For the most part his arguments are fairly reasonable, but I had a few qualms with his Western Conference MVP selection (I bet you can't guess where this is going). Marc donned this distinguished honor to none other than Chauncy Billups. Let that sink in. Chauncy. Billups. Granted, he's been great in Denver, but... really?
So, being the good fan that I am, I wrote Marc a very nice letter of dissent. But since he's probably not going to respond to me (so far, no ESPN columnist has), I thought I would share my thoughts before they melt into the ether. Enjoy:
Dear Marc Stein,
Chauncy Billups? Really?
Ok so Billups, who is a very good point guard no doubt, transitions from a team with an identity crisis to an under-achieving team that's 1- 3. Under Billups, the 1-3 teams improves to 17-7 (which means they're 16-4 during his tenure). While that record is indeed Impressive, I think there's a bit of fallacy to your logic that the addition of Billups is the sole reason for the under-achievers' newfound success (and therefore deserving of the title "Western Conference MVP for the first trimester). I actually believe that their winning has more to do with the player who is no longer with them rather than his replacement.
Allow me to elaborate. With the exception of a few seasons, Allen Iverson has been one of the least efficient "stars" in a league that typically over values points. So Denver, under the impression that Iverson is a star/franchise player, adds him to their roster only to find out that two players who are very good at creating shots for themselves (but not their teammates) does not make for a championship bound team. It'll get you to the playoffs, but that's about it.
So after Denver traded an inefficient play-maker for an efficient one, how can we be so shocked that they are doing so much better in their current configuration? Billups is a player who is above average in efficiency and wins produced whereas Iverson is not (see Dave Berri for more). If you replace incompetence with competence on any sports team, a change for the better is likely. Sure, the 16-4 record with Billups at the helm is pretty impressive, but he certainly did not accomplish that feat on his own.
In terms of Tim Duncan... well, I'm a little dumbfounded by your logic:
Duncan merely hoisted the Spurs to a 2-5 start and prevented the rest of the West's contenders from gaining some real distance when they had the chance.
Right. So without any help from Tony and Manu, good old Timmy kept the Spurs alive by scraping 2 wins together. There's your MVP, folks. Two Win Timmy. Even Garnett managed better than that when he was surrounded by trash in Minny.
So who should be the first Trimester's MVP? Why, Chris Paul of course.
Consider this: Though the team's roster is mostly the same from last year's season, the production from the team's role players has decreased significantly. Paul has had to pick up the slack for Peja and Tyson, both of whom are under-performing given last year's statistics, not to mention the team really has no 2 guard worth starting. Also, due to Mike Jame's complete incompetence at all things basketball, Paul has been forced (though he would never use that word) to play an obscene amount of minutes just to keep the Hornets in contention. And he's done a hell of a job as the Hornet's current record is 15-7 which is good for the second lowest loss total in the West (behind Kobe and company).
But let's get a little more specific and bust out some numbers. For starters, Chris began the season by breaking the big O's record for most consecutive games with 20-10 (7). Since then, he's added 6 more 20-10 performances along with a night 15-15 while going perfect from the field and the stripe. Need more proof? Check out his season per game averages:
And here are Billups' numbers:
Do the math, Mark. It's painfully obvious that Chris has meant more to the success of his franchise than any other player in the Western Conference and is a much more deserving candidate than a competent point who's now playing for a team that hasn't had one for at least 2 solid seasons.
Thank you for your time.
My brilliant research was made possible by the geniuses at Basketball Reference in case anyone wants to pursue their own course of debunking ESPN analysts.