Monday January 25th, 2010

There were a lot of good questions following my ever-controversial views of who belonged on the All-NBA teams and deserved other midseason awards -- so many responses that I rescued a lot of them from the spam for this special mailbag. (I'll be answering more mail as usual on Friday, so please keep the questions coming.)

No surprise to find the most mail was generated by the placement of Carmelo Anthony behind Paul Pierce on my MVP and All-NBA lists.

(All stats are through Jan. 24 unless otherwise noted.)

Paul Pierce ahead of Carmelo Anthony for MVP and All-NBA? You need to have your head examined. Pierce plays on a stacked Boston team with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo (who is actually emerging as Boston's best player) and is averaging a paltry 18.8 ppg. Anthony is playing on a good Denver team and is second in the league in scoring. How on earth can you have Anthony on the All-NBA third team? -- Thomas, Ottawa, Ontario

Here is how I see it, for better or for worse: For 11 months now, Pierce has been leading the Celtics (with the help of Allen and Rondo, to be sure) without Garnett, who has either been sidelined by knee injuries or working his way back from them. Throughout this time, the Celtics have maintained their place as No. 2 in the East, which is no small achievement. Pierce -- not without help, of course, but he has been the driving force -- has kept the Celtics in championship position, and he has done so as a playmaker, defender and big-time scorer.

I've long viewed Anthony as his generation's version of Pierce: a star who entered the league as a scorer and who has been learning year by year to do the other things that win games and, eventually, the championship. Anthony is having a tremendous season, but I really do not think I am denigrating him by ranking him behind Pierce. If they were racing on the track, then Anthony would be running behind the shoulder of Pierce as a team leader and winner, and that is not a bad place for Anthony to be at age 25.

No Carmelo Anthony in the top five of MVP voting? Also, we see how good the Celtics are when Kevin Garnett doesn't play this season -- barely .500. So how does Paul Pierce get into the top five when he's not even the MVP of his own team? One other thing: To not even mention Chris Bosh in your All-NBA teams is nuts. I know the record is not there, but to not give him a sniff is crazy! -- John Bustin, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

Even when Garnett has been available this season, he hasn't been playing to the level of his first year and a half in Boston. This has been Pierce's team since last February, and he has kept it playing at a high level without Garnett and without injured Marquis Daniels, who was supposed to be Pierce's backup. It's not like Pierce's stand is coming out of nowhere: He was MVP of the 2008 Finals and last year he drove the undermanned Celtics to the No. 2 seed and a 3-2 playoff lead over the (eventual finalist) Magic before Boston's legs gave out.

My response is that maybe too many people are taking Pierce for granted. From my point of view, the Celtics have been overachieving since Garnett's troubles. Pierce's leadership defies stats and deserves recognition, especially in a league that is criticized (fairly) as being obsessed with individual numbers at the expense of playing for the team.

Where would the Nuggets stand today if Chauncey Billups was routinely sidelined by injuries, and diminished when he was in the lineup? Would Anthony find ways other than scoring to keep his team playing at a high level? Maybe Anthony would; I'm not saying he wouldn't. What I am saying is that Pierce has done exactly that for Boston: He has kept the Celtics solidly in the No. 2 spot and in position to challenge for a championship if Garnett does regain his influence.

As for Bosh, I'll deal him with a bit later ...

How can you not list 'Melo in the MVP race? And All-NBA third team? You're stuck in the NBA of three years ago with Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce on your MVP list. -- Chad, Las Vegas

At the time I did these rankings, the Mavericks were No. 2 in the West and had been for some time. Nowitzki looks like he is approaching his level of a few years ago, when he led Dallas to the Finals and was MVP the following season. That's why I rated him on the first team based on his high level of play and his influence on the team.

Duncan is having another terrific year -- 19.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.8 blocks -- and the new-look Spurs have been improving around him. There is no need to apologize for naming Duncan to an All-NBA second team.

Everything I've written about Anthony ever since he's been in the league has shown respect for his talent and progression. As a one-dimensional scorer he led the Nuggets into the playoffs his rookie year, and ever since he has been steadily improving his other skills while growing up (sometimes painfully) in full public view. I believe he can become a championship player, just as Pierce did. But I don't think it is fair to rate Pierce behind Anthony, not quite yet.

Let's move on ...

Kobe for MVP? LeBron is averaging more points, rebounds, assists and blocks. LeBron is also shooing a better percentage from the field and on threes. Also, at the time of this writing, the Cavs have a record of 32-11 while playing the most road games and fewest home games. The Cavs are 15-3 at home and 17-8 on the road. Meanwhile, the Lakers have played the most home games and fewest road games. The Lakers are 23-3 at home and 9-6 on the road. Get off the Lakers' lovefest and look at the numbers. -- Eric, St. Cloud, Minn.

How do you rate value? I do believe James is the most talented player in the world, and he fills up the stat sheet like nobody else. But James and Bryant each measures himself by the success of his team.

When I filled out my ballot, the Lakers looked like the team to beat. Based on that -- including their ascension to No. 1 in field-goal defense at the time -- I rated Bryant as the MVP, slightly ahead of James.

Since then, James' Cavaliers have extended their advantage to 2-0 against Bryant's Lakers, and Cleveland now has the league's best record and best defense (slightly ahead of L.A. in both categories). If I were filling out the ballot today, I would rate James as the MVP, with Bryant running a half-stride behind. They may go back and forth all season, based on the rhythms of the teams they lead.

I'm sorry, but how could Chris Bosh be excluded from your All-NBA teams? It's a decision that deserves an explanation. -- Simon, Montreal

You're right, Simon, it does. As well as Bosh has been playing, his Raptors have been no more than a game above .500, and they've had a losing record for most of the season. I'm not going to criticize him for his team's record, because Bosh looks like he is doing everything within his power (23.9 points, 11.1 rebounds) for his franchise.

At the same time, I'm not going to ignore the contributions made by the other forwards who star for winning teams. In this case, I'm rating Kevin Durant on the All-NBA third team because his numbers are helping his team max out. Oklahoma City is one of the league's two youngest franchises and yet the Thunder are 24-20 around Durant.

Am I blaming Bosh because the players around him don't necessarily fit, because maybe he is a victim of things he can't control? That's not how I view it. All I am doing is rewarding Durant for making the most of his situation. Right now, based on what they have meant to their teams, there is no way I can rate Bosh ahead of Durant.

No disrespect to Deron Williams, who is a great player, but excluding Chris Paul from the All-NBA team is stunning. You seem to justify taking Williams over Paul on the third team because the Jazz have a better record than the Hornets. But the difference in the standings is like one or two games, so big deal. Plus, Paul missed several games -- don't you think the Hornets win a few more of those if he's playing? To use (slightly) "better record" as justification just seems weak to me. That said, I respect your work and appreciate being able to voice my opinion here. -- Brian T., Delaware

I appreciate your letter, Brian. Leaving Paul off my ballot was the hardest of all the decisions. Let's start by agreeing that Joe Johnson is an All-NBA player and unquestionably deserving of a place on the third team. So how do you decide between Williams and Paul for the last spot? It's difficult to compare them because they have different skills, they excel in different ways; while Paul amasses more steals, there are a lot of people in the league who will tell you that Williams is the superior defender.

In the end, it's a lot like choosing between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The success of the team defines which is the best quarterback. And in this case, Williams has had the better impact on his team so far this season.

We can compare the stats between Paul and Williams, but I view that as distracting and demeaning to two quarterbacks who value winning above all else. Maybe the dynamics of the argument will change over the rest of the season, but right now I give Williams the edge simply because his team has won more games.

How come when you are considering All-Stars you base so much of it on how good the team is? An All-Star is an individual accolade and does not have nearly as much of a team aspect to it, does it? For example, you mention Al Horford, Kendrick Perkins and Andrew Bogut as possible Centers on the All-Star team, but what about Brook Lopez? Lopez is almost a 20-and-10 guy while averaging 2 blocks, but he plays on a terrible team. Is it his fault he's on a bad team? He's doing all he can for his team, which lacks in a lot of areas. This is just one example of many, and I don't think it is fair that guys don't get All-Star consideration for being on bad teams. -- Chris Ross, Vancouver, British Columbia

You're right, it isn't Lopez's fault that he has the misfortune of playing with so many who have quit on their team. There is no way a roster with as much young talent as the Nets should be contending for the worst record of all time.

But how can you ignore other players whose contributions are helping their teams win? Here is something that sticks with me: Three years ago, Garnett, Pierce and Allen were putting up sensational numbers for awful teams. When they became teammates in Boston, those individual numbers shrunk, yet their value shot up and they won a championship. "I had a group of guys that were very willing to be coached and weren't stuck on who they were," said coach Doc Rivers, who spent the entire season reminding his stars to forget their old ways. "I hear guys say they want to win it, but I think what they're really saying is, 'I want to win it as long as I can keep doing what I do.' I had three stars who said they wanted to win and they would change to do it. I don't think you get that a lot."

It's true, we don't get a lot of that. That's because the NBA awards the biggest salaries to players who put up the biggest individual numbers.

I'm receiving a lot of disagreeable mail because I didn't award Anthony for his 29.7-point average, and I respect the point of view of those writers. I agree that scoring 29.7 points is a difficult thing. But it isn't the most important thing; the most important thing is winning the games that ultimately result in winning the championship.

It isn't an all-or-nothing argument. I'm not saying that the best player from each of the teams with the best records should fill out the MVP ballot and All-NBA teams. I'm also not saying that you're a selfish me-first player if you happen to play for a losing team. My point is that those who contribute to winning teams should be recognized as a matter of priority. I guarantee this: If the owners and GMs awarded contracts based mainly on the contributions made by players to winning games, then this would be a much better league.

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