Man would this team going to have trouble getting the ball through the bucket. With Amare showing about as much explosiveness as a mild case of diarrhea, the leading scorer would be J.R. Smith off the bench with 16.7 ppg. Having said that, if Amare has anything left in the tank you could build a team around his scoring and the shutdown defense of Shumpart and Chandler. It was just two years ago in the first half of the season that the Knicks did just that behind the pick and roll offense of Felton and Amare. Combine that with a solid bench, and while this would by no means be a legit title contender, I can see them at around .500, which is good enough for a playoff berth in the miraculously mediocre East.
Candidate 2: Clippers minus Chris Paul
Team Record: 29-10
PG: Eric Bledsoe
SG: Chauncey Billups
SF: Caron Butler
PF: Blake Griffin
C: DeAndre Jordan
This is a rock solid team. Obviously not the Championship contender that Chris Paul’s basketball bravado transforms them into, but still this squad would be a playoff team to be reckoned with. They can play some great defense behind the frenetic activity of Bledsoe and Barnes and the shot blocking of DeAndre Jordan. Jamal Crawford can still get buckets off the bench and don’t forget they still have Blake Griffin, the second best PF in the game. The obscene depth of the Clip Show really works against CP3 here, because isn’t that really what makes them different from last year? Play a fun little exercise here and compare CP3’s season to that of another elite point guard, hiding the player’s names to eliminate any bias:
Player A: 19.8 pts, 9.1 ast, 2.5 stl, 2.1 to, 47.8 FG%, 37.1 3P%, 86.1 FT%
Player B: 16.6 pts, 9.7 ast, 2.6 stl, 2.2 to, 47.3 FG%, 33.3 3P%, 89.7 FT%
Pretty close, right? I would give the edge to Player A because he scored more points AND shot a higher percentage from the field and downtown.
Both players are Chris Paul. Player A was last year’s version, while player B is this year. How can you give the MVP to a guy who is having a slightly worse year than last year?
Projected Record: 23-16 (6 win difference)
The Verdict: CP3 is having a typically brilliant season, but it appears the difference in the team making the jump from playoff team to Championship contender is more a function of a bench deeper than a Simon Cowell V-Neck then Chris Paul having a career year.
Candidate 3: Heat minus LeBron James
Team record: 26-12
PG: Mario Chalmers
SG: Dwayne Wade
SF: Shane Battier
PF: Udonis Haslem
C: Chris Bosh
I would really enjoy watching this squad pound the hardwood. They have two great scorers in Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh who can run a pretty mean pick and roll together and Ray Allen off the bench to do his brand of abuse on the poor unsuspecting nets hanging from NBA rims. However, when it comes to defense might as well call this team Monday through Sunday because they would be weak . Based on what we have seen this year, Wade, Battier and Haslem all look a step slow. Any team with size down-low would abuse the Bosh/Haslem combo on the block, and without the terrifying athleticism of LeBron they would have to abandon the over-helping/trapping style that makes them so dangerous. Offensively this squad can hang with anyone, but defensively they would be a headache.
Projected Record: 20-18 (6 win difference)
The Verdict: The fact that the Heat are heavily underachieving this year really hurts LeBron’s MVP case. While he is clearly the best player in the game, the Heat as a whole have not performed as well as they should thus far, and that really hurts his MVP chances.
Candidate 4: Thunder minus Kevin Durant
Team record: 33-9
PG: Russell Westbrook
SG: Kevin Martin
SF: Thabo Sefolosha
PF: Serge Ibaka
C: Kendrick Perkins
Perry Jones III
A core of Westbrook and Ibaka is nothing to sneeze at. Westbrook would be fine jacking up a few more shots to try to make up for Durant’s absence and Ibaka could score close to 20 points a game if need be. However, that is not enough to make up for the brilliance of Durant. This team is paper thin without him, especially at SG and SF, and who would score when Westbrook is on the bench? They have a nice starting five and the scoring prowess of Russ West would keep them competitve, but this is a fringe playoff team without the Durantula.
Projected Record: 24-18 (9 win difference)
The Verdict: OKC’s impressive record makes Durant the early favorite. He is the best scorer in the game and rapidly improving in all facets. OKC is very thin at SF, making him all the more valuable
1. Kevin Durant (9 win difference)
2. LeBron James (6 win difference)
2. Chris Paul (6 win difference)
4. Carmelo Anthony (5 win difference)
Durant is currently the leader in the clubhouse on the strength of the Thunder’s early dominance and the all around maturation of his game. However, LeBron is still far and away the best player in the game, and if the Heat surge in the second half this award should be his for the taking.