I have already cast my vote, choosing “other.”
Forgive me for not genuflecting to the superstars on that list: LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant. They are all worthy candidates — there is no arguing that.
But none of them has turned around his team the way Kevin Love has for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were expected to be such a basket case that the NBA front office insisted upon their “lottery” pick — which was owned by the Los Angles Clippers from Kevin McHale’s ill-fated trade of Sam Cassell and a future No. 1 trade for the immortal Marko Jaric — being included in the heist that sent Chris Paul to the Clippers after David Stern voided the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade on the day the lockout was settled.
I happen to believe the T-Wolves are headed to the playoffs, which is one of the reasons why I have been consistently ranking them above teams with better records in my weekly Sunday Power Rankings. I believe this because I watch them nearly every night they play, in part because I am mesmerized by watching how Ricky Rubio’s game has blossomed as he has transitioned from the ACB to the NBA, and partly because I continue to be astounded by the numbers Love is putting up on such a consistent basis.
Question: Who has the most 30-point games in the NBA this season?
You answered LeBron James, right? He has 13, and that is indeed the most. But if you are a Heat fan, do you want the ball in his hands at the end of the fourth quarter in a tight game? If he is the runaway MVP, as many people believe, than of course you do. But if you look at his body of work in those types of situations, it gives you pause. And if it is giving you pause, he ain’t the runaway MVP many are already declaring him to be.
Maybe you answered Kobe Bryant, who does lead the league in 40-point games ( he had four in a row in January, and he was on his way to another Monday night before Andre Iguodala shut him down). But his total is 10.
Durant, the two-time defending scoring champion, also had 10. And Rose, the defending MVP, has six.
Love? He has seven 30-point games, another 13 in which he has been in the 20s, and a mere four in which he has been in the teens.
The Timberwolves had played 24 games before Love last night began sitting sat out a two-game suspension for stomping on Luis Scola’s head, and he failed to reach double figures in rebounds in only one of them — January 30 against Houston when he was held to seven (perhaps that’s why he had it in for Scola). People tend to forget, but he had 53 consecutive double-doubles last season, the longest such streak in the NBA since Elvin Hayes did it 55 consecutive times for the Bullets in 1973-74.
Of the five guys mentioned above, how many are in the Top 10 in two statistical categories?
James is second in the league in scoring and sixth in field-goal percentage, so he qualifies.
Bryant is first in scoring but 66nd in field-goal percentage, 20th in assists, and 25th in free-throw percentage (he has taken 193 foul shots, second-most in the league behind, you guessed it, Kevin Love). His only other top five placement is in minutes played, where he is second (to Love again) with 38.2.
Durant’s team has the NBA’s best record, and there is no discounting that. His scoring is off only four-tenths of a point from last year, and his field-goal percentage is an astounding .504 — up from .462 last season and .476 the previous two seasons, the latter of which included a scoring average of 30.1. He is as worthy of a candidate as there is out there, which he has especially proven over the past two nights, but his team is doing what it was expected to do.
Rose is sixth in scoring and eighth in assists and has been brilliant every single second he has been out there (with the exception of a certain final minute meltdown from the free-throw line two Sundays ago in Miami). His assists are up one per game from a year ago, his rebounding and 3-point shooting numbers are virtually unchanged, and his team is doing exactly as expected — just like Durant’s.
Love? He is in the top five in both scoring (25.0) and rebounding (13.7). He also leads the league in minutes played (39.4), and he shoots .378 from 3-point range (he has made 42 of them) — a percentage that is higher than those of Brandon Jennings, James Harden, Dorrell Wright, Kyke Lowry, Danny Granger, Kevin Martin, Andrea Bargnani, Jamal Crawford and Durant, to name only a few.
But those are just stats.
And at a certain point, you have to say “stats, schmats.”
The award is called Most Valuable Player, and the operative word there is valuable.
It is not a popularity contest. It is not a vote on who is the “best” player. It is not a reward for your team having the best record.
It is about value to your team, and that is always the determining factor when I cast my annual postseason awards vote.
“Oh, I totally agree with that,” coach Rick Adelman told SheridanHoops on the Wolves’ team plane after their 86-84 victory over Sacramento on Tuesday night. “And that’s your argument: Kevin has an unbelievable impact on our team. He’s scoring, he’s rebounding, and more attention is coming his way. This two-game suspension is kind of telling him where you’re at — everybody’s coming at you. And with the best players, that’s what happens.
“It (the MVP award) could be the player who puts up the numbers, but I think it’s the guy who has the biggest impact on your team and whether they can win. We’re competitive, and we’re trying to reach another level,” Adelman said.
When discussing Rose and James, their teams would be in the playoffs even if either player missed a significant portion of the season. With Durant, you can almost make the same argument. With Bryant, you can’t.
But in the case of Love, the Timberwolves would be Bobcat material without him — and you can’t say that about the Lakers or Thunder.
To hear more on the legitimacy of Love, click here. I discussed it Tuesday afternoon on 92.3 The Fan radio in Cleveland on the “Bull and Fox” show. (Extra teaser: The hosts were hating on LeBron).
Tuesday night’s win over Sacramento (without Love, who is serving a two-game suspension) improved the ‘Wolves to 10-5 against the West. If they could figure out how to defeat teams from the weaker conference (they are 3-8 against the East), there would be press releases coming out twice a week from the NBA office notifying the media that the Timberwolves have been added to the national television schedule.
As it is, the improved to 13-12 with the win against the Kings — the latest in a season they’ve been above .500 since January 2007 (20-19), and their best 25-game start since 2005-06 (13-12)
They have a brutal March schedule, but they are primed to stay in the postseason race for the rest of the season, they are the most entertaining team to watch (outside of the Clippers) in the entire Western Conference, they have re-energized a deflated fan base, and if they could learn how to win a few close games and get a little more respect from the refs, they’d be the NBA’s ‘it’ team right now.
The reason for all that is Love.
And that is why I voted “other” in the SheridanHoops.com MVP poll.
If you agree or disagree, that is your right.
So go ahead and make your voice heard in the poll right beneath this sentence.
Chris Sheridan is the founder and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear occasionally, and his Power Rankings are a fixture that run every Sunday at noon EST. Follow him on Twitter. and on Facebook.