MVP Power Rankings, Edition No. 1
The MVP Power Rankings started in July, as Kevin Durant took an early lead based on altruistic behavior and world domination, while two-time defending winner LeBron James struggled to get past his image self-mutilation. Now Durant is struggling to re-find his range while LeBron is struggling to dig his team out of a P.R. and basketball hole. Both will be heard from in the MVP Power Rankings ... but not yet. Make room for the early leaders.
10. Derrick Rose, Bulls
Chicago's third-year point guard has sprinted out to a fast start; whether he can sustain this type of production over the long haul is obviously a huge question, as it will be for most of the early MVP leaders. His per-game numbers will almost certainly take a hit when Carlos Boozer enters; Rose's usage rate is substantially higher than ever, and the hairy chested one will be a great relief, allowing Rose to pace himself and become more efficient. For now, he's so vital to every possession that if he doesn't perform like this, Chicago isn't winning.
9. Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Kobe is this low only because of the superlative performance ahead of him. If the season ended today, I have no doubt Bryant would win the MVP -- he's been good enough for me, a devout Kings fan, to say that without throwing up in my mouth or rolling my eyes in sarcasm. Kobe's been fantastic. It's worth noting that Bryant never deferred to Shaquille O'Neal the way he has deferred to Pau Gasol early on. Kobe and Pau are clearly on the same page (finally!), and the Lakers may have never been better.
8. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks
The Mavericks haven't made quite as many waves as the Lakers or Hornets, but there Dallas is, in the hunt. Nowitzki, as always, is the reason why. Shooting nearly 60 percent while scoring 26 a game doesn't happen. Dirk is the one player the Mavs can count on every single night, and he's making it happen so far.
7. Luis Scola, Rockets
Scola won't hang around the MVP leaderboard long, so dap when it's deserved: the Argentine's worst game of the season was a 9-point, 16-rebound, 5-assist effort against the Hornets. That was his worst performance. Though Houston's had trouble collecting wins, Scola's been a beast every night out, covering up for Yao Ming's limited availability and injuries to Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry in the backcourt. This is Luis Scola unleashed, just as he was in Turkey, and just as it was then, it is something to behold.
6. Rudy Gay, Grizzlies
Gay told FanHouse's Sam Amick he wanted to get to elite level of LeBron James and Kevin Durant some day. Well, today is that day. Unfortunately, it probably isn't going to last long, and may never come again. Still, respect what Gay has accomplished early on, dropping better than 26 points on better than 50 percent shooting while raising his assists and dropping his turnovers and being a veritable rock for an otherwise banged-up and/or cold-starting Memphis team. This is the Gay everyone who saw Rudy at UConn dreamt of. Let's hope he can keep going, because this is just lovely to watch (unless your team is playing against Memphis).
5. Dwyane Wade, Heat
There was no way Wade could have ended up looking like the buffoon should the Heat go terribly wrong. Chris Bosh would take all abuse for the team's inside punishment (even if he's guarding centers while Paul Millsap is going ballistic) and LeBron ... well, LeBron is soiled in ubiquity. Wade was always Teflon in this situation, and his play is making it permanent. He's leading the team in points (26 per game), rebounds (6.4) and despite creating many more plays than LeBron, has far fewer turnovers. He has effectively played like a shorter 2009-10 Kevin Durant.
4. Al Horford, Hawks
Horford's raw numbers may not be as gaudy as those of Scola or Nowitzki, but consider that Big Al is hitting almost two-thirds of his shots, has more than twice as many assists than turnovers, and, in just 30 minutes a game, is averaging 17/9.5. If the Hawks had needed him to play 36 minutes a night, he'd be at the vaunted 20-10 threshold, again, hitting two-thirds of his shots, with superlative defense and passing. This kid will be well-worth the extension he inked, and could very well be a top-3 big man for much of the next decade.
3. Dwight Howard, Magic
Speaking of elite big men: Dwight's still the first name that rolls off the tongue. Howard has exploded on offense, taking more shots and free throws than ever while still hitting a great clip on the former and a completely mediocre clip on the latter. He's blocking a league-best 8.1 percent of opponent shots when on the floor, and if he played 36 minutes a game (to which he has come close in recent years, despite being at 30.7 this season), he'd be averaging 27/13/3. An absolute beast. Also, he's still 24 years old.
2. Chris Paul, Hornets
For the first time in a couple years, CP3 again looks like a machine: he's hitting shots like Steve Nash, dropping precision passes like Steve Nash, running his team like Steve Nash and playing defense the exact opposite of Steve Nash. That's essentially what Paul is at his best: guilt-free Nash. With Nash, there's always the concern in the back of your mind that his offensive brilliance is going to blind you long enough that you'll forget he defends as well as chicken wire in a monster truck rally. That's not the case with Paul, who isn't quite Gary Payton but -- as New Orleans' crazy start shows -- gets the job done at that end. And that fact allows one to let the offensive brilliance wash over them, completely guilt-free.
But right now, no one means more to their team than ...
1. Pau Gasol, Lakers
Gasol has long been one of the most skilled big men in the game, going all the way back to his early days with Memphis. But there was always a concern that we never got the full Gasol, with everything laid out. He never went berserk, so to speak, even in Finals games or critical stretches of the season with Kobe ailing. Pau has always seemed like he was pacing himself, or deferring. Not now. He's killing the league, one game at a time. Every possession he plays seems purposeful, and Bryant -- Kobe Bryant -- is deferring to Gasol, which says a ton more than a box score does. Of course, the box scores aren't too shabby: 23/11/5, roughly, while shooting 55 percent and dropping three times as many assists as turnovers. Right now, Pau is the best offensive player on the best offensive team in the league. If he keeps playing like this, the rest of the Western Conference -- including all those MVP contenders on this list -- are in for a long season. (TZ)
What We Like (Or, The Things We'll Miss During the Great '11-12 Season Shutdown): PA Announcers in N.Y. and L.A.
What We Like champions the unlikely things we'll miss if the league shuts down next summer. Rob Peterson is a FanHouse producer and frequent contributor to The Works.
NEW YORK -- When I go to games as a member of the media, I still maintain a strange habit. Instead of eating for free in the press room (though, these days, more and more require you to pay), I head to the concession stand, usually for standard fare such as a hot dog. I justify the expense and exercise by thinking it keeps me connected, in some minor way, to my fandom.
Instead of feeling as if I'm working, I feel as if I'm attending. Also, as an American, I reserve the right to buy overpriced, oversized, overstuffed food items made of pig lips and other mystery meat that have little or no nutritional value and may shorten my life expectancy. I love living life on the edge like that.
But I digress. As much as I am a member of the press, I'm also at heart a fan who believes in what marketers call the "fan experience." Sure, I understand the recent hue and cry that game presentations throughout the NBA -- such presentations are said to enhance the experience -- has become too loud, too bright and too flashy, but if one is working, it can be easy to tune it out.
I don't often pay attention to an arena's public address announcer either. I couldn't tell you one signature phrase from the TD Garden PA guy. Worse yet, there are moments you notice the PA announcer for the wrong reasons, like the gent in San Antonio. He's the one who starts the chants of "DE-FENSE!" Maybe I'm old school in this way, but that's a no-no there, pardner.
Yet there have been standouts. There was Dave Zinkoff in Philly with his tremendous "Juuuuuuulius, the Doctor, Errrrrrrrrving!" call and in Chicago, they had the great Ray Clay and his from deep in the bowel growl: "... and from Norrrrrth Carrrrrrolina, 6-6..." Sadly, Zinkoff is no longer with us and sadly Clay no longer works for the Bulls, as he was somewhat unceremoniously let go in 2002, because organizations announce championships.
The two guys I will miss most however when labor strife pulls the plug on their mics in July 2011 work on opposite coasts: Mike Walczewski of Madison Square Garden and Lawrence Tanter for the Lakers at Staples Center.
Walczewski carries on the tradition of John Condon, who did Knicks games for 41 seasons.
"I used to imitate John because I wanted to be like him," Walczewski said in a 2004 interview. "I have the highest respect for this job. I have fun, but I take it very seriously. The way I perform my job today is a tribute to him."
There's an old-school Times Square barker feel to what Walczewski does. He confidently calls MSG, "the World's Most Famous Arena" as if there's no question about it. He announces the score after every hoop. He can go from quiet to 60 in no time flat, especially on a 3-point goal. Goal? Yes, not 3-pointer, but "Threeeeeeeeeeeee-point goal, [insert Knicks player's name here.]"
And whether it's jumping along the syllables of Danilo Gallinari's musical name ("Daaaaa-neeeeel-oooo Gaaaaaaa-llin-aaaaaari!") or after hearing the thunder of an Amar'e Stoudemire dunk, sounding off like a rural town's severe weather horn ("Amar'eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Stoud-uh-mire!") or his signature whisper and-one call ("Whuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuun shot."), Walczewski is like an old-school movie star who can sing, dance and act.
On the other coast, Tanter, a jazz DJ by trade, perfectly represents the cool Staples Center scene, accentuated with a dimly lit arena bowl during game action.
(We interrupt this "What We Like" with another entreaty to game operations folks around the NBA to dim the lights as they do at Staples Center. Even with the megawatt celebs sitting courtside, the Lakers know the game's the thing. Maybe it has to do with attending games at the old Milwaukee (MECCA) Arena where they turned out the lights in the arena and then lit this huge bank of lights on either side of the court. Not only did it put the focus squarely on the action on the court, the dark provided an exceptional background for photos. Now, back to your regularly scheduled reminiscence.)
Tanter's vibe and rich baritone voice are a direct contrast to the bombast you get a most arenas these days. He doesn't need to raise his voice to get your attention because more than likely his voice already has you transfixed. Tanter's brilliance is as subtle as Walczewski's is brash. There's the metaphorical travel call, "Tooooo many steps," and the signal to fans and refs alike that time is running short, "Twooooooooo minutes, twoooooo minutes remaining."
Then, just listen to him whenever the NBA's first dance team finishes one of their routines: "Thuhhhhh Lakerrrrrrr Girrrrrrrrls."
It's tough to sound salacious, which he does, without being dirty, which he's not. But Tanter pulls it off with a style that's difficult to replicate.
So when someone mentions that NBA arenas are too bombastic or too loud, you can point to Walczewski and Tanter and note that silence isn't always golden, but their pipes are. (RP)
The Works is a daily column written by Bethlehem Shoals (@freedarko) and Tom Ziller (@teamziller). Their Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is now available.