Listen, for those of you who have been on top of the NBA all season, you should really not have any trouble picking the MVP this year. One player really transcended both his own impressive track record and the rest of the NBA to be, without a doubt, the most important player on one of the best teams in its conference. And the team really wasn't expected to be a powerhouse, more of a bottom of the playoff bracket team. So who am I talking about? Well, as I said, if you've had your finger on the pulse of basketball this year, you know. If not, you'll just have to toil through my analysis of the top four contenders: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, and Chris Paul. You like how my description could suit any of those players? That's coincidence, I don't think when I write, I just commentate on my writing afterwards.
Kobe Bryant was absolutely one of the best players in basketball this year. Despite constant offseason bitterness and demands to be traded off the Lakers, Bryant came to play from day one. He averaged 28 points per game, and played in every single one despite injuring his shooting hand. His performance somehow didn't slip, and he led the Lakers to the #1 seed in the extraordinary Western Conference this season. He's not known as being a terribly mature player or teammate, and he does have that tiny little incident in Colorado from a couple years ago, but on the court, he's among the best of our time. He's as close to Michael Jordan as we've got right now.
The biggest offseason move was the trade of Kevin Garnett from the Timberwolves, where he had spent his entire career, to the Celtics, who traded almost the equivalent of a full roster in acquiring Ray Allen and Garnett. The results were a sight for sore eyes for Celtics fans (at least those ones who aren't baseball or football fans). Boston won 66 games this year, a full seven games ahead of the Pistons for the #1 seedd in the Eastern Conference. Garnett's points, rebounds, and assists were actually down from his career averages, but he was more efficient than ever, posting a career high shooting percentage and cutting almost a whole turnover per game off of his stat sheet. The reality of Garnett is that he started to play more like a true point forward, starting the offense, but not being relied upon to make every play. The Celtics would have been better just by adding Ray Allen, but most anybody in basketball will tell you that Garnett is the reason the Celtics are primed for their first NBA finals in a generation.
Ho hum. LeBron quietly averaged 30 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists per game this season. You wouldn't think that'd be possible, but because of the resurgence of the classic Lakers Celtics rivalry, the 45-37 Cavaliers and their superstar have gone somewhat unappreciated. LeBron took yet another step towards becoming a legend in the sport, increasing his assists, steals, blocks, and rebounds. His free throw percentage is still not what it should be for a player of his caliber, but that will improve as he becomes more committed to good form and follow-through. He had 7 triple-doubles this year, and in only 5 of his 74 starts did he post fewer than 20 points, showing a consistency he lacked in previous seasons. This could be especially valuable in the playoffs, as the Cavaliers are a team that really can't afford for their best player to have an off night. They live and die with James, and at least for the first round against my woeful Wizards, they figure to survive. LeBron has got a killer instinct that seems to be matched only by Kobe Bryant.
The fire for Chris Paul seems to have died out a little bit, though the Hornets still won by far the toughest division in the NBA, the Southeast, which features four 50-win teams. Paul increased his scoring, assists, and field goal percentage for the second straight year, and was the first guy in a while who wasn't Steve Nash to lead the NBA in assists per game. The Hornets were a real shocker as far as their performance this year, and all of the credit for that has got to go to Paul, who made every clutch play when his team needed it. It's nice when your best player is a young point guard, and the Hornets can be excited about their prospects with Paul at the helm for years to come.
So who's your MVP? Don't make me laugh. Kobe Bryant has got to win this award in a landslide. The two main factors for an MVP award are individual performance and team performance. Garnett's team was exceptional, but his numbers were only very good. LeBron had absurd numbers, but his team was only 8 games over .500. Chris Paul shined along with his team, but he clocks in a tick below Bryant in each of those departments. Ladies and gentlemen, your MVP, Kobe Bryant.
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