There were a lot of good questions following my ever-controversial views of who belonged on the
No surprise to find the most mail was generated by the placement of
(All stats are through Jan. 24 unless otherwise noted.)
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.
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
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
As for Bosh, I'll deal him with a bit later ...
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 ...
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.
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
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.
I appreciate your letter, Brian. Leaving Paul off my ballot was the hardest of all the decisions. Let's start by agreeing that
In the end, it's a lot like choosing between
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.
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
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.