I just read Bill Simmons’ choice for this year’s NBA MVP. Shocker of all shockers, Simmons chose Kevin Garnett of his beloved Boston Celtics.
I’m no Simmons hater, quite the opposite. Along with Bruce Jenkins from the Chronicle and Tim Keown from ESPN (and formerly the Chronicle’s best Giants beat writer ever … although I’m too young to have read Bob Stevens), Simmons is one of the few sportswriters from
whom I never miss a word.
Simmons doesn’t try to hide his Boston homerism, and he gives several cogent examples why Garnett should win MVP. He cites the improvement the Celts made from last year (astronomical), his maniacal approach to defense, and the hustling and selflessness that have made Garnett a better leader than most NBA observers ever imagined.
But while Simmons has his own criteria on what an MVP should have on his resume, there are two things an MVP cannot do, under any circumstances
–Miss games: An MVP should play at least 74 games to be given consideration. Any fewer invariably makes that player less valuable, because his coach and teammates must learn how to adapt without him in the lineup. Garnett missed 11 games this year.
–Be any lower than second in line to get the ball at the end of close games. Garnett plays with Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, but even in Minnesota he would shy away from the ball during crunch time, somehow unable to get off any shot better than a fall away 18-footer. I’m not saying KG gets that terrified look on his face like Chris Webber used to with the game on the line, but when you hand the ball to Garnett with five seconds to go and said, “You need to score,” Garnett doesn’t look all that valuable.
I could almost throw in “play for a team in the Eastern Conference” as another MVP no-no for good measure, but that might not be completely fair. The time zone the Celts play in did have a lot to do with their tremendous start though. Their excellent record against the West was impressive, but it will be interesting to see if their intensity can rise in the NBA Finals (assuming they get there), being that Garnett had the whole team playing most of their regular season games like they were Game 7. After the first two months of the season (during which time everyone was handing Garnett the MVP
award), when the Celtics started actually losing games again every once in a while, I forgot he was even in the running. Since Garnett missed over three weeks back in late January/early February, this battle has been between Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, one most people think Kobe will win due to the whole “lifetime achievement” thing and Paul being too young.
Most people who know me probably figure this is the beginning of my case for Kobe winning his first MVP. Hey, I’m a Laker fan, they got the top seed in the West, and Kobe’s the most talented player in the league. As Giants announcer Mike Krukow says (a little too often, actually), “I’m in!”
Not so fast. Paul was playing the best of anyone during the first half, to the point where I named him my MVP. As bad
as the Celtics were last year, nobody doubted that acquiring KG and Allen would push them to the top four in the East. The Hornets were expected to MAYBE give the Warriors, Nuggets and whoever else that ended up struggling for the eighth
seed in the West a little competition before fading down the stretch.
Instead, the Hornets had the best record of the break, and finished second to the Lakers (only because of L.A.’s heist of Pau Gasol), with Paul somehow playing even better in the second half than he did before the break.
Check out Paul’s averages for March: 24 points, 13.3 assists, 2.7 steals, 55% shooting and 46% on threes. Yes, Garnett is probably the defensive player of the year. But winning a MVP while averaging 18 and 9 for the season? If this were a KG vs. Nash debate it would be different, but it’s not like Paul or Kobe are minus defenders, far from it. And oh yeah, Paul played in 80 games.
While Kobe seems to have calmed down a bit this season, he started the year as the NBA’s Chad Johnson, taking his grievances about the Lakers’ lack of talent to every medium besides IMAX. He’s had a fantastic year, worthy of the most talented, focused player in the game. But in 2006 he was the one true force in the league, taking a garbage Lakers squad (remember Brian Cook?) to the playoffs and playing far better than Steve Nash, who won the MVP that year.
I agree with Simmons that the MVP shouldn’t be about acknowledging a body of work that has gone without reward; it’s about the player who contributed the most that season. Not only did Paul put up gaudy stats, he played every game, was the true leader of an out-of-nowhere team without a strong personality like Pierce or Allen to help, and whether scoring or dishing always had the ball at the end of any close game New Orleans was involved in.
And remember, getting Boston excited about basketball might have seemed difficult after several lousy seasons, but Boston has the most storied NBA franchise in the game, as well as a mountain of goodwill created by the Red Sox and Patriots. For Boston, all year is winning time these days. New Orleans would probably have already lost the Hornets if it weren’t for Hurricane Katrina and the resulting pity felt towards the city. Now, the Hornets pack their arena every night, and Paul has already become the best point guard in the league, a title he will probably hold for at least 8 more years. Since Paul presumably has so many great years remaining many people will vote for Kobe, and some may even be swayed by Simmons and his argument for KG. But regardless of age, body or work or even his team’s geographical location, Chris Paul was the MVP of the 2007-08 NBA season.