By Greg Anthony
Choosing the leading Brand
To me, the Most Valuable Player award should always go the player who has the greatest impact in making his team a winner. Individual stats can be deceiving -- the MVP isn't necessarily the best player statistically.
But my current leader in the MVP race is impressive by any measure of numbers, and he's boosting a team to some newfound winning ways. That kind of combination is tough to beat. So here's how the chase stacks up:
1. Elton Brand, Clippers forward -- The Clippers are in first place. I don't think anybody in their right mind would have said that coming into the season. Brand's scoring at a career-high average (25.0), but what's most impressive is his turnovers are down to a career-low 2.0 per game. He's an undersized (6-8) power forward who never takes a night off. I think he can keep up this MVP pace; the question is, can his team keep pace with him?
2. Allen Iverson, Sixers guard -- The most intimidating ballplayer at 6-foot to ever play the game has matured. He's got his team in first in the worst division, but that still means a playoff berth. The NBA's leading scorer (33.4) is shooting better than he ever has (45 percent). And he's flirting with a career-low in turnovers (3.0). Impressive.
3. Steve Nash, Suns guard -- You couldn't have an MVP list without last year's winner. Nash has kept his team in the thick of things without Amare. And I think he's playing much better D this year than in years past.
4. Tim Duncan, Spurs forward -- His numbers (20 ppg, 12 rpg) never blow you away, but his game does. When you look at his overall impact, you've got to put him on the list. He's the best power forward to play the game when you judge him on what he's done -- win, and win a lot.
5. LeBron James, Cavaliers forward. He and his team are obviously getting better, and the offensive numbers show it. But he's been poor defensively since he's come into the league. He's got to become more dominant defensively. When he does that, that's when his whole team goes to another level.
ON THE FIVE FRINGE
MVP-LIKE SEASONS, BUT WITH LITTLE CHANCE TO WIN
Nuggets center Marcus Camby changes a game defensively. This is his best season ever for rebounds (NBA-leading 13.3 per game). Where would Denver be without him?
And of course, Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett is exceptional. What else is new?
Finally, how about the MVP for the Detroit Pistons starting five? The durabilty and the teamwork they put out is worthy of the game's highest individual honor.
ESPN NBA studio host Greg Anthony played for six NBA teams in 11 seasons.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers, Ricky Davis, left, and Raef LaFrentz were boosted by point guard Marcus Banks' play in a 109-98 win over the Warriors.
In case you didn't hear, Yao Ming's out for a few weeks with a big bad big toe. It's the osteomyelitis heard 'round the world.
Yao's owie means the Rockets get to try out a youngster they've been anxious to get a look at: Dikembe Mutombo.
OK, can't fool you. Everybody knows Deke's 39 going on 50.
Speaking of 39, that's where the latest Hollinger Stats rank Mutombo in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating among centers.
But those stats show that it could be worse -- Houston's problem could be that it has to try to plug in such dead weight as Michael Olowokandi (No. 42), Antonio Davis (No. 45) or Rafael Araujo (47th and last).
So what's Mt. Mutombo got left? That body, for starters. He's a rock in there, in more ways than one, with the most dangerous elbows in NBA history.
And the Cookie Monster still gobbles up shots. Last year, he blocked 4.0 per 48 minutes. This year, 3.5 per 48 so far.
But he won't exactly replace Yao's productivity in and around the paint. In his first start, on Sunday vs. the Lakers, Mutombo got 32 minutes and scored two points -- which lifted his ppg to 1.7. His attempts at a 15-foot jumper showed all the finesse of The Rock in "Walking Tall."
Back to Yao: He's dominating the All-Star voting (again). And, with the game being in Houston this year, he's already got the MVP trophy sewn up (well, he might have to share it with T-Mac). Now the question is whether he'll be able to play. The game's on Feb. 19, two months from now, and if he can't go by then, Houston can start printing lottery tickets, not playoff tickets.
-- Royce Webb
Armstrong: I'm The Best Kicker In Dallas
Francis Continues To Make Amends
Gasol Shows Up Big Time
Grizzlies forward Pau Gasol (32 points, 13 rebounds) finds his path blocked by the formidable Wallaces, Rasheed and Ben. Chauncey Billups (30 points) sank a jumper with 0.3 seconds left, lifting the Pistons (19-3) to a 106-104 win in double OT.
Quote of the Night
-- Andrew Ayres
Mike (New Brunswick NJ): What's the status of the Knicks' draft picks the next few years? They still have to give picks to the Suns and Bulls.
John Hollinger: OK, if you're a Knicks fan and didn't already know this you might want to sit down. The pick in the Curry trade had NO LOTTERY PROTECTION. So if the Knicks end up with one of the top picks, which they're headed toward, they'll just hand it over to Chicago. (But hey -- you still have San Antonio's pick from the Malik Rose trade!)
Wait, come back off the ledge, I have more. The Knicks also gave the Bulls the option to swap picks in 2007, so if the Knicks stink a year from now -- which is more plausible given their lack of a draft pick -- then they'll also forfeit that lottery pick.
Morris Peterson, who hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to give the Raptors a 92-88 lead over the Magic on Monday, called that his "bread and butter spot." Entering the game, Peterson had attempted 113 3-point field goals this season, 46 of which he shot from the left corner (41 percent). Another 23 attempts, 20 percent, have come from the right corner.
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
The Magic are jazzed about the return of Grant Hill, and rightfully so. The star small forward gives a shot in the arm to their moribund offense, and his ability to distribute the ball allows Steve Francis to indulge his natural talents as a scorer.
In the short term, however, there are still a few kinks to work out, as shown in Monday night's disappointing home loss to Toronto. Offensively, replacing sharpshooter Hedo Turkoglu with Hill allows opponents to sag in the paint and play Orlando for the drive, as the Raptors did repeatedly in the second half. The Magic starters need to learn to overcome the many zones they're likely to see with crisp ball movement and the occasional fast break.
And defensively, Hill still has to get up to speed. Toronto's Joey Graham and Jalen Rose (yes, he's still alive apparently) burned him repeatedly on Monday, combining for 26 points from the small forward spot. In the final minute with the game in the balance, Toronto called two straight curl plays for Rose against Hill that led to easy baskets -- one a jumper for Rose, one a dish to Mike James for a 3 -- to put the Raptors on top.
-- John Hollinger
Readers react to Greg Anthony's rookie ratings:
How could you not include Jose Calderon in your top performing rookies. He's averaging 6.4 assists, 1 steal and 86 percent from the line and he went undrafted!
For you to pick Andrew Bogut over Luther Head in your impressive rookie lineup was crazy. Head has single-handedly bailed the Rockets out of at least three losses. By the end of the year, he will be easily in the top 3 rookies.
Where is Sarunas Jasikevicius, just because he is 29 doesn't mean he is a not a rookie. There are many people who can make a strong case at him being the ROY and for him not to be in the top 5 is unreal. Just because Bogut was the No. 1 pick, look at the numbers not the names.