Contrary to what some critics of the modern game believe, we have bushels of future NBA legends currently playing. Kobe. LeBron. KD. Garnett. Duncan. Nash. CP3. I can go on. But what separates the truly great players, the ones who’ll be remembered 30 years from now, are the MVPs. Sure there are some exceptions, and a few players become infamous for their lack of Most Valuable Player trophies (Shaquille O’Neal for instance). But for the most part, it’s a pretty exact science: the greatest players of all time win the majority of these things. Everyone else is just fighting for second place.
At some point though, the brains behind the league must do something about the MVP. It’s too often about hype, rewarding the best stories, and giving the trophy to players who furthest exceeded expectations. The best players in the league – right now, we’re looking at you, LeBron – have to go above and beyond to get the same recognition. People expect greatness from them.
Why didn’t Michael win the MVP every year from ’87 on? People expected him to average 33. They expected the game-winners and the championships and the lockdown defense. Not much of the criteria has changed since, and you’ll see that theme play out in these rankings. Don’t get mad at me if I failed to include a top ten or even a top 15 player. We all know the race for the Maurice Podoloff isn’t always about that.
As part of a two-week long celebration of a new season, Dime is projecting the major NBA awards all week, and today, finally, I’m taking a look at the top MVP candidates. Here’s my list…
-The Top 10 Candidates For NBA Defensive Player Of The Year
-The Top 10 Candidates For NBA Coach Of The Year
-The Top 10 Candidates For NBA Rookie Of The Year
-The Top 10 Candidates For NBA Sixth Man Of The Year
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10. ANDREW BYNUM
I’ve heard arguments for Dwyane Wade, but we all know they go as the King goes. I’ve heard arguments for any of San Antonio’s Big Three, but they spread the wealth too much to have a legitimate chance. I’ve even heard arguments for James Harden, but as long as Houston doesn’t make the playoffs – and I don’t think they will, yet – then he really doesn’t have a shot. That leaves me with Philly’s finest.
Presently, Bynum is still out nursing knee problems and becoming the walking definition of an Internet troll. But even if we want to call him Frederick Douglass all season, we also know the dude can be a hell of a basketball player when he’s healthy.
Last season, his first with the Lakers where he finally usurped Pau Gasol as the No. 1 option in the paint, Bynum averaged career-high numbers pretty much across the board: 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and saw his usage rate skyrocket to 23.75, per HoopData. Kobe Bryant finally backed off, and Bynum flourished, even making a game-winner while dropping 20 and 14 against Kevin Garnett in a nationally televised tilt with Boston in March. He was always a tough matchup in the paint, and now with the 76ers, a team with a number of athletic perimeter options, as well as big men who can stroke it from 15-18 feet, Bynum should have more opportunities than ever before. He IS the franchise at this point, and franchise players get more than 13.3 shots a night like he did last season.
Just as I’ll explain later with Howard, Bynum is in the perfect position to make some MVP noise. Philly is a solid team, but with the East up in the air after Miami and Boston, if he plays well enough we could see the Sixers advance a round or two in the playoffs. They have talent, but Bynum is the difference maker. They haven’t had a legit center, or even someone to command double-teams, in a long time. As an individual player, Bynum’s biggest weakness is possibly dealing with those double-teams. He was never comfortable in that regard last year, possibly because it was the first time in his career he’d ever dealt with them. His assist rate dropped nearly five points to 7.75, and he turned the ball over at his highest clip since becoming a full-time starter. He’s the prototypical black hole: when he sees the double coming, he doesn’t look to make a play for someone else – he dishes it back out to the perimeter, and repositions in hopes of getting it back for a shot. It’s not wrong. It’s definitely effective. But now as the No. 1 option, he must do a better job of locating shooters and cutters.
This year he’ll get plenty of practice, and if he can somehow lift the play of his Sixer teammates, and earn Philly a top-four seed, he’ll have the storylines you need to win an individual honor like this.