Back, Back, Back, Back to the Days of Marcus Allen: Why the Raiders drafted Darren McFadden

The case against the Oakland Raiders decision to draft Darren McFadden with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft was that they already had depth at running back and had more pressing needs elsewhere. It’s a reasonable case, but an examination of recent Raiders rushing history shows why the silver and black couldn’t resist the opportunity to bolster their ground attack.

Since 1989, the Raiders have had just five 1,000-yard rushers. Only one – Napoleon Kaufman in 1997 – topped the 1,200-yard mark in a season. But even more frustrating than the lack of quantity production was the inconsistency in the Raiders backfield. No Raider has rushed for 1,000 yards more than once since Marcus Allen did the trick three straight years from 1983-85.

Prior to this year’s draft, Allen was one of only two running backs ever taken in the first round by the Raiders. Allen went 10th to the Raiders in 1982 and Napoleon Kaufman was taken 18th in 1995.

Justin Fargas, the reigning Raiders rushing leader from last season, was a third round pick in 2003 who re-signed in the off-season with the belief that he might improve upon his 1,009-yard effort from 2007. Fargas was atop a depth chart that also included Lamont Jordan, a free agent acquisition in 2005 and former second-round selection of the New York Jets and Michael Bush, an untested fourth-round pick of the Raiders last season.

All three rushers – Fargas, Jordan and Bush – may be serviceable NFL backs but none is a heavy hitter. Jordan flourished as Curtis Martin’s backup with the Jets. Fargas lacks size. And Bush has yet to play a down because of injuries. None of the three elicit thoughts of Marcus Allen’s graceful 74-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XVIII or Bo Jackson’s explosive 221-yard performance against the Seahawks on Monday Night Football more than 20 years ago.

The new guy in town is the only one drawing those comparisons. McFadden is the highlight reel, big-play-in-the-making back. It’s part of what made him the runner-up for the Heisman trophy in each of the past two seasons despite playing for a team that went just 18-9. At 6’1” and 211 pounds, McFadden has good size and power. And after clocking in with a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash, it’s clear he has blazing speed too. He also topped the 1,000-yard mark in each of his three college seasons despite playing no more than 14 games a year.

In addition to all the tangible elements McFadden brings to Oakland, his arrival to Raider Nation should also help lessen the burden on last year’s number one overall selection, JaMarcus Russell. The buzz around McFadden should help the young quarterback as the two former SEC rivals try to become a vaunted one-two punch in the AFC West.

Running backs are expected to come in and produce results more so than any other rookie position, and expectations will be especially high after Adrian Peterson’s impact from a year ago. McFadden has a lot riding on his shoulders. The Raiders are banking on the notion that he can carry it – and them – all the way back to respectability. In the end, he’ll be judged by carries, yards and touchdowns, but most of all, by wins for a starving franchise that implores him to just win, baby.

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Playoff Player Stock Watch

Teams have only played a game or two in the 2008 NBA playoffs, but a number of players have already made waves. Some good and some not so good. Here’s a quick tracker of player trends through games played April 21.

Of the five players going up, the average age is 23. Of the five players going down, the average age is 28. Basketball is a young man’s game. Just don’t tell that to the San Antonio Spurs.

Going up

  • Pau Gasol, 27, Los Angeles Lakers
    After enjoying zero playoff wins in Memphis, Gasol wasted no time erasing his playoff demons in L.A. The 36-point, 16-rebound, eight-assist stat line was impressive, but it was the little things Gasol did, including three blocks and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line that have Laker fans wondering if Shaq and Kobe was only an appetizer.

  • Dwight Howard, 22, Orlando Magic
    As Orlando tries to win its first playoff series since Shaquille O’Neal was in town, the Magic is relying heavily on its fourth-year center. In each of the first two games, Howard had 20-20 vision – 20 or more points, 20 or more rebounds – against Toronto. Only four other players have recorded 20 and 20 in four straight games.

  • LeBron James, 23, Cleveland Cavaliers
    The King made the leap to an elite level last season with his 2007 Eastern Conference Finals performance. If his first two playoff games this season are any indication, LeBron is going to give Boston all they can handle in round two. LeBron is asked to do more with less than any other NBA superstar. And in just his fifth NBA season, he is already a don’t-you-dare-bet-against-me-in-crunch-time player.

  • Chris Paul, 22, New Orleans Hornets
    In his first two playoff game, all Chris Paul did was lead his team back from a 12-point halftime deficit against a playoff-tested, veteran bunch from Dallas in game 1 and then scorch them for a 24-point win in game 2. Paul scored 67 points, dished out 27 assists and added seven steals in the two impressive victories.

  • Deron Williams, 23, Utah Jazz
    Chris Paul’s MVP campaign buzz has overshadowed Deron Williams’ own candidacy as the best young point guard in the league. He beat Paul to the postseason by a year – leading the Jazz to the Western Conference Finals last season – and has Utah up 2-0 in its first round series with Houston this year after netting 42 points and 15 assists in the Jazz’s two wins on the road.

Going down

  • Gilbert Arenas, 26, Washington Wizards
    He was considered a top-20 star early last season. After missing the end of last year and much of this year with injuries, however, Arenas has likely cost himself a lot of money. He’s now no better than the third best Wizard player and some critics have made the case that his insertion into the lineup actually hurts the team.

  • Andrea Bargnani, 22, Toronto Raptors
    Last year’s number one overall selection, Bargnani scored just five points in 28 minutes of action in game 1 against Orlando. Perhaps even less impressively, the 6’10” power forward managed to grab just three rebounds. Among the players who have already had better performances in this year’s playoffs are ’06 draft classmates Rajon Rondo (21st selection), Jordan Farmar (26th) and Daniel Gibson (42nd).

  • Mike Bibby, 29, Atlanta Hawks
    Remember 2002? It was Bibby’s first trip to the playoffs, and playing for the Sacramento Kings, Bibby averaged more than 20 points and five assists per game, while shooting 42 percent from long distance and nearly 83 percent from the line. Six years later, Bibby’s teams have never made it as far as that Kings team, which lost in game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Now in Atlanta, Bibby was outplayed by a next generation playoff newbie, Boston’s Rajon Rondo, who tripled Bibby in points (15-5), doubled him in rebounds (6-3) and torched him (8-1) in assists.

  • Jason Kidd, 35, Dallas Mavericks
    Once a top defensive point guard, Kidd has no answer for Chris Paul. And Kidd’s offensive production from two games – 18 points, 17 assists – is not equal to what Paul did in game 2 alone (32 points, 17 assists). He was brought in to lead the Mavericks in the playoffs. It’s not working.

  • Tracy McGrady, 28, Houston Rockets
    It’s not his fault that Yao Ming went down mid-season, but the Rockets’ 22-game winning streak gave the Houston fans hope that this team could finally win a playoff series with McGrady as the catalyst. After two straight home losses to open the series against Utah, McGrady is in serious danger of going 0-7 for his career in playoff series.

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NBA Finals Dance Partners

On the heels of a whirlwind season in the NBA, the playoffs tip off this weekend. By all accounts, this should be one of the most competitive and compelling postseasons in NBA history, especially in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. With the eight playoff teams separated by just seven games in the final standings, there is no such thing as a serious series upset in the West à la Golden State over Dallas last year. Any of the eight teams could make a run to the championship. The question is, who will they be dancing with at the end

Things are a lot less congested in the East where anything other than a Boston-Detroit matchup in the Conference Finals would be very surprising. All indicators point to the Finals beginning in either Boston or Detroit. But since the 2008 NBA Finals pairing won’t be known for nearly two months, all 16 teams can spend the next couple days dreaming of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June.

There are plenty of fine Finals couplings to pine for – matchups that would make the Finals must-see TV because of intriguing storylines on and off the court. Since one wants to go to prom alone, I’ve decided to pay homage to prom season by playing the role of NBA matchmaker, pairing each of the 16 playoff teams with their hottest date for the Finals – yes, even the Hawks.

Without further ado, here’s a countdown of the top 8 NBA pairings I’d like to see in the Finals.

Top Finals Couple #8: Toronto Raptors vs. Houston Rockets

The relationship: The first international NBA Finals just wouldn’t be the same with Houston’s former number one pick Yao Ming out of the lineup, but the Raptors have six foreigners on their squad, including last year’s number one pick Andrea Bargnani. Toronto was also the first NBA home of Rockets star Tracy McGrady before he left as a free agent. Raptors star forward Chris Bosh was born in Texas and point guard T.J. Ford played his college ball at Texas.

Prom king candidates: Bosh for Toronto; McGrady and Shane Battier for Houston.

Drama factor: Low. The north-of-the-border effect hurts here as most casual fans simply don’t know much about the Raptors. And without Yao, the Rockets’ red glow is a lot less bright.
Chances they’ll actually date (in the Finals): None. Unless Yao finds a miracle cure to return for the playoffs. And even that wouldn’t help the Raptors get there.

Top Finals Couple #7: Atlanta Hawks vs. New Orleans Hornets

The relationship: You may have heard about this already, but the Hawks could have drafted Chris Paul in the 2005 NBA Draft. They elected to go with Marvin Williams instead. Williams had his best season this year, averaging nearly 15 points and 6 boards. The problem is that Paul led the league in assists and steals while scoring 21 per game and leading the Hornets to a franchise-record 56 wins.

Prom king candidates: Al Horford, Joe Johnson for Atlanta; Chris Paul, David West for New Orleans

Drama factor: Moderate. Most would take the Hornets in no more than five games. The drama would be coming from watching Hawks fans watch CP3 terrorize them all series long.

Chances they’ll actually date (in the Finals): Very slim. The Hornets could make a magical run, but the Hawks are happy just to be in the playoffs. If they win a game in the first round, they’ll be overachieving.

Top Finals Date #6: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Denver Nuggets

The relationship: Denver and Philadelphia made the blockbuster trade of last season when Allen Iverson, who led the Sixers to the 2001 Eastern Conference Championship, was shipped to Denver in exchange for Andre Miller. Iverson received a warm reception in the City of Brotherly Love when he made his return as a Nugget in March, but Philly won the game 115-113 when Iverson’s last-second shot missed. Neither team has seen its fortunes greatly affected positively or negatively since the trade. If this matchup were to happen, it would be the ultimate measuring stick of that deal.

Prom king candidates: Miller and Andre Iguodala for Philadelphia; Iverson and Carmelo Anthony for Denver.

Drama factor: Moderate. The Iverson storyline would certainly carry the series as would Anthony’s ability to get join ’03 draft mates LeBron James and Dwayne Wade with a Finals appearance. The Sixers have no household names, however, they would be an ultimate Cinderella story.

Chances they’ll actually date (in the Finals): None. There’s a better chance of Rocky scaling the Rocky Mountains.

Top Finals Couple #5: Washington Wizards vs. Dallas Mavericks

The relationship: There’s something about the nation’s capital and Big D that just doesn’t seem to jive. Perhaps it’s the historic Redskins-Cowboys rivalry in the NFL or George W. Bush relocating from the Lone Star State. There’s also the Antawn Jamison-Jerry Stackhouse trade from a few years back. But the real intrigue here comes from the blogosphere where Mavs owner Mark Cuban and Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas surely would exchange a war of words. They are two of the most colorful characters in the game today, and who knows what kind of antics they’d stir up with the spotlight of the NBA Finals upon them.

Prom king candidates: Reigning MVP Dirk Nowitski, Josh Howard and Jason Kidd for Dallas; Jamison, Arenas and Caron Butler.

Drama factor: Medium-high. Plenty of big name players looking to win their first NBA title in this matchup.

Chances they’ll actually date (in the Finals): Slim. Both teams have the talent of a potential Finals combatant, however, they face difficult roads to get there and both would have to likely win three series on the road to do so.

Top Finals Couple #4: San Antonio Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons

The relationship: The Spurs and Pistons have been the dominant teams of the decade. The Spurs have more to show for it: three titles to Detroit’s one, but the Pistons have been a model of consistency with five straight trips to the conference finals. They met in the 2003 Finals with the Spurs winning in seven games.

Prom king candidates: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker for San Antonio; Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace for Detroit.

Drama factor: Medium. No seriously, medium. People complain about their style of play, but a true basketball fan knows that both the Spurs and Pistons play the right way – balanced attack on offense and solid, lockdown defense.

Chances they’ll actually date (in the Finals): Pretty good. No one would be shocked to see either team in the championship again. Both have great veteran leadership and championship experience.

Top Finals Couple #3: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Utah Jazz

The relationship: Bill Simmons of “This saga becomes more astounding over time: Inexplicably (the version in which you believe Cleveland would just walk away from an option year worth $700,000 and allow Boozer to become a restricted free agent for no good reason) or explicably (the version in which you believe the Cavs made an illegal handshake deal to “forgo” Boozer’s option year, allow him to become a restricted free agent, then sign him to a $41 million deal), the one thing we know is Boozer used his newfound leverage to sign a six-year deal with Utah for $68 million and screw over Cleveland’s benevolent, blind owner in the process.”

Prom king candidates: LeBron James for Cleveland; Boozer, Deron Williams for Utah.

Drama factor: High. LeBron making a return trip to the Finals with a new cast of characters around him would be big. Doing it with his former sidekick-turned-all-star Boozer on the opposing team would be scintillating. With Boozer, the Cavs very well may have knocked off San Antonio last year. Without him, LeBron is a one-man wrecking crew.

Chances they’ll actually date (in the Finals): Fair. Each team is the four seed in its respective conference so they’re in contention, but they’ll need to catch some breaks to get there.

Top Finals Couple #2: Orlando Magic vs. Phoenix Suns

The relationship: The Shaquille O’Neal era in Orlando ended in a nasty divorce, and now he’s in Phoenix vowing to lead them to a championship. The Magic was the only team Shaq left without winning a championship, and he’s won four titles since departing. Phoenix also features Grant Hill, who played less than 30 games four times during six injury-plagued seasons in Orlando. Needless to say, Orlando has some beef with two of the Suns’ key cogs. The Magic’s new superhero? Dwight Howard, the cape-wearing dunk champion who many compare to a young Shaq. Wouldn’t it be great to see the most dominant center of the past decade square off against the man who may be the most dominant center of the next decade?

Prom king candidates: Howard, Hedo Turkoglu for Orlando; O’Neal, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire for Phoenix.

Drama factor: High. The Suns have come so close in recent years without making it to the Finals. If O’Neal can get them to the promised land, watching Nash and company go for the ring would be exciting to watch.

Chances they’ll actually date (in the Finals): Fair. Orlando has received next-to-no publicity for a 52-win season. If Howard can make the leap the way LeBron did in last years playoffs, who knows what Orlando is capable of. For Phoenix, it’s all or nothing. The Shaq trade was made for postseason – particularly championship – success. Anything less is a disappointment for the Suns. With their playoff experience only aided by O’Neal’s championship pedigree, they are a legitimate contender to win it all.

Top Finals Couple #1: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics

The relationship: This one dates back generations. Jerry West and Bill Russell. Magic and Bird. Could Kobe and KG be next? Bryant and Garnett are among the top candidates for MVP and it’d be great to see their teams meet on the ultimate stage. Last season the Celtics were a joke and the Lakers were smoked out in the first round. This year? Best in the East and best in the West just like the good ol’ days. They’ve met in the Finals 10 times before but not since 1987.
Prom king candidates: Bryant, Pau Gasol for Los Angeles; Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen for Boston.

Drama factor: Ultimate. Because of the history between these two storied franchises, this is the ultimate matchup in the NBA. It should come as no surprise that the league’s resurgence this season has happened in a year when the Celtics and Lakers were at or near the top of the standings all year long.

Chances they’ll actually date (in the Finals): Good. Nothing is taken for granted, but with home court advantage, Boston and L.A. are favored to win their conference and make it to the championship. The uncertainty comes from the fact that neither team ahs won a playoff series as presently constructed. But if they both make it there together, it’ll be a fantastic spectacle and a hotly contested series. And the best part about it? Prom is only one night, but this series is likely seven nights of excitement.

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Meet Your Eastern Conference Playoff Matchups

With two days of games left to play, all 16 playoff teams have been determined. However, every seed is still up for grabs in the West and the dust won’t be completely settled on the left coast until all the games have been played.

Things are a lot less murky in the East. In fact, the playoff matchups are all set. Teams can do whatever they want to do to prepare for the postseason, but expect a lot of rest for big name players in the East.

A quick look at the first round pairings in the Eastern Conference:

1. Boston Celtics vs. 8. Atlanta Hawks
Celtics won season series 3-0
Last meeting: April 12 in Atlanta, Celtics won 99-89
What to expect: The Hawks are the definition of a team that is just happy to be here (for the first time since 1999) whereas the Celtics are built for a championship and possess the league’s best record. Anything less than a sweep by Boston would be surprising.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 5. Washington Wizards
Tied season series 2-2
Last meeting: March 13 in Washington, Wizards won 101-99
What to expect: These teams meet in the first round for the third straight season and for the third year, Cleveland has home court advantage. Can the Cavs beat the same opponent three years in a row? The Wizards don’t think so, according to Gilbert Arenas, who missed last year’s matchup with an injury. This should be the best first round series in the East, especially with a healthy Wizards roster ready to roll.

3. Orlando Magic vs. 6. Toronto Raptors
Magic won season series 2-1
Last meeting: March 4 in Orlando, Magic won 102-87
What to expect: The exciting duel here is between young all-stars Dwight Howard of Orlando and Chris Bosh of Toronto. One will earn his first trip to the second round, something Tracy McGrady never did in either city. In fact, Orlando hasn’t won a playoff series since 1996, their last season with Shaquille O’Neal. Toronto last won a playoff series in 2001.

2. Detroit Pistons vs. 7. Philadelphia 76ers
Tied season series 2-2
Last meeting: April 9 in Philadelphia, 76ers won 101-94
What to expect: The Sixers were the second-half story of the season in the East, rallying from a record of 23-30 at the all-star break. A win in their final game at Charlotte would draw them to 41-41. The Pistons have their sights set on bigger things, having been to at least the Eastern Conference Finals in each of the past five seasons. But Detroit split the regular season series with Philly and likely will have their hands full with this young, upstart Sixers team.

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Mamba #1: Kobe Bryant is’s 2008 NBA MVP

Click to read my article explaining how I came to name Kobe Bryant as the 2008 NBA MVP.

The NBA is a league built upon moments. Wilt Chamberlain posing with a scribbled ‘100’ on a piece of paper. Magic Johnson sweeping across the lane in the Boston Garden with his version of the sky hook. Michael Jordan holding his follow through after a game-clinching, picture perfect jumper in Utah.

Perhaps that is why it’s so hard for people to come to a consensus on Kobe Bryant as the 2008 NBA MVP. The Lakers have had so many non-basketball moments this season that it’s sometimes easy to forget they’ve won 56 games – far exceeding preseason expectations.

The season started in turmoil with Bryant’s trade demands. But management held firm and Bryant remained a Laker. And much to everyone’s surprisethe Los Angeles Lakers exuded the qualities of a cohesive team (and a good one to boot). Andrew Bynum developed into a double-double machine. Derek Fisher returned consistency to the point guard position and young reserves Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Ronny Turiaf fueled one of the deepest, most productive benches in the NBA.

Suddenly, purple and gold moments were happening around Kobe and not simply because of him. It seems strange to speak of the improved impact of Bryant’s teammates in his MVP column, but isn’t that the main claim for those clamoring for Garnett and Paul? Well, Kobe’s team went from just two games over .500 last year to the top of the ultra-competitive Western Conference in 2008.

Amid all this team talk let’s not forget that Kobe has had his moments. There was the 18-foot jumper with less than five seconds left to secure a 123-121 overtime victory on the road in Seattle in the first game after Bynum’s inury, dropping 41 points to spoil Shaq’s debut with the Suns and shooting 15-for-15 at the free throw line in the second half and overtime in a March 2 victory against the Mavericks.

However, many of Kobe’s moments this year have been uncharacteristic of “The Black Mamba” nickname Bryant gave himself a few seasons ago. Without losing his killer instinct or poise in the clutch, Kobe has seemingly become less venomous, especially with his teammates. Watching Kobe yuk it up on the sidelines with teammates during a Lakers rout is a sight for sore eyes. He’s smiling, laughing and having fun. Basketball is a game, after all.

Make no mistake about it, though, Kobe’s numbers are still great. At 28.5 points per game, he’s number two in the league in scoring. He also leads his team in assists at 5.4 per game and is ninth in the NBA in steals at 1.85 per game. And let’ s not forget that since February he’s been doing this all with a torn ligament in his right pinkie finger. Still, this is not his best season statistically. Yet his body language shows that he has no problem sacrificing shots (down 500 from two years ago) for wins (up 14 from a year ago with one game left to play).

And perhaps nothing put a bigger smile on Kobe’s face than the Pau Gasol trade, which should only bolster Kobe’s case for MVP. The team was a half game out of first in the West when Bynum went down with injury. They lost their starting center for the rest of the season and, admittedly received a gift from Memphis. However, they plugged him into the lineup and kept on rolling in the loaded West. No one has a better record than the Lakers’ 19-11 mark against the other Western Conference playoff contenders.

A great team is better than the sum of its parts, and so is a great player. That is what Kobe is all about. He’s a great scorer, ballhandler, defender, crunch-time performer and – now more than ever – great leader. Among the current Lakers, only Derek Fisher has been in league as long as Bryant. Including the playoffs, he’ll have played more than 1,000 games played before the age of 30. And he’s now using that experience to help his teammates learn the intricacies of the game.

Kobe’s had more moments than most could ever dream of: winning the ’97 Dunk Contest, starting in the ’98 all-star game as a 19-year-old kid, scoring 81 points in a game. But three June moments stand out in his mind.

And all the little moments from this season are just stepping stones toward the one Kobe wants most of all – hoisting that NBA Finals trophy once again. In the mind of this MVP, there’s a reason why that defining MVP moment is hard to pinpoint – it hasn’t happened (yet).

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How I Named the 2008 NBA MVP

Click to read my column about my choice for 2008 NBA MVP.

This year, more than any year I can remember, selecting the NBA’s Most Valuable Player seems like asking parents to choose their favorite child. Each child has its own unique characteristics that make him or her stand out. Same with each MVP candidate.

I wrote a column a month ago called “Fixing the NBA’s MVP Award,” but I’m still hearing commentators, analysts and fans basing their MVP pick on single criteria that simply doesn’t make sense. See rules 1-3 of the aforementioned column. You can’t reduce the MVP to one characteristic. Just like you couldn’t name “best child” based solely on their GPA or the amount of money they make.

My first step was to comb the 18 teams still in playoff contention with a week left to play in the season for any players they have that could be MVP candidates. You shouldn’t have to play on the best team in the league to win the MVP, but you shouldn’t be getting a top-10 lottery pick either. So I took at least one player from each team. A few teams had as many of three guys get the nod.

In alphabetical order, my starting pool of MVP candidates featured Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Caron Butler, Baron Davis, Tim Duncan, Monta Ellis, Kevin Garnett, Pau Gasol, Manu Ginobli, Danny Granger, Richard Hamilton, Dwight Howard, Allen Iverson, Stephen Jackson, LeBron James, Antawn Jamison, Joe Johnson, Tracy McGrady, Andre Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitski, Tony Parker, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, Amare Stoudemire, David West and Deron Williams.

With the starting list drafted, the first challenge was to narrow the pool of 30 possible candidates to a reasonable number. Let’s say 10. An obvious qualification for league MVP is that a candidate must be the MVP of his own team. So the first necessary step was to eliminate second fiddle candidates. Cross off Paul Pierce in Boston, Richard Hamilton in Detroit, Caron Butler in Washington, David West in New Orleans, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker in San Antonio, Pau Gasol in Los Angeles, Allen Iverson in Denver, Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis in Golden State, Carlos Boozer in Utah and Amare Stoudemire in Phoenix.

It doesn’t matter that some of these players might outrank someone else still on the list. Did they have great seasons? Sure. Do they deserve All-NBA team consideration? Perhaps. But if you’re not a team MVP, you cannot be in consideration for the NBA MVP. You could make arguments for Boozer and Stoudemire over their respective teammates, Deron Williams and Steve Nash, but I am of the opinion that both power forwards are enhanced by playing with top notch point guards. Moving on.

The next step of elimination was separating the pretenders from the contenders. If a player’s team didn’t clinch a playoff spot by the final week of the season, he is not a top MVP candidate. That eliminated Danny Granger, Joe Johnson, Dirk Nowitski, Carmelo Anthony and Baron Davis from the discussion. Better luck next year.

I still needed to make a few cuts to get me down from 13. This is where some of that subjectivity came into play. It’s something I call the “double-take test.” If you opened up the newspaper tomorrow and the headline read (insert name here) wins MVP Award, would you immediately do a double-take? If so, cross his name off the potential candidates list. Antawn Jamison, Andre Miller, Chris Bosh – that means you guys.

That left me with a nice round number of 10 candidates for MVP: Chauncey Billups, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Tracy McGrady, Steve Nash, Chris Paul and Deron Williams. And it just so happens that these 10 players represent the top four teams in the East and the top six in the West. That seemed about right.

But getting it down to 10 was the easy part. Narrowing that list of finalists to one winner was the real challenge.

There is no universal definition of what the Most Valuable Player is. Therefore, my solution for selecting an MVP takes into account a number of variables, including some objective and subjective tools of measurement. Essentially, I created a 10-question MVP survey.

Each question represented an MVP-worthy quality. For each question I scored each of the 10 finalists between 1 and 10 with 10 being the most representative of that particular quality. The questions are as follows:

Q1. The candidates are playing a game against one another. Who’s your first pick?
Q2. Which player causes the most matchup problems?
Q3. Which player’s NBA team would suffer the most in his absence?
Q4. Who is the best all-around player?
Q5. Who would you want taking a game-winning shot?
Q6. Who would you want on the line for free throws to ice the game?
Q7. Which player has had the most positive impact on his teammates?
Q8. If you needed one defensive stop, who would you want playing defense?
Q9. Who’s had the best statistical season?
Q10. Which player’s team had the best season?

Below is my 2008 NBA MVP scorecard. (Click image for full size)

The debate, of course, is in the answering of the questions and the rating of players on a 1-10 scale. Minds are going to disagree about where a player is rated in certain categories. But take a look at the final results. The top four totals belong to Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Kevin Garnett, which happen to be the same names that have been thrown around for MVP all season. The difference is that my formula, while imperfect, at least takes several questions into consideration. I’m not a single-issue voter when it comes to the NBA MVP Award and I don’t think anyone should be.

If all the NBA MVP voters used my method of voting and the league incorporated the idea from my previous column to make “all the NBA MVP voters” include players, coaches and media members, I think the MVP Award would be a true assessment of the number one player in the game that season. And for me, that MVP would be Kobe Bryant.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a real vote in the MVP balloting. But for me the nod goes to Kobe, who measures up against the competition. He ranked atop the list for four categories. No one else won more than one category. Garnett, James and Paul all had fantastic seasons, but Bryant deserves the award most of all.

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Podcast 4/9/08

Matt and Mike’s eight-part NFL Draft preview continues with coverage of the AFC North. They also talk about the final week in the NBA and recap the NCAA championship. Matt congratulations Bob Lutton as the winner of the bracket challenge. Plus, one of the Kansas’ most adament supporters makes a cameo appearance to celebrate the Jayhawks victory.

Listen/download (Run time: 39:08)

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NCAA Championship Thoughts

Some quick thoughts from yesterday’s NCAA Championship game, which Kansas won 75-68 in overtime.

1. They say defense wins championships, but you can’t teach free throw defense. Kansas held Memphis to 20 percent shooting at the free throw line down the stretch, which opened the door for the Jayhawks’ comeback victory.

2. Every rose has its thorn and for Memphis freshman Derrick Rose, it was the Kansas defense, especially in the first half. Kansas’ length and athleticism kept Rose out of the paint and the scorebook for much of the first half, limiting the probable lottery pick’s impact.

3. I don’t have a problem with Roy Williams supporting Kansas, a school he coached for many years, even after they beat his North Carolina Tar Heels in the Final Four. But don’t you think he could have done better than that gaudy Jayhawks logo on that black shirt? It looked like he bought a giant sticker logo from the concessions stands and pasted it on.

4. This was almost a case of deja vu. Kansas fans surely recall the 2003 NCAA Championship when two missed free throws by Syracuse’s Hakim Warrick left the door open for the Jayhawks at 81-78. But Warrick made up for the free throw misfires by swatting away Michael Lee’s would-be tying 3-pointer. Derrick Rose was unable to duplicate that feat for Memphis after his missed free throw kept Kansas within one shot — drained by Mario Chalmers — of a tie.

5. Neither of these teams is likely to follow in Florida’s footsteps and bring back its core group from this season next year. Memphis loses Joey Dorsey to graduation, but more importantly, Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts are likely to test NBA Draft waters. Kansas’ Brandon Rush is likely gone as well, joining seniors Russell Robinson, Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson.

6. Billy Packer was about 3-4 possessions late in recognizing when Kansas’ defense shifted to a box-and-1. It’s time for a change, CBS. And while you’re at it, give Gus Johnson the Final Four play-by-play responsibilities as well.

7. Great game, but a disappointing overtime. Memphis seemed totally deflated after blowing the lead in regulation when the truth is they still had five minutes of basketball left to earn the championship. Despite an NCAA record 38 wins for the season, Memphis won’t be remembered as the team of 2008 in college basketball.

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