Carmelo Anthony and Dirk Novitzki have obviously lost weight. Steve Nash has gained a little nastiness and a chip on his shoulder. Chris Bosh looks like he’s on his way to the contract year to end all contract years.
And perhaps most importantly, Kobe Bryant studied post moves directly from the master this off-season, and not coincidentally is playing better than he has in any season since he went all Kobe-against-the-entire-league back in 2005/06. (video after the jump)
In other words, LeBron James ain’t winning the MVP this year.
That’s right, if you hadn’t heard before (and I have to admit I hadn’t until tonight), Kobe spent the afterglow of his first non-Shaq title and spent it learning moves from Hakeem Olajuwon, the best source alive other than Kevin McHale (and considering Kobe’s physical skills, Hakeem is a better mentor for Kobe than even the great McHale when it comes to this subject).
From opening night, I knew something was up. Kobe has looked so good early on this season (save for their loss to Dallas where everyone on the team failed offensively) that I was almost suspicious.
Was he trying to prove all the people wrong who’ve jumped on the “I don’t care how young the guy is, if he’s played 1,000 NBA games he’s ready to self-destruct in 10 seconds” bandwagon? With Ron Artest around, did Kobe want to set the tone early that he isn’t to be trifled with? Was Kobe afraid that the Lakers would fall into an early-season malaise without Pau Gasol that would set them back to the point where they’d have to expend precious energy late in the season to hold off the Spurs/Mavs/Nugs for Western Conference home court advantage? Was he planning on facing the Cavs in the Finals and using the “Dream Shake” against Shaq?
Or is the guy just insanely good and insanely insane because he can’t just relax and enjoy himself after winning his first title in five seasons? A guy who knows what people say about him and truly believes he can retire without having to look up to Mike anyway? Or does he simply want to do the game justice like Jordan and Bird and Magic did, picking up another skill every off-season, never taking anything less than full advantage of the talents he was blessed with?
Whatever it is, it’s hard not to appreciate this gesture (unless you’re a Rockets fan, who has to be angry either at Hakeem for handing, as one commenter on the Yahoo article said, “Joker the keys to the Death Star,” or pissed at the Rockets for not taking advantage of the world’s tallest post-moves-Yoda themselves). Even if Kobe did only spend two hours learning The Dream’s moves step-by-step, it’s clear in his early play that it has had an unbelievable effect. He isn’t showing the ball and spinning baseline all the time, but he’s so much quicker with his first move after receiving the ball in the post. Last night I saw Kobe make a move in the paint that caused O.J. Mayo to lose his jock and get whiplash on the same play.
Kobe’s getting Pau back soon, so he may shelve this elite level of play in a couple weeks until the playoffs. Still, if you gave me the choice of Kobe or the field for MVP this season, I’d take Kobe right now without blinking.
Then there’s also the lingering fact that LeBron has looked fairly lethargic ever since the Big Keenan Thompson showed up. Figures, since it seems like everything in the NBA has to do with Shaq, either directly or indirectly. And this year, Kobe’s hatred of Shaq and Shaq weighing down LeBron’s offense will keep the King from winning his second MVP.
Or Dirk will win the MVP. That guy has been killing it so far this year, and he’s even tanner than Andris. That alone deserves some MVP votes.