Pre-Christmas week brought a foreshadowing of what was coming, as an e-mail from columnist and NBA Encylopedia author Jan Hubbard (who lives in Dallas) included a notation that he was in Los Angeles, where the locals are still infatuated with Kobe Bryant to an extreme degree — or so it seemed to an outsider and objective observer, as Hubbard was.
Christmas then brought the news that Bryant is running away with the lead in All-Star balloting, which is always a popularity contest but seems absurdly so this year — especially given what it happening up the coast in the Bay Area.
The 17-time All-Star from El Lay has a somewhat obscene lead of 209,033 votes over runner-up Stephen Curry, garnering 719,235 ballots in the first returns announced Friday. Just how obscene is that total for a player whose skills have eroded more than Hubbard or a lot of other people saw coming?
Put it this way: If you added up the total votes for LeBron James plus Dwyane Wade, they’d still be more than 50,000 behind Kobe.
Or to put it another way, James leads all Eastern Conference players with nearly 358,000 votes … and Kobe has him doubled.
As I said in my reply e-mail to Hubbard, I fear for what will be happening to the folks in Los Angeles one year from now, when Kobe withdrawal will be the second-leading cause of psychiatrist visits, trailing only Trumpophobia as our nation begins the transition into the era of Celebrity Presidents. Yes, it could really happen. The deck is stacked against traditional politicians.
Trump is the political Stephen A. Smith, and as we’ve all seen with Stephen A., no matter how bombastic or off-kilter or downright crazy he may be, the more he keeps yelling, the more he stays in his seat of power. Trump is merely following in lockstep.
But I digress.
In terms of All-Star balloting, we’re talking about someone who is running away with the race in the polls, no matter how unqualified he may be on the basic merits. In Kobe’s case, despite his 20-year career coming to a close with what will be his 18th All-Star selection, he is 37th in the NBA in scoring (17.2), 118th in field goal percentage (.345) and has chucked up 187 3-pointers, making 48 — a shade over 25 percent. When players such as Al-Farouq Aminu and Will Barton have made more threes than Kobe, when the Lakers spent the late-night hours of Christmas attempting a futile comeback from a 28-point deficit against the Clippers with Kobe waving a towel, you know an era is coming to an end.
Did you see this quote from Byron Scott on why he left Kobe on the bench when the deficit was cut to 7?
“At that particular time, when it got to about the six-minute mark, he had been sitting for quite a while,” Scott said. “So I wasn’t about to put him back in then — pretty easy decision, to be honest.”
So if we are speaking of easy decisions, we can circle back to the theme of this column: The MVP race.
As noted quite strongly in Edition II, the race is over. Curry is going to win it, and we all know it.
If you think Kawhi Leonard can close the gap, I suggest you put on your Steve Harvey cap and acknowledge your mistake before you announce it to the entire world.
To borrow a quote from Mr. Harvey that will apply in mid-February when Kobe is launching airballs as part of the West’s starting five in Toronto: “Still a good night.”
Sort of like any time you watch the Warriors play – even when they have a streak of 48 consecutive 100-point home games snapped, as they did on Christmas.
On to the rankings:
1. Stephen Curry, Warriors. When you put up a line of 19 points, seven assists and seven rebounds and it is considered a blah game, you have set the bar pretty high. Curry rightfully got second billing behind Draymond Green for the Warriors’ 89-83 victory over Cleveland on Friday in the NBA Finals rematch, but that has more to do with Green, the current leader in our Most Improved Rankings. How rare was the 19-point outing for the soon-to-be repeat MVP? It was only his fourth sub-20 point game of the season, two of which have occurred back-to-back after he went for just 16 in Wednesday’s win against Utah. Steve Harvey already has him second on his ballot. LAST EDITION: No. 1.
2. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs. He hasn’t had a 30-point game since opening night, yet he is averaging 21.0 points for a team with an .806 winning percentage. A model of consistency on both ends of the court for a team winning its games by an average of 13.0 points (second in the NBA behind Golden State’s 13.3), Leonard has scored between 19 and 27 points in 23 of his 30 games. His production statistically has trailed off in every category except steals (from 1.9 up to 2.4) when you compare November to December, but he also set the bar pretty high in the first month. Steve Harvey is engraving his name on the Maurice Podoloff Trophy as we speak. LAST EDITION: Tied for No. 2.
3. Draymond Green, Warriors. Feel free to disagree on this one, especially if you are a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Indiana Pacers. I really don’t care. Finishing third in this year’s MVP race is going to carry a certain cache, what with Curry the lock at No. 1 and Leonard separating himself from the field at No. 2 by virtue of San Antonio’s W-L record. At this point, he is the
best most productive small forward in the league wearing LeBron James’ signature sneakers, with all due respect to LeBron, whom nobody talks about anymore. LBJ is about as relevant to the MVP race as Carly Fiorina is to the Republican Primaries. Don’t get me started on her. It’s not just the face, Donald. It’s the attitude. Hillary is demure by comparison. LAST EDITION: Unranked.
4. Russell Westbrook/Kevin Durant, Thunder. Yeah, I know. You can’t split a vote on an official ballot. Well, this is not an official ballot. It is merely Edition III of these rankings, and it has more Steve Harvey references than LeBron James references, so let’s all chill. Take your pick as to which of these two guys is more important to the Thunder. No matter who you choose, you are arguably correct. They will be as tough to figure out in the playoffs as any duo in the league, and yes, I am including Curry and Green. If Sam Presti can figure out a way to put a true scoring guard alongside them before the trade deadline (welcome back, Kevin Martin?), they are as much of a wild card in the postseason as Bernie Sanders is in the South Carolina primary after he wins Iowa and New Hampshire. LAST EDITION: Westbrook at No. 4.
5. Ish Smith, 76ers. Yes, Steve Harvey inspired me on this one. The team run by
Sam Hinkie Jerry Colangelo just picked him up from the Pelicans for a pair of second-rounders and waived Tony Wroten, who was only eight games into his return from a torn ACL. As Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal noted, Wroten would be a nice pickup for the Knicks, who drove to the basket an NBA-low 17 times per game last season. Wroten drove 10.3 times a game by himself. And what of Smith? What on earth is he doing in these rankings? Well, my crystal ball says he is the first step back to respectability for the Sixers, who are 1-30 as we publish but will finish with double digits in victories with Ish directing the offense. LAST EDITION: Unranked.
NEXT FIVE: Paul George, Pacers; LeBron James, Cavs; Andre Drummond, Pistons, DeMar DeRozan, Raptors; Blake Griffin, Clippers.
Chris Sheridan, publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com, is an official MVP voter. Follow him on Twitter.