Posted: Wednesday March 8, 2006 12:53PM; Updated: Thursday March 9, 2006 1:48PM
In helping the Suns defend their Pacific Division crown amid a host of changes, Steve Nash may well defend his MVP crown.
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
Marty Burns will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
With six weeks left in the NBA regular season, the MVP race is in the homestretch. Right now it looks to be a battle between Suns point guard Steve Nash, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, Pistons guard Chauncey Billups and Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki.
Nash seemed to have the most votes among his peers at All-Star Weekend. Even Allen Iverson and Elton Brand, two other top candidates, said they would probably go with Nash if the voting were held that day. But there were plenty of other dissenting voices, such as Jerry Stackhouse (who went with Billups), and Billups (who went with ... Billups).
Of course, players don't actually vote for MVP. The media does. That means a fresh face or a candidate with a feel-good story often gains an edge. If so, Billups or Nowitzki -- or maybe even a Shawn Marion or Tony Parker -- might be able to make a late surge in the final 20 or so games.
Las Vegas casinos typically don't place official odds on events in which a preordained outcome could be determined. Especially when it could be determined by say, a cabal of sportswriters. But Johnny Avello, director of Race & Sports Operations at the Wynn Hotel & Casino, is known for putting together lines "for entertainment purposes only," and he agreed to do it for SI.com.
In a mild surprise, Avello rates Bryant as the leading candidate. Keep in mind, Avello is taking into account the various nuances of how the voting is conducted as much as what these candidates have done on the court. Perhaps he foresees a split vote situation, with Billups and/or Marion siphoning votes away from Nash. He also ranks three players who did not even make our top 10 (Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Gilbert Arenas) on his list.
At any rate, here is our take on the MVP race so far, in the order we see it. Obviously, there is a lot of basketball yet to be played. We've included brief arguments, pro and con, for each candidate, and Wynn's odds of each candidate's chances of taking home the trophy. We've also included Wynn's complete list at the bottom:
Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
Pros: In many ways he's having a better season than he did a year ago. Despite several new faces on the Suns and the preseason loss of Amaré Stoudemire to injury, Nash has led the Suns to one of the NBA's best records. He again leads the league in assists (10.9 per game) and has increased his scoring (19.6) and rebounding (4.3) from a year ago.
Cons: He won it last year, and some voters might be reluctant to give it to the same guy two years in a row. Also, he's not exactly a stopper on D, and he leads the NBA in turnovers (3.78).
What he needs to do to win it: Avoid a late-season collapse.
Wynn Hotel & Casino odds: 3 to 1
Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
Pros: Probably the best overall player in the game right now, he has single-handedly kept the Lakers in the playoff race. He leads the NBA in scoring (35.1), averaging a whopping 7.5 more points than a year ago, and ranks eighth in steals (1.78). His 81-point game against the Raptors in January was the NBA's second highest individual scoring performance of all time.
Cons: Despite Bryant's individual achievements, the Lakers are a .500 team. He's still a negative image to many voters for his aloof attitude and tendency to dominate the ball.