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As NBA teams finish their final jockeying for seeding position, the ongoing race for league MVP has reached its crescendo. Several players have put forth worthy efforts this season, but only a handful will be legitimate contenders come voting time. Here is a breakdown of the likely candidates:
1. Derrick Rose: This point guard for the Bulls is averaging 25.1 points in just his third year as a pro. He has the Bulls in the East’s top spot, and the team has already clinched their conference. Rose has done it all this year, scoring, passing, and putting the Bulls on his back. He averages just under eight assists per game, and he has kept the Bulls on top even though big men Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah have missed a combined 57 games. The Bulls have really caught fire as of late. Rose won Player of the Month, after leading the Bulls to a 13-3 record. Some statisticians have been critical of Rose, citing his low shooting percentage, and measuring his stats against past MVP winners. According to their numbers, he would be the worst MVP winner of all time. But that hasn’t stopped big names like Michael Jordan to give Rose his endorsement.
2. Dwight Howard: Averaging 23.2 points, Howard has taken his game to another level this season. Howard has been the league’s Defensive Player of the Year twice, and leads the league in double-doubles. He is clearly the league’s best player down low, and with his improved scoring he has become even more dangerous. He is second in the league in rebounding, third in field goal percentage, and fifth in blocks. Howard has the Magic poised for the playoffs sitting as the four seed in the East. Howard has been the only constant on this suddenly revamped team, giving them a shot to go deeper into the playoffs. At the age of 25, Howard is soaring past all-time greats in all sorts of categories. This season he became the youngest player to reach 7,000 career rebounds, the fifth youngest player to reach 10,000 career points, and he had a season high eight blocks in a game against the Timberwolves. To add to these numbers he has recorded 64 double-doubles earning himself the endorsement and a legitimate shot at the MVP.
3. Dirk Nowitzki: After Rose and Howard there is some controversy as to who comes next. It seems a lock that one of the top two will win the MVP but there is not a huge disparity in numbers or significance between some of the other candidates. Nowitzki is seeking his second MVP and has had another solid year leading the Mavericks to the three seed in the West. He averages around 23 points, and seven boards, while shooting over 52 percent from the field. Nowitzki has also shot over 41 percent from behind the three-point line. Nowitzki is invaluable to his team, and without him the Mavericks would find it difficult to even make the playoffs in the competitive West.
4. Amare Stoudemire: Stoudemire has the Knicks back in the playoffs for the first time since 2004. For most of the season, Stoudemire did it himself, only surrounded by good role players to stay competitive in the East. The Knicks added Carmelo Anthony late in the year, cementing the team’s spot in the playoffs. Stoudemire is averaging more than 25 points, over eight boards, and is shooting just over 50 percent from the field. His numbers have vaulted him into the MVP race, but putting the Knicks, one of the most storied NBA franchises, back on the map makes him that much more of a candidate.
5. LeBron James: The reigning NBA MVP winner has continued to put up numbers even after being surrounded by two other stars. Averaging more than 26 points, 7.5 rebounds, and almost seven assists, he is still the favorite of many experts even if he has thrown his own support behind leading candidate Rose. James has also shot well, shooting just over 50 percent from the field and 33 percent from three-point land. With All-stars, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh on his team, his numbers have not dipped significantly, but having this many stars on one team has taken a hit on his MVP candidacy.
6. Kobe Bryant: Kobe will always be in the discussion for MVP, and as the No. 2 seed in the West, the Lakers are poised to win another championship. This is one area where Bryant trails LeBron James, and he would love to even the score at two each, but it will be difficult for him to win this year. He averages just more than 25 points, more than 5 boards and just under 5 assists, but is shooting only 45 percent from the field for the season. The Lakers have a legitimate shot at a three-peat, but Kobe’s chances as the MVP winner leading them there are slim.
7. Kevin Durant: Leading the Thunder to the four seed in the West, Durant is averaging more than 27 points, and nearly seven boards. His teammate, Russell Westbrook is also having a fantastic year, detracting somewhat from Durant’s candidacy. Other knocks on Durant have been his struggles on defense, and against the top teams in the West. The Thunder are 0-2 vs. the Lakers, 0-3 vs. San Antonio, 1-2 vs. Dallas, 1-1 vs. Bulls, 1-1 vs. Boston, and 1-1 vs. Miami. To be the best in the NBA you have to beat the best, and Durant simply hasn’t proven he can do that yet.
League MVP voters are instructed to make their decision before the start of the postseason. The likelihood of this plan is doubtful, so the bottom line is that the team’s performance in the playoffs may ultimately determine the outcome. At this point, though, the MVP trophy looks headed to Chicago.