PM
i completely disagree with 5-7..none of those guys should be top 7-8 guys

kidd and kg were the tops early in the season...kidd's game has fallen off significantly.

putting mashburn in there has got to be a joke.

iverson is iverson..a good eastern conf. player..but the eastern media bias is the only thing that has him anywhere near the top 10

jayC
03-10-2003, 04:24 PM
Maybe but he had a two game stretch where he poured in over 40 and nailed game winning shots. On talent alone Dirk is top five.

LRB
03-10-2003, 04:48 PM
<< putting mashburn in there has got to be a joke. >>



This is one point that I couldn't agree with you more on Murphy. I think this just shows the stupid east coast bias of the media.

Murphy3
03-10-2003, 04:50 PM
can you imagine dirk in place of Mashburn..or stick him in Philly without Iverson?

their numbers would be anemic in comparison

Kevink00012
03-10-2003, 06:59 PM
<<

<< putting mashburn in there has got to be a joke. >>



This is one point that I couldn't agree with you more on Murphy. I think this just shows the stupid east coast bias of the media. >>


Why's that? He's putting up good numbers all around. He recently led the Hornets on an eight game win streak without Baron Davis.

Fidel
03-10-2003, 09:24 PM
Mash and AI over Dirk? Yeah right.
And that too much talent on the team argument is so lame. Then how the hell is Kobe in first place? He only has got the most dominating player in the game on his team. Dirk should be somewhere between 5-7.

MavKikiNYC
03-10-2003, 09:40 PM
I'd put Dirk tied for 3rd, behind Kobe and Duncan, tied with KG and McGrady.

Member
03-10-2003, 09:42 PM
putting Dirk 9th is an insult

LRB
03-11-2003, 12:23 AM
<<

<<

<< putting mashburn in there has got to be a joke. >>



This is one point that I couldn't agree with you more on Murphy. I think this just shows the stupid east coast bias of the media. >>


Why's that? He's putting up good numbers all around. He recently led the Hornets on an eight game win streak without Baron Davis. >>



Leastern Conference success is only slightly more credibile than the CBA. Big numbers on a so-so team in a bad confernce shouldn't get you MVP mention. Still even just on the Numbers, Mash is far below Dirk.

Kevink00012
03-11-2003, 09:33 PM
<<

<<

<<

<< putting mashburn in there has got to be a joke. >>



This is one point that I couldn't agree with you more on Murphy. I think this just shows the stupid east coast bias of the media. >>


Why's that? He's putting up good numbers all around. He recently led the Hornets on an eight game win streak without Baron Davis. >>



Leastern Conference success is only slightly more credibile than the CBA. Big numbers on a so-so team in a bad confernce shouldn't get you MVP mention. Still even just on the Numbers, Mash is far below Dirk. >>


It's the MVP, not the 'best player award.

LRB
03-11-2003, 10:01 PM
<<

<<

<<

<<

<< putting mashburn in there has got to be a joke. >>



This is one point that I couldn't agree with you more on Murphy. I think this just shows the stupid east coast bias of the media. >>


Why's that? He's putting up good numbers all around. He recently led the Hornets on an eight game win streak without Baron Davis. >>



Leastern Conference success is only slightly more credibile than the CBA. Big numbers on a so-so team in a bad confernce shouldn't get you MVP mention. Still even just on the Numbers, Mash is far below Dirk. >>


It's the MVP, not the 'best player award. >>



Right so Mash shouldn't even be considered for the MVP since he's not even on one of the top 8 teams in the NBA.

FilthyFinMavs
03-12-2003, 11:38 AM
Are we going by stats or have we actually watched these guys play? AI has been playing great ball. No he isn't shooting the ball terrific but when his team needs a steal he is there. I think Mash was a bit high but he should be considered as a MVP. The only guy I can rank Dirk ahead of is Masburn. Everyone else seems to be about right. I don't like Webb being ranked that high since he hasn't played as much games as Dirk has.

Murphy3
03-12-2003, 11:48 AM
yes, we're going by stats and yes we're going by watching the guy play

AI is no MVP. he's barely a top 15 guy in the league