Tag Archives: mvp

Time To Make The Sausage

There aren’t many certainties in today’s NBA, but beginning the month of May with MVP controversy is one thing you can always count on. There are no standardized qualifications for becoming the league’s official Most Valuable Player, and that creates a huge amount of inherent wiggle room, allowing voters to weigh different criteria in whatever way they see fit. That loose flexibility was shoved into the spotlight yesterday when Boston Globe columnist, Gary Washburn, revealed himself to be the lone voter who didn’t put LeBron James at the top of his ballot. Washburn went with Carmelo Anthony, and made his case public as part of yesterday’s announcement.

LeBron had an absolutely dominant season and it’s nigh impossible to find any reliable statistical metric by which he wasn’t the most productive player in the league this season. Washburn actually seemed to agree, and his argument was that although Anthony may not have been the better player, he was more important to his team. I’m not here to argue the merits of Washburn’s argument. But I would like to point out that this is an extreme example of separation between decision-making based on the power of statistics and the power of narrative. LeBron’s season presents some incredibly compelling storylines as well, but while there’s little space to argue against his statistical case, there’s plenty of room to argue about stories.

I don’t mean to imply that Washburn’s choice is somehow immature or incorrect because he gave more weight to the narrative elements of Anthony’s case. Stories are part of basketball; how we watch it, understand it, talk about it, and certainly how the media covers it. Stories are important and have always been a part of how the MVP award is decided. My own experiences as a basketball fan and amateur analyst are a constant balancing act between the narrative and the numeric. It’s an indelicate art and the line between the two moves constantly. One of the questions that the whole Washburn rigamarole raised for me was, exactly where that line falls for MVP voters in the aggregate. How much of MVP voting is based on statistics, literal or implied, and how much is based on a compelling story?

Narrative is an extremely complex idea to measure, but tracking the statistical case for MVP candidates is a little more straightforward. I began at Basketball-Reference’s Award Page, looking at the players who have received MVP votes over the last 10 seasons. Basketball-Reference is nice enough to include a limited statistical profile right alongside each player. The listed categories are age, games played, minutes per game, points per game, rebounds per game, assists per game, steals per game, blocks per game, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage, Win Shares and win shares per 48 minutes. My intuition is that any MVP voter who does include statistics in their decision making probably doesn’t look much further than these categories, and so they seemed like a reasonable place to start.

The one category which is conspicuously absent from a voting perspective is team win percentage, which I added. The other changes I made were dropping total Win Shares, keeping just the per 48 minute version, and converting total games played to percentage of games played, adjusting for the lockout shortened season. I then regressed those categories onto the share of total possible points that each player received from the voters. The result was an R^2 value of 0.516, which means just over half the variation in MVP voting can be explained by players’ performance in those categories I mentioned above.

While that explains a significant block of variability, it still leaves nearly half of the story untold. That 0.484 is where the narrative comes in. The results of the regression analysis also include an equation by which you can project the share of possible MVP voting points a player should have received, based on those numbers. I did that for each of the top five vote-getters from those 10 seasons and put them in to this Tableau Visualization, along with the actual share of MVP vote they received.

[iframe]<iframe src=”http://public.tableausoftware.com/views/NBAsMostValuablePlayerResults/MVPVotingDashboard?:embed=y&:display_count=no” style=”border:0px #FFFFFF none;” name=”MVP Voting” scrolling=”no” frameborder=”1″ marginheight=”0px” marginwidth=”0px” height=”663px” width=”663px”></iframe>[/iframe]

You can play around and sort by year, looking at how each race shook out. The higher a player is on the vertical axis the more compelling their statistical case was. I’m making an assumption here, but the implication is that the difference between a player’s projected share and their actual share represents the power of their narrative. Player’s who fall low on the vertical axis, but far to the right on the horizontal axis would appear to be the ones with the most compelling narratives.

I put this visualization together for you to draw your own conclusions, but I’ll share I few seasons I found particularly interesting.

2013

2013 MVP

This was a year where the narrative component of the MVP voting went hand-in-hand with the statistical rationale. LeBron and Durant had big statistical edges and it was clearly reflected in the results. But those numbers also fell in with the storyline of two dominant stars elevating their games and leading their teams to a new level. I also thought it was interesting how much of a difference narrative made in the case of Carmelo Anthony. We already discussed how his story swayed Gary Washburn, but he apparently wasn’t the only one. Anthony finished third in this year’s voting despite a weaker statistical component to his case than either LeBron, Durant, Kobe Bryant or Chris Paul.

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2011

2011

This was one of the most memorable MVP votes for me and really exemplified the divide between analytic-minded decision makers, who advocated for Dwight Howard, and those drawn to the compelling one-against-the-world narrative of Derrick Rose’s season. In the end the award went to Rose, by a healthy margin. Amazingly, the regression equation seems to indicate that LeBron had a much stronger statistical case than either Rose or Howard, despite finishing third. This is a case where the negative narrative of the Heat’s ‘front-running’ and the ‘post-Decision’ backlash probably kept LeBron out of the top two spots.

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2008

2008

2008 was another fascinating year in terms of balancing narrative and production. There was a lot of push for Chris Paul who jumped several levels in production, leading the New Orleans Hornets’ to the second-best record in the Western Conference, along with building the most compelling statistical resume of the candidates. In the end he lost out to Kobe Bryant, who trumped Paul’s narrative with a career of dominance, that had at that point been unrecognized with an MVP award. Kevin Garnett finished third for his work in coalescing the Big Three in Boston and leading the Celtics to the best record in the league. LeBron James finished fourth, with the second-most compelling statistical resume but no enticing story to attach it to.

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2006

2006

This is another infamous award season. It was Nash’s second consecutive MVP, despite being the worst for the Nash-D’Antoni Suns, both in terms of wins and offensive efficiency. But it was a remarkable and, at the time, almost unbelievable duplication of what they had done in their first season together. This was especially true when you consider that Amare Stoudemire played just three games all season long. That the ‘Seven Seconds or Less’ philosophy was able to sustain into a second season and prove a viable offensive strategy that wouldn’t dissipate once it was “figured out” by NBA defenses was the narrative that drove Nash to this award. LeBron finished second in the voting, but he was one of three players, along with Dirk Nowitzki and Chauncey Billups who had a more compelling statistical case.

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People on both sides of the narrative-numerical divide often seem to get their hackles up around the MVP Award, depending on which side prevails in a given year. While middle ground we currently walk always leaves someone frustrated, it’s by far preferable to the alternative. There is a place for logic and reason in the NBA and no one would be satisfied by a world where postseason awards were handed willy-nilly with no verifiable, objective reasoning to support those decisions. At the same time, making decisions with a formula only denies our human instinct to create, tell and consume stories. It may be a bumpy ride, but you can enjoy the MVP award both for what it is and for what it is not.

Menacingly Vengeful Pasta

Photo via Carlos Porto on Flickr

The MVP race. Yup, that ole bit.

It’s been a while since the MVP debate has been an enjoyable conversational topic for NBA enthusiasts. For the past two years, Lebron James has rendered the entire affair meaningless, what with his 31+ PER here, and his 29-7-8 per game numbers there, and the 60 wins, and the Cleveland, and the what not.

This year, however, Lebron finally gave us enough of a reason to completely discredit his candidacy – be it by playing at only 95% of his previous world-best capacity while adjusting to new a completely new set of teammates (how dare he!), or choosing where he’d like to continue his career (no, seriously, how dare he!). Sadly, the ensuing blabbering has turned into such a wild mess of Derrick Rose hating and Dwight Howard knocking and advanced stats this and watch the games that it has been grating at best, sickening at worst, and generally about as fun as an NCAA title game.

Of course, if this isn’t the first NBA piece you’ve ever read then, you know this. If it is, I’d like to introduce myself: I am Noam Schiller, 15 time NBA MVP winner, and have won 20 titles with the best team to ever play in the NBA, the Noamsville Noams.

For the sake of this piece, though, I will be working under the assumption that you recognize me as no more than a punk who just happens to have a keyboard. Given this assumption, nothing that I might happen to write here can change your opinion on this monstrosity of an award show. Whether you’re pro-Rose, pro-Howard, still think that being the best player in basketball should be rewarded even if Lebron happened to piss some dudes off this summer, are part of a Kobe Bryant campaign that is suddenly gaining momentum which I can’t for the life of me explain, like Kevin Durant’s beautiful face too much to give it to anybody else, or are behind some mysterious candidate X (Pooh Jeter Pooh Jeter Pooh Jeter), you’re staying in your camp after reading this.

Now, unlike most of the internet these days, I’m cool with that. I’m all for pluralism. It has enhanced the way we consume basketball and live our everyday lives in unmeasurable ways. Whenever something remotely interesting happens, we have millions of marvelous minds working towards instantly providing us with analysis and perspective and sometimes just plain humorous snark through a handful of mediums. And while the occasional flash of idiotism may rear its ugly head more often once we provide more voices with the necessary microphones, this is a small price to pay for what can only be described as a blossoming fountain of knowledge.

That knowledge, however, is key. That sharing of mindsets through which we strengthen each other, even when the other side doesn’t agree with us. When that knowledge is absent – or even worse, present yet ignored – pluralism crosses the line from a melting pot of opinions and intellectual tools to a random assortment of statements, each more dogmatic than the other. And unless you’re Kevin Smith’s career, Dogma never gets you anywhere.

And yet, when this dogmatism is contested, those who dare stand up to it are called haters. Those who provide statistical analysis suddenly don’t watch the games – this despite the fact that NO ONE IN THEIR RIGHT MIND would spend the time glossing over sheets of numbers without actually being interested in whatever it is that the numbers represent. And the saddest thing is, you don’t even have to contest an opinion to be caught in the crossfire. All one has to do is ask “why?”, even if it’s just out of curiosity, before he is buried in a flurry of capitalized letters and exclamation points.

Well, I’ll ask it anyway. Why?

How can we excuse not using data when it’s staring us in the faces? Because we didn’t like math in high school? Because we’re too manly to sit down in front of a sheet, put on the reading glasses that we don’t want people to know we have, and let our minds out for a jog? Because we want to feel closer to the people who did it in the old days? Let me tell you a secret – the old days were awful. We’re much better than them. This isn’t “hating” – it’s evolution.

Take your “advanced stats”. Bill Simmons recently wrotethat Rose is “The guy whose MVP candidacy got crapped on by the entire blogosphere because his plus/minus and true shooting percentage weren’t quite good enough”. Well, aren’t those valid concerns? It’s not like basketballvalue.com draws random numbers and inserts them into their plus/minus tables – this is data that describes things that are happening on the court, in games. Ditto for TS%, or rebound rate, or Synergy numbers, or even pretentious tell-all numbers like PER or Win Shares. I agree that one always must use caveats, always use context, never take these numbers for their face value without checking and double checking, but to ignore them completely? To discredit their value while putting one’s entire weight on ambiguous statements like “value to the team” or “where would they be without him”?

This writing may (will) be seen as a specific indictment towards those on the Rose side of this MVP debate. Though I will not deny that I am opposed to the Rose movement, I promise you, besmirching it is not my intention. All other MVP candidates have major flaws to their campaigns, all of them well documented basically everywhere, and Rose has had a mind-boggling season for a thrilling team.

But it just so happens that Rose’s specific flaws, like Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson before him, are the flaws of a player whose statistical pedigree lacks in respect to the success of his team, his ability to pass the eye test, and his ridiculously passionate fan base. And while the latter two are not bad things – the eye test is ultimately the reason we watch sports, and passionate fan bases are to be encouraged – ignoring statistics when they are right there just because they don’t support my premise is just that: ignorant.

If you do decide that those flaws Rose represents aren’t as condemning as Dwight Howard’s inability to provide a go-to option on offense down the stretch or Lebron James’ failure to lead a team to the amount of wins they were supposed to win on paper because our paper got it wrong – then that’s fine. But you need to back it up. And yes, I expect there to be some statistical data there. And no, “this is what my eyes tell me” doesn’t cut it. Because all I need to do is send you to the nearest M.C. Escher painting to show you how easily eyes can be deceived. And even if your eyes are absolutely, positively, completely perfect in every single way (otherwise known as being Paul George) – could it possibly hurt to use your other senses too? To gain the ability to use another useful tool? To check and double check, if for no other reason, just to set an example for those damn “stat guys”?

This stands not only for those defending their arguments, but for those attacking others. Valid points may be concocted in places other than your own mind, because there are millions of fantastic minds out there. Including yours. Respect those other minds by reading what they say, contemplating their points, carefully building your counter. If I tweet about Derrick Rose’s defense, and you immediately respond by talking about his carrying the offense in crunch time, then you have failed. You arrived at a boxing match with a baseball bat. Sure, that bat may help you in bludgeoning me to death, but that’s not what we’re here for.

A final, hypothetical argument.

Lets say that you support Derrick Rose for MVP. Since it seems like the majority of the NBA community does at this point, you probably do. Now, say that I come up to you and say “you know what? Rose has been great this year, but looking at how great Blake Griffin has been playing, and how he’s been a beacon of hope for a moribund franchise going nowhere I think he’s the most valuable player. Because that’s how I define VALUE.”

You, being the rational and intelligent reader that you are, start laughing. Perhaps you call me a funny name, or toss a beverage at me. But I’m a persistent little bugger. I show you ratings and attendance numbers for the Clippers, providing indisputable proof that Blake has single-handedly made the team relevant again. I hand you a 70 foot billboard covered in a fantastically crafted collage of tweets going insane about the former Oklahoma star. I point out how Baron Davis – BARON DAVIS – bothered to get into shape (albeit two months late) for the guy. I call Clipper Darrell, ask him what he thinks about Blake Griffin, record the ensuing rant, and play it to you in it’s entirety with unicorns frolicking around us and bubble gum raining from the sky. I can’t convince you – not when my premise is so foolish – but you can’t convince me either. MVP is subjective, that’s how I define it, and you have to live with that.

Or, instead, we can live in a society where foolishness is unacceptable and opinions, even if they are just opinions, lead to people being held accountable. I like that better. But hey, what do I know – I think Dwight Howard is the MVP.

Most Valuable Column – March

It’s nearly playoff time, which means that the MVP Race should be sorting itself out.

And to some degree, it is. While there’s a few players whose stats make a nice case, it’s really only down to a few. And then, the MVP really comes down to just what MVP means.

Still, the race has opened up maybe just a little. As such, I’ve broken it down into groups. The players on the outside track, those who are either just shy of being the MVP or are starting to fall out of the race. Then there’s the inside track, those who are – or should be – in the actual discussion.

What is that discussion, though?

In the past decade – from the 1999-2000 season until last season – no MVP winner had a PER of less then 22.0, or less then 10.9 Win Shares (both marks belong to Steve Nash, interestingly enough).

But on average, the MVP winner has a PER of 26.8 and 15.7 Win Shares.

A quick explanation before I jump in. PER takes skills like accurate shooting, offensive rebounding, turnovers and more adjusted for pace; Offensive Percentage takes what’s known as the four factors – offensive rebounds, turnovers, the ability to draw fouls and such – and gets a look at how many points per possession a player got. One relies heavily on more defensive abilities like rebounding, blocks, etc., while the other looks at how well a player can shoot or pass effectively.

Outside Track

What does it mean to be on the outside track? For my purposes, these are two players who maybe deserve mention as possible MVP candidates, but aren’t the MVP. Maybe they deserve to be on the ballot or maybe they’re falling away from the pack but aren’t out. They’re the players who make their team better, but don’t make that team great.

Chris Bosh, F, Toronto Raptors

8.7 Win Shares (<20th in NBA), 24.6 PER (fifth in NBA)

Why is Bosh so far back? Wasn’t it less then a month ago I had him a lot deeper? And not too long before that I called him a longshot to actually be named the MVP? In the immortal words of Mike LaFontaine, “Whaaa Happened?”

I don’t know exactly what happened, but it has something to do with injury a while back. Since returning, Bosh’s play has been a tad more erratic, a little less good then it was before the season. He’s driving less to the basket and settling for jump shots. Since he came back on March 7, the Raptors have gone 4-9, losing to teams like Golden State, Philadelphia and Sacramento.

When Bosh came back – March 7, against the Sixers – he had a quiet 12-point, 12-rebound game. The Raptors lost 114-101. That was the start of a five-game skid for the Raps, who also lost games to the Lakers, Sacramento, Portland and Golden State. In that stretch, Bosh averaged 20 points and eight rebounds. Still, Bosh is having a career year: per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 26 points and just under 11 rebounds, both career highs. His PER is also a career high.

But this isn’t a look at his numbers, this is a look at his advanced stats. His PER had dropped from the last time I wrote about him, from 26.3 (then fourth in the NBA) to 24.6 (fifth). He also has an Offensive Rating of 116, putting him behind Andrei Kirilenko, Jose Calderon and JJ Reddick. What these mean is that his MVP stock is dropping; he isn’t playing as efficiently and his offensive presence isn’t as strong as it was before the all-star break. For example: since the All-Star break, Bosh had scored more then 25 points once, when he scored 36 in a win over the Nets. He had 28 games with 25 or more before the break.

These both play into his Win Shares. At the end of February, Bosh had 8.4 WS, sixth in the NBA. In a month, it’s only scantly improved to 8.7 and has dropped out of the NBA’s top 20. His window at a MVP trophy has basically shut.

Dwayne Wade, G, Miami Heat

28.1 PER (2nd in NBA), 11.8 Win Shares (4th in NBA)

Wade has not really been a trendy name in MVP talk, nor has he been part of an exceptionally great team. But he’s a big part of a Heat team that’s a playoff lock and no slouch – on Sunday, they mounted an 11-point fourth quarter comeback to beat the Raptors, in large part thanks to Wade. He played over 42 minutes, had 32 points, seven rebounds and six assists and led both sides in +/-. Not bad.

Yes, Wade’s still leading the Heat in scoring, minutes played, assists and steals, as he should. He’s not even that far back in rebounds. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 26.3 points on .471 shooting, 4.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists.

His play is a pretty big reason why the Heat have been so good going into the postseason. In the month of March they’ve only lost three games, two of them by eight points or less, and are have won eight of the last ten. This is a team that’s found it’s stride.

That stretch has contributed to some good stats for Wade, too: He has an offensive rating of 112 and a PER of 28.1, second in the NBA. His PER has actually risen a bit in the past month in a period where most player’s PER starts to drop. Likewise, his WS have improved too: he’s at 11.8, fourth in the NBA and an improvment of 3.2 wins. He’s moved up a spot, too.

Why should he be MVP? Well, how many other guards would be able to help their team as much as Wade helps the Heat? If he were replaced by somebody else – let’s say Jose Calderon  – are the Heat still in playoff contention? I’d argue that no, they’re not. I’m not sure I’d vote for Wade over some of the players below, but I think he’s worth having in the discussion.

Inside Track

As the name would suggest, the inside track players have the inside track to the MVP award. There’s a favorite, yes, but these are the players who don’t just deserve to be on the ballot but maybe a vote or two. They’re showing that not only are they among the best players in the NBA, but they’re making their team among the best in the league.

Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic

24.2 PER (6th in NBA), 12.1 Win Shares (3rd in NBA)

It’s getting hard to overlook the Magic. They’re the second team in the East to clinch a playoff spot and their Simple Rating System score – a measure of how much better the Magic are then their opponents – is second highest in the NBA. In both respects, they’re only just behind the Cavs.

And a lot of this goes to Howard. Of course he’s leading the team in points, blocks and rebounds and free throw attempts. But he’s started all 74 games this season and played nearly 2600 minutes, even with all the punishment he takes down low (and one doesn’t lead the NBA in free throw attempts without taking a lot of punishment). Besides getting to line more then anybody else, he’s leading the NBA in rebounds and blocks.

His advanced numbers continue make a good case for Howard. His PER is sixth in the NBA at 24.2. His Win Shares are third-highest, at 12.1. As you’ll recall from above, those are pretty close to average for a MVP.

But his resume goes a little deeper then that. He leads the NBA in True Shooting Per Cent, a stat that weighs total shooting efficiency, free throws and otherwise. If you’re a believer that defense wins titles, remember that Howard leads the NBA in Defensive Win Shares and Defensive Rating, a look at points allowed per 100 possessions.

One could certainly make a far worse choice for MVP.


Kevin Durant, F, Oklahoma City Thunder

25.5 PER (3rd in NBA), 13.8 Win Shares (2nd in NBA)

The Thunder are basically one of the most exciting teams in basketball right now, in large part thanks to Durant, who may be the best pure scorer in the NBA. He’s leading the league in points, is right behind LeBron in field goals and has made the most free throws in the NBA. So why are the Thunder still only one game ahead of San Antonio and the eighth seed in the NBA?

As a commenter pointed out last time, he it’s not so much that he’s carrying the team as it how he doesn’t have a second banana on the Thunder. That’s a good point.

Take the Thunder’s loss to the San Antonio on the 22nd. Durant went off for 45 points and eight boards, but only had three other players score more then 10 points (and none with more then 16). It’s a bit of a problem for the Thunder. They have other players who step up every so often – Westbrook, for instance, has had a couple of 30-point, 12 or more assist games – but nobody is able to do it on a regular basis.

The Thunder are hardly alone in that respect. Toronto doesn’t have a true second either – sometime’s it’s Bosh, sometimes it’s Hedo. Once it was Sonny Weems. Most teams don’t usually have somebody else who can score like their star on a regular basis, so it’s hardly a knock against the Thunder.

Still, in spite of this, Durant is blossoming. In the past month, his PER has slightly increased to 25.5 while his Offensive Rating is 116, both of which show how important he is to his team’s offense. His Win Shares have gone up too, to 13.8, second in the NBA. Consider how often Durant can get to the line, too: only LeBron gets to the line as often as Durant.

At this point, playing in a small market doesn’t hurt his chances either. When Bill Simmons is doing a running diary of a Monday night game featuring your team – and calls him his favorite non-Celtic player – you’ve probably arrived as a viable MVP candidate.


The Favorite

LeBron James, F, Cleveland Cavaliers

31.7 PER (first in NBA), 18.3 Win Shares (first in NBA)

The other day, Shaq called LeBron the MVP. I can’t say I’d argue.

He’s leading the league in PER and Win Shares, by a good margin in both. His Cavs are the best team in the NBA right now and were the first team to clinch their division. If you look at the average numbers for a MVP, James has already passed both of them. Really, what more can I argue for his case? That he’s tied for the league lead in point per game? That he’s got his highest shooting percentage ever? That he’s already set a career high for assists and points per 36 minutes? That he’s the only player to be in the top 10 for Offensive Rating and PER – meaning that he’s excelling in two different regards.

How about a look at his advanced numbers. Since the end of last month, his Win Shares have increased, while his PER has stayed above 31; in the past 20 seasons, only Michael Jordan had a PER that high.

There’s a few things one can take away from James. At a glance, his team looks very good – there are four regulars with a PER of 15 or more. Of the Cavs starters and sixth man (the five with the most starts and the player with the most minutes not on the starters), the average PER is 18.54.

That average is higher then that of any other MVP candidate’s team (for reference Orlando’s average is 16.78; the Thunder’s is 16.65, Miami’s is 17.57 and Toronto’s is 16.77). How much of that is due to James? Certainly some of it is… but he’s only one player. His contribution to the Cavs can’t be that much larger then Durant’s is to the Thunder. If anything it shows how much a player like Wade or Bosh mean to their team – they’re the only player on each of those teams has a PER significantly higher then that average.

Then again, another way to look at those averages is that James makes his team that much better. That’s also another way to define what the MVP is, isn’t it?

Is Duncan The MVP? No, Seriously, Quit Laughing. I’m Serious. No, For Real.

No one expected Tim Duncan, tagged everywhere as a player in rapid decline, to compete for MVP honors this season, or, for that matter, any other season between now and his retirement. But Tim Duncan’s name ought to appear on each and every short list of 2010 MVP candidates. His production this season rivals LeBron James and outpaces Kobe Bryant, depending on how you evaluate such things.

Gregg Popovich recently said, “With everything he’s [Tim Duncan] done for us, if our record was better, you’d hear people talking about him for MVP. And that sounds sort of strange because we thought those years had passed.”

Well, maybe those years haven’t entirely disappeared.

via Tim Duncan, League MVP? | 48 Minutes of Hell.

Trying to watch what makes Duncan different as he gets older is like Kobe. You see so fewer of the big things, the amazing plays, the incredible shots (not so much with KB, he’s still got those), and so many more of those little things. The way he’s able to instantaneously read the defense when he gets the ball in the block. There’s been a substantial shortening of the time Duncan handles the ball down low this season. You can actually see Duncan analyzing as the entry pass is in flight. It’s like that scene in Sherlock Holmes (film) when he goes through how he’s going to subdue his opponent.

“Guard drifting to position for double team, Jefferson slow to cut. Manu shaking right hand, warming up to fire. Post-defender muscling. Step 1. Plant shoulder to create separation. Step two, hesitate to draw defenders back to perimeter players. Step three, turn and slide, draw arm to shooting position, give slight shove with left, low, to avoid foul and create separation. Step four, deliver bank shot. … Success.”

I looked at the standings expecting to see the Spurs lounging low and desperate, and instead? Despite all the concerns, all the fears, all the negative declarations? They’re right there. Ready for a February-March push before a late March coast and then ramping it up the first two weeks of April. Right on schedule. Tim’s ticktock hands are always on time.

Greatness Ain’t Just Something You Put In A Gatorade Commercial

Look, I’m not trying to make any grand statements about race here. Nor am I trying to argue that Dirk and Steve are better individual players than Kobe and LeBron. After all, as the folks at BBR are quick to point out, the Nash and Nowitzki have their issues on the defensive end. But they are unquestionably great. All they do — night in, night out — is give their absolute all and win. They’ve won a lot in the 2000s. No, they haven’t won a championship, but that’s not all their fault.

via Basketbawful.

McHale backbackbackbackbackit’sgone. This season, more than the last two, has become for me a celebration. It’s as if all the relevant storylines of the last decade are coming together at once. The things I wish were appreciated more are being appreciated, the things I should have been appreciating I’m beginning to love. Yes, even Kobe. Kobe’s past the brash smugness and just works. He always worked, but now it’s a more resolved, more mature work. Nowitzki is reminding everyone “Um, yeah, so, even if you don’t think I deserved the MVP, can you really argue with me being strongly considered?” Nash is past expectations and overthoughtfulness and cliches and just wheelin’ and dealin’, baby. And Duncan is still there, the rhythm, drums pounding out the late night shift at the factory.

Watching these four play has been absolute joy defined, if you love basketball. I hope LeBron will find a way to break through whatever it is that’s keeping him, even as he continues to dominate statistically in every way possible.

Congratulations, Kobe Bryant

He did not get our vote (not that we had one, hmm… maybe that says something, about the award, or more likely about us).

He did get the hype.

Kobe Bryant is the MVP.

And while we will whole heartedly argue with you that he’s not the best player in the NBA this season (though we’ll give you overall over the last 4 years), he was the Most Valuable. He deserves to win won, so he’s won one.

What say you, Laker fans? Will you quit sending orders of cheese and whine to our doorsteps every thirty seconds?

By the way, forty bucks says Friedman had to change shorts this morning.