Been too long since the last MVP rankings, nearly two whole weeks. A lot has been happening during that time, and I have a few stories to tell — new and old, before we get into the latest rankings.
This morning’s New York Times brings news that the United and Cuba will restore full diplomatic relations. But wait … no tourism for Americans, and no democracy for Cubans? Hey, you never know what kind of a surprise the Old Gray Lady will bring each day. Yesterday, the newspaper of record published an article proposing the New York Knicks trade Carlemo Anthony for Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler; or Kobe Bryant; or Rajon Rondo; or back to the Nuggets for Wilson Chandler, Danilo Galinari and Timofey Mozgov. Yes, the Times wrote that. At least it was more interesting than the story about ugly sweaters with NBA team themes that led the sports section a week ago. Yes, really.
The Times should do a story on Phil Jackson cutting off access to the loading dock at Madison Square Garden, a development that occurred after the first home game of the season when Jackson was quoted as saying the Knicks are “not ready for prime time.” The quote was delivered as Jackson walked to his waiting limo, and the MSG media paranoia staff decided in its infinite wisdom that no one shall have loading dock access to Phil ever again. Security guards now bar media members from that area.
I learned this while attending a game with the most beautiful woman in Slovenia, pictured to the right. Her name is Dolores, she is a TV personality, and she joked with Jonas Valanciunas about the relative merits of Slovenian fans vs. Lithuanian fans, both of whom travel in droves to watch their national teams play in FIBA tournaments.
But back to Cuba, which has produced a grand total of three NBA players — most recently Lazaro Borrell, whose defection I covered at the 1999 Tournament of the Americas in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Borrell eventually ended up having a short stint with the Seattle SuperSonics, and he was part of the trade for Patrick Ewing when the Knicks exiled the best player they have had in the past 30 years.
Who knows if we shall now find out whether Cuba holds a future NBA star, but the warming of relations between the US and Cuba should open up the island to NBA scouts. Somewhere, someone deserves the title of “Best Player Not Playing in the NBA.” But don’t go to Gregg Popovich for the answer. I tried that with Popovich in Brooklyn last week, and he seemed quite genuine when he said he pays no attention to foreign basketball players until after the NBA season, when he consults with R.C. Buford and Larry Brown. To the best of my knowledge, it was the first time in about five years that someone in the NBA said something nice about Brown.
I also ran into Mark Cuban at MSG, and he was not playing ball with New York reporters who tried to bait him into trashing the Knicks, who got fleeced in the deal that sent Tyson Chander to Dallas. The New York media camped out in the visiting locker room prior to the game waiting to speak with Chandler, who instead decided to practice 18-foot corner jump shots. Next time you see Chandler knock down an 18-footer from the corner (if it ever happens), you’ll know where he honed his skills.
OK, enough random chatter. Time for the rankings. (The previous three versions are linked below). Happy holidays, folks.
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors: Betcha didn’t have the Golden State Warriors among your preseason championship contenders. If you did, you should be following @SheridanBlog, because chief blogger Jim Park was one of the few who made that bold prediction in the preseason. Yes, it has been a team effort in the Bay Area, where Steve Kerr has already locked up Coach of the Year honors and Draymond Green may just have shown himself to be an All-Star. OK, so they lost at the Grindhouse two nights ago. That’ll happen against that Grizzlies team. But as it stands, Curry is leading the team with the NBA’s best record in points (23.5, fifth in the NBA), assists (7.6, sixth), steals (1.92, seventh) and FT percentage (.925, fourth). (PREVIOUS EDITION: No. 1)
2. James Harden, Houston Rockets: Went off for 41 on Wednesday night against Denver in an overtime victory, scoring 8 in the extra session, as Houston improved to 19-5. Five days earlier, Harden had a triple-double against the Nuggets. The Rockets are 8-4 in games that Dwight Howard has missed, and when you can win two-thirds of your games in a conference as loaded as the West without your defensive anchor, you are doing pretty well. Stat of the day: Harden leads the NBA with 241 free throws. That is 35 more than second-place Kobe Bryant, whose team, the Lakers, still draws so much more attention than the Clippers in Los Angeles, it is almost scary, as Mark Heisler notes in this column. (PREVIOUS EDITION:No. 2)
3. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies: Dropped out of the rankings in the previous edition, now back where he belongs. Was a beast against the Warriors (24 points) as the Hollingers ended Golden State’s 16-game winning streak, and we will have to wait until March 27 – the next time the teams meet – to see if the presence of Andrew Bogut on defense can be a difference maker for the Warriors in trying to stop the top free agent of next summer. I can now state definitively that it is more fun to watch the Grizzlies than it is to watch the Spurs. With San Antonio, we probably won’t see its full arsenal healthy and not being rested until the playoffs. With Memphis, we get to see a team that can get a game-winning effort from anyone from Gasol to Mike Conley to Jon Leuer to Tony Allen. Breath of fresh air. (PREVIOUS EDITION: Unranked)
4. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans: He is making 58 percent of his shots, which is a pretty astounding conversion rate. Not that it makes him anything special. Check out these other FG percentages: Brandan Wright, Dallas, .748; Deandre Jordan, Clippers, .721; Tyson Chandler, Dallas, .679; Amir Johnson, Toronto, .591. So you ask: What is the record? It belongs to Wilt Chamberlain, who went 426-for-586 (.727) for the Lakers in 1972-73. In a podcast I did last month, I placed Wilt in my all-time Top 5 along with Kobe Bryant and Bill Russell, noting that I needed to speak to my dad for actual Wilt and Russell stories because I am too young to have seen them play in person. “I saw them play in person when they were in college,” the old man e-mailed me. (PREVIOUS EDITION: No. 3)
5. Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors: Leads the best team in the East and deserves to be in the top 5, as noted in this column by colleague Shlomo Sprung. Personally, I was left a little unimpressed over the weekend when Lowry hoisted up a game-winning attempt at the buzzer at MSG from eight feet away that traveled about six feet. On the previous possession, coach Dwane Casey elected to get the ball into the hands of Lou Williams, rather than Lowry, and Williams dribbled down the clock standing 30 feet from the basket despite being isolated against Pablo Prigioni, then attempted a 3-pointer rather than going to the hole and trying to get a better shot or drawing a foul. “Was that the guy you wanted to have the ball?” I asked Casey afterward. “Yes,” he replied, though he acknowledged that the shot selection left something to desired. (PREVIOUS EDITION: No. 4)
DROPPED OUT: LeBron James, Cavs (No. 5).
THE NEXT FIVE: LeBron James, Cavs; LeMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers; John Wall, Wizards, Jimmy Butler, Bulls, Tim Duncan, Spurs.
Chris Sheridan, publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com, is an official MVP voter. Follow him on Twitter.