Chris Paul- "When I’m on the court...if my mom was across from me she’d have to get out the way."
Great players are a different breed. Chris Paul’s above quote seems like something that any player would say, but the difference with guys like Paul, LeBron James, Dwight Howard, and Kobe Bryant is that they really mean it. There presence on the court creates a different atmosphere in the arena and a different game on the court. Each of them is so talented and special, that they can dominate the game in a different way. Aside from their collective will to win each of these guys shows uncanny ability to make decisions. Howard may lag behind in this category, largely because he is not a ball handler, but each of the guards do a tremendous job of making the correct decision in important moments.
Tonight on ESPN fans were treated to a double header featuring each of these MVP candidates. Game 1 pitted Chris Paul’s New Orleans Hornets heading into Cleveland to take on LeBron James’ Cavaliers. In the pregame highlight montage Bucks fans were reminded of an especially ugly sight, LeBron’s block on Ramon Sessions from a few weeks back. LeBron is like Danny Almonte, except he isn’t lying about his age and the kids he playing against look like 3rd graders. James is the most physically gifted player I have ever seen. 6'8 270 and able to move like that? I think I know what happend. God is a Cavalier fan, and all the moves he tried to make didn’t work. Like if you’re playing a video game and you’re doing everything fair and it’s still not working out. Well God said, "Forget it, I’ll just create a guy who’ll crush everyone." And that is how we end up with LeBron James, the genetic freak. LeBron asserted his punishing physical style early bouncing Chris Paul off of him as he grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back up for 2. James also did a great job in the game early of letting the game come to him. It all comes back to making decisions. He took an active role in facilitating for the rest of the team early when the Hornets brought pressure on him. He decided to get his other guys involved, knowing that later in the game would be the time for him to force the action and take over. What troubled me about LeBron in the game the other night against the Bulls was when he didn’t take over at the end of regulation. He hit some shots to keep it close and got a good look at the hoop to win at the buzzer, but when you are LeBron James that is when you waltz on down to the hoop and attempt to rip the rim off of the backboard.
This game was an indication of how great Chirs Paul is though. (I realize he played poorly and was ejected, but that doesn’t change my point. Also Byron Scott ran possibly the worst offense I’ve ever seen for the entire 4th quarter.) Watching the rest of his teammates can be painful at times. I know that David West was an all-star last year, but is he even better than Udonis Haslem? At 82games.com it shows that West and Haslem use jump shots to account for 72 and 71 percent of their shots respectively, while hitting 42.8 and 42.6 percent. West just shoots a lot more, because Chris Paul isn’t taking a free throw every other possession like Dwyane Wade. (Sorry, I can’t control the D-Wade 2003 finals hate. I was really riding the Dirk bandwagon then, at least before he missed those free throws and Wade was gifted a ring.) West’s career skyrocketed after Paul was drafted. He didn’t see a lot of playing time before Paul arrived, but since Paul has adopted him as pick and roll partner he has been shooting wide open midrange shots ever since. I don’t think it’s a bad shot for him by any means, or that he is a bad player, but he isn’t the number 2 guy on a championship team. The fact Paul put them in that discussion last year speaks volumes about his skill for making others better. I mean they almost went to the championship with a 2 guard situation featuring Mo Peterson, Devin Brown, Jannero Pargo, and Rasual Butler. As long as I’m talking about the supporting cast on New Orleans I have another question...why does everyone think the Hornets are so young? As of opening day, they were the second OLDEST team in the league!! What is young about that? Because they have Chris Paul everyone thinks there some young bunch of go getters, there not, they have one player who brought a bunch of role players to the brink of the title last year. At halftime Jalen Rose gave a speech about how they’ll get better when they get older, although it sounded much different because when Jalen Rose speaks, it sounds like a sedated Ahmad Rashad.
Much like LeBron James, Dwight Howard has a game built around intimidation. He may not be as quick as LeBron, but he is built like a house. Actually more than a house, Howard is built like an arena and super quick off his feet for a guy who is 6'11. The strides Howard has made defensively are what makes Orlando a team knocking on the door of the elite. When a team has someone like Howard to defend the rim, it’s such a luxury to their perimeter defenders and allows them to play much more aggressive and feel more confident. On top of that Howard grabs 13% of all offensive rebound opportunities and 25.6% of defensive, 2nd and 4th in the league respectively. Simply said, he dominates the rim on both ends of the ball. In his first few years in the league he relied solely on his athleticism to get him by offensively, but he has evolved nicely. He still won’t step out very far and be effective, but he has added and array of spins and jump hooks that make him worth a double team. And when Howard can draw that double team the Magic get lethal. Now that they’ve added even more firepower with that guy who used to go to Duke that disappeared for a while they are really shooting the lights out (check out his last 5) Another plus for Howard is that he is hilarious. He picked up Kobe on a switch in the fourth quarter and while Bryant was dribbling on the iso Howard engaged in some serious trash talk. He coerced Kobe into a contested jumper but then was so excited when Kobe missed he forgot to go get the rebound, much to Stan Van Gundy’s dismay. Howard and Bryant continued their battle at the free throw line and Howard had a huge smile on his face the whole time. As much as I love Tim Duncan, Howard is like the anti Duncan, he just loves everything.
Kobe Bryant has a whole different kind of dominance. Don’t get me wrong, Kobe is a hell of an athlete, but that is not what is so overwhelming about his game. Kobe has more shots in his repertoire than anyone in the entire league. As I’m watching the Orlando Los Angeles game, I just saw him bust out a left handed shot that I hadn’t seen before and a not so new but equally awesome scoop shot finger roll. (Also something I hadn’t seen, Marcin Gortat get crowned, but Tervor Ariza did that and then some with a nasty flush on his dome). Where he has grown in addition to that is how he knows when it’s time for him to bust out the tool box full of offensive maneuvers and when to get it going for the rest of his team. With guys like Odom, Bynum, and Gasol on his team now he knows to get them going early because a lot of their game depends on their confidence. If they are able to get involved in the offense they can be trusted to be aggressive later rather than simply deferring to Bryant and watching. (This actually happend in this evenings game when Odom went to the rack a few times in a row with about a minute left and kept getting fouls. Naturally he was 50% on free throws, and on the first shot he hit in this stretch he had a look on his face like he was a 10 year old kid who couldn't believe he did something right.) When the rest of his team is standing and watching, that is when Kobe can’t be at his full power. Part of his arsenal is changing his mind while he is in the air and making the correct decision, and there is just no answer when a guy can do that. And he juggles all these skills and responsibilities while being a look-down defender who can guard any player from 1-3 when needed.
Ultimately between James great strides on the defensive end and his teams dominance of anyone who even parks in their parking lot, he has the upper hand at MVP. Personally I feel like he deserves it the most, but with Chris Paul a close second, because I can’t think of more than a few point guards who could step into his place and keep them in the playoffs. But I can’t think of ANYONE that has the impact on a team that James has on both ends of the court on his teams ability to play and mind set about the game. When you have LeBron James you come into every game with the best player, and that is a feeling that leads to success for everyone on the team. And in the end, that’s what makes him the best of a different breed.