MVP Field Is SRO
Last year's MVP balloting produced the closest race in NBA history, with Magic Johnson (636 votes) edging out Charles Barkley (614) and Michael Jordan (571) to win his third Maurice Podoloff Trophy in four years. Those three superstars will again figure prominently in the MVP voting, but the field of challengers is larger this year. Here's our early MVP line, starting with the long shots:
? Joe Dumars, Pistons, and Patrick Ewing, Knicks. Odds: 20-1. Dumars showed his mettle (not that he hadn't done so before) when backcourt mate Isiah Thomas left the Pistons in late January to have surgery on his right wrist. In Thomas's absence, Dumars has averaged 22 points per game while handling most of the point-guard responsibilities and continuing his bulldog defensive play. Had the Pistons won steadily during this trying stretch, the kid from Natchitoches, La., would be a stronger MVP candidate. Nevertheless, Dumars has done an amazing job. Ewing has the right numbers (26.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.38 blocks) in the wrong year. The Knicks' desultory play will keep him back with the also-rans.
? Terry Porter and Clyde Drexler, Trail Blazers. Odds: 14-1. Even Portland coach Rick Adelman can't choose between his two backcourt starters for the MVP. The Blazers should consider it an honor to have two such high-caliber players.
? Karl Malone, Jazz; Kevin Johnson, Suns; and Larry Bird, Celtics. Odds: 12-1. The Jazz are at last winning some big games on the road, and the Mailman is the major reason. He still faces the " Stockton problem"—i.e., how can a voter separate Malone's success up front from that of point guard John Stockton, who is responsible for getting him the ball? That's why Malone, despite having MVP numbers, won't win.
Neither will KJ. Though Johnson is having a brilliant season statistically (22 points, 9.9 assists, 2.29 steals), the Suns have had chemistry problems, some revolving around KJ's ball distribution.
And while Bird's three-point shooting, defensive rebounding and inestimable presence have been major ingredients in the Celtics' renaissance, he is shooting too erratically and getting burned too often on defense to be the MVP.
? Dominique Wilkins, Hawks. Odds: 8-1. The attention given to the "new Nique" is entirely justified, given the level to which Wilkins has elevated his all-around game. But then compare him with Jordan in terms of his role on the team, his size and his playing style: Wilkins accounts for 24% of the Hawks' points, 20% of their rebounds, 14% of their assists, 18% of their steals and 18% of their blocked shots; Jordan's percentages with Chicago in those categories are 28, 15, 20, 29 and 17, respectively.
? David Robinson, Spurs. Odds: 4-1. There is no doubt that he is capable of dominating as completely as anyone in the NBA today. (And maybe as completely as anyone since Wilt Chamberlain.) Right now, though, there are disturbing lapses in Robinson's game—stretches where he doesn't make it upcourt to join the offense, or times when he is not aggressive enough in calling for the ball. He will be an MVP, but not this year.
? Magic Johnson, Lakers. Odds: 3-1. L.A. is still a big, beautiful float in the NBA parade, and Magic still drives it. Though there have been years when his court savvy more than matched the astonishing physical talents of Jordan and Barkley, this isn't one of them. Magic seems to sense it, too. After his eight-point performance in a 99-94 loss in Milwaukee last week, he said this to an L.A. reporter: "I had nothing left to give. I'm out of it right now. Sometimes you reach that point in a season and I've reached it. It's like I'm running in quicksand."