Miami’s Offense Dwindling

Coming into today’s game the Miami Heat were ranked 29th in offense in the NBA. Early in the season, you expect to see anomalies in the numbers, even when it concerns the defending champs. Judging from tonight’s results, this may not be an anomaly.

The Miami Heat managed to score only 76 points against the New York Knicks who came into the game ranked 21st on defense. New York had an 11 point lead early in the third, when Dwayne Wade was forced out of the game after picking up his 4th foul. Employee #3 came back into the game 4 minutes later, and the Knicks were up by 18 at that point. However even with their primary scorer back in the game, Miami’s offense went cold. The Heat shot 6 of 17, turned the ball over 4 times, and were outscored 23-12 in the 9 minutes before Wade exited with his 5th foul.

With O’Neal out, the main load of the offense falls on Wade. But an NBA offense needs more than one scorer, and Miami is having a hard time finding a second fiddle. Until tonight Antoine Walker was filling that role, but he’s been inconsistent his entire career. For example against the Knicks, ‘Toine shot 1 for 9 and only contributed 3 points to Miami’s total. After Walker, Miami’s offense has relied on Udonis Haslem, Gary Payton, and Alonzo Mourning. Haslem isn’t a natural scorer (read: can’t hit a jumper), while Payton and Mourning’s best decades are behind them. The Heat will hope to get some lift from Jason Williams, but White Chocolate appeared to have lost a step tonight. It could be that he’s hasn’t fully recovered from his injury, that he hasn’t been able to get into game shape, or that point guards lose their effectiveness after the age of 30 (Williams turns 32 tonight). I vote for all of the above.

It goes without saying that the Shaq-less Heat will have trouble scoring for the next 4-6 weeks. However it may be the case that even with Shaq, Miami might not be able to light up the scoreboard. Consider that Shaq was in the lineup for 4 Heat games, and the Heat only managed a offensive efficiency (points/100possessions) above the league average once. The Heat had Shaq in the lineup for their mortifying loss on opening day, where they only managed 66 points against the Bulls. O’Neal was also there when the Heat eked out 72 points against the Rockets.

While it’s a given that Miami’s offense will improve with O’Neal back on the court, at what level they’ll be is another story. The Heat have decided to “stand Pat” this offseason, and O’Neal’s injury has exposed a chink in Miami’s armor. If the over-30 crew of Walker, Williams, Posey, Payton, and Mourning start to show signs of their age, even O’Neal’s return might not be enough to resurrect the Heat’s offense.

Efficiency of Miami’s games (100*pts/possessions).

CHI: 117.1
MIA:  73.4

NJN: 92.5
MIA: 99.7

MIA: 112.9
PHI: 120.6

SEA: 96.3
MIA: 98.6

MIA: 116.6
NJN: 106.8

HOU: 109.2
MIA:  86.0

DEN: 113.5
MIA: 111.2

NYK: 115.1
MIA:  84.5

Round 2 Odds & A Quickie

Before I get to the odds, during the Spurs-Mavs game today the announcers were talking about the Suns-Clippers series. Dufus-philosopher Bill Walton’s two sentence analysis of the Suns-Clippers series went something to the effect of Phoenix “has found it’s offense” and mentioned the name of “Barbosa, Diaw, & Nash”. That prompted me to do 2 things. The first was to seek out my local bookmaker and consider putting every spare cent I have on the Clippers. (Luckily for Ms. KnickerBlogger, I’m not a gambler).

The second was to officially proclaim Shawn Marion as the NBA’s most underrated player. According to my stat page, he’s 9th overall in PER, two places ahead of his teammate-MVP. Yet Steve Nash wins back-to-back MVP awards while Marion gets a single 5th place vote. “The Matrix” averaged 18 points on 47% shooting (eFG), 9.4 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks in the first round of the playoffs. He had double digit points in every game, 20 points or more in 4 games (and scored 19 in another), and 3 double-doubles. And poor Shawn is forgotten on national tv.

Funny thing is, if I were forced to pick an upset it would be the Suns. Just because it took them 6.5 games to dispense with the Lakers, while the Clippers bounced out the Nuggets in 5 despite “earning” the road field advantage. However according to the odds based on the season’s records, it’s the Heat and Spurs that are most likely to be upset. Prior to creating the below chart, I wouldn’t have thought the Spurs or Heat to be vulnerable.

San Antonio has won 2 of the last 3 championships and finished this year with the best record in the West, so you wouldn’t imagine them to be in trouble in the second round. However this odd playoff format has pitted them against the second best team in the West. The winner of this series should have an easier time in the next round, against an inferior opponent. Meanwhile a 59 game season from Shaq left the Heat with “only” a .634 winning percentage, close to the Nets .598. So maybe New Jersey doesn’t have as good a chance as the chart below would indicate. On the other hand, if Dwayne Wade takes another hard tumble or any part of Shaq acts up, then the Nets will have a good chance to advance to the East Conference Finals. So in a way, maybe the regular season takes into account the Heat’s fragility, and hence is a true representation of New Jersey’s odds.

  One Game Home Game 5 Game 7 Game 5 Games (modified for home field) 7 Games (modified for home field)
Spurs 54.8% 64.5% 58.9% 60.4% 61.2% 63.0%
Pistons 69.4% 77.3% 82.9% 86.6% 83.6% 87.3%
Heat 53.8% 63.6% 57.1% 58.3% 59.4% 61.0%
Suns 59.0% 68.4% 66.5% 69.1% 68.3% 71.1%

Losing <> Rebuilding

People say this is a rebuilding year, we are suppose to lose.

This is rebuilding. It just doesn’t seem like it because this should have been Scott Layden’s responsibility.

this team is four years behind schedule thanks to Scott Layden’s refusal to do anything that resembled a rebuilding process. What we are seeing now is that rebuilding process, more or less, and you can expect to see this for the next two or three years because that’s at least how long it takes to turn things around.

The fans say the Knicks are rebuilding. The press says the team is rebuilding. Even the Knicks front office has admitted as much. But I’m not one who just accepts conventional wisdom. So I ask “should the label ‘rebuilding’ be applied to the Knicks?” I could call myself “Dick Cheney” or “Chancellor of the Klingon Empire,” but if my actions don’t match that of an evil tyrant, then those descriptions are rejected. However if I choose to call myself “KnickerBlogger” and perform duties that others would expect from a “KnickerBlogger”, then the term is accurate.

So what does “rebuilding” mean when applied to a sports team? Rebuilding teams are concerned with winning in the future, while their opposite, competing teams, are concerned with winning now. Competing teams usually trade away their draft picks for players that can help them immediately. For example last year the Spurs traded away a pair of first round picks in order to acquire Nazr Mohammed for their championship run. One characteristic of a rebuilding franchise is a team that stockpiles draft picks or tries to improve on the quality of their picks.

Although there are other elements of rebuilding, such as freeing cap space or trading for players, teams still need the draft to improve themselves. Signing Steve Nash or trading for Shaq would not have made their respective teams championship caliber had those teams not drafted All Stars like Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, and Dwayne Wade. Building a strong team without the draft is possible, but it’s not a legitimate strategy. For instance, to repeat the Pistons success another team would have to unearth gems like Ben Wallace and Chauncy Billups. Digging through the league’s unwanted bin looking for All Stars is not a high percentage move.

So one way to judge whether the term rebuilding can be applied to Isiah Thomas’ Knicks, is by looking at each trade regarding draft picks and see if it falls under the “win now” or “win later” category.

Thomas’ first major move was to trade the Knicks 2004 1st round pick, and a conditional future 1st round pick to the Phoenix Suns in the Stephon Marbury deal. While Marbury is young enough to be considered “win later”, the picks moved, the contracts taken on, and the young talent traded away pushes this trade into the “win now” pile.

Isiah’s second draft pick transaction was the Keith Van Horn trade. In this deal he sent a 2nd rounder in order to get Tim Thomas and Nazr Mohammed. A year later the Knicks would parlay Nazr Mohammed into a pair of first round picks, clearly a rebuilding move. So let’s combine these two moves into one and add it to the “win later” pile. On the same day Nazr was shipped out of New York, they sent a 2nd round pick to acquire Maurice Taylor. Isiah Thomas might be the first GM in history to have a “rebuild the franchise” trade and a “compete right now” trade on the same day.

Over the summer, New York made two deals involving their draft picks. A draft day deal had the Knicks moving up from the 54th pick to the 21st pick (Nate Robinson) losing only veteran Kurt Thomas. Clearly a “win later” move. A few weeks after, the Knicks traded for Eddy Curry. Although Curry’s status as a former 4th overall pick, might give the impression of a rebuilding move, the surrounding elements clearly mark it as a “win now” deal. The Knicks gave up a slew of picks, including next year’s #1, the option for the Bulls to swap #1 picks the year after, and two 2nd round picks (2007 & 2009).

If you are scoring at home, Isiah’s Knicks have made 3 “win now” deals, and 2 “win later” deals. Optimists might say that the Marbury and Curry deals were “win later” proposals swinging it 4-1 in favor of rebuilding moves. However let’s look at how Isiah Thomas has treated New York’s draft picks year by year to get an overall picture:

2003: The 2003 draft was handled by Layden, but no players drafted remain due to Isiah’s trades.
2004: Traded away 1st round pick (#16).
2005: Traded away their 2nd round pick. Traded for a late 1st round pick (#30 – David Lee). Traded for a second round pick (#54), then traded that pick to move up to a mid 1st (#21 Nate Robinson).
2006: Traded away their 1st round pick (based on Knicks record – currently projected to be a lottery pick). Traded away their second round pick. Traded for 1st round pick (Spurs – projected to be a late pick).
2007: Gave the Bulls an option to swap 1st round picks. Traded away their 2nd round pick.
2008+: The Knicks have traded away a future 1st round pick that has to be used before 2010. They also have traded their 2009 2nd round pick.

In the 8 years between 2003 and 2010, the Knicks have essentially traded their own first round pick at least 4 times (5 if you include the 2007 Bulls’ swap). They’ve traded their own second round pick 5 times. While they have acquired 1st rounders as well, none will be impact players. In the next three years it’s likely that the Knicks will not have any of their first round picks, and only 1 of their second round picks. Simply put, the Knicks have taken the free draft picks given to them by the league and downgraded them or flat out gave them away at nearly every turn.

Another characteristic of a rebuilding team is a losing record, and right now the Knicks are losing at an alarming rate. However just because a team can’t buy a win doesn’t necessarily mean it’s rebuilding. To use the dreaded “r” word, the team should be actively trying to win in the future. For example the 1997 Spurs won only 20 games, but they weren’t rebuilding. San Antonio lost David Robinson for the year, and they knew they would be getting him back the next season. They didn’t trade Avery Johnson or Vinnie Del Negro for a couple of picks, despite the pair being on the wrong side of thirty. From the evidence above, the Knicks aren’t rebuilding either. They’re just doing a really bad job of “winning now.”

Specials thanks to the below two web sites for providing the information used in this article.

Knicks 2006 Preview Part II

Small Forward/Shooting Guard: New York has some depth at the swingman spots, as the only Knick that can’t play both spots is the rail thin Jamal Crawford. Newly acquired Quentin Richardson hasn’t played much with the team due to injury. Reportedly he’s back practicing with his new teammates, but it’s unknown whether he’ll be used at the 2 or the 3. So far Penny Hardaway has been the benefactor of Richardson’s hamstring, and he could find a role in Brown’s rotation as a perimeter defender. Hardaway still has good court vision, but his shooting has deteriorated to the point where it has become a liability. I would imagine that this would be a temporary solution, because Penny’s $16M expiring contract will be too much temptation for Isiah to resist (see the Charlton Heston comment from Part I). Vegas odds are 5:1 against Hardaway remaining a Knick by the trade deadline.

With all the excitement over Eddy Curry, Jerome James, Larry Brown, and the three drafted rookies, it seems that Trevor Ariza has become the forgotten man in New York. As a second round pick, no one expected much from him, but last year Ariza might have been the lone bright star in what was a dark season for the Knicks. This season he has a year of experience under his belt, an improved team, and one the best coaches in the game. I don’t want to go as far to say this is a critical year in Ariza’s development, but he won’t find a better environment to improve himself. The same could be said of Jamal Crawford. While he’s still young, he’s approaching that age where players stop showing improvement. If Jamal can’t put it together under Brown, he’ll never do so.

I’ve talked time and time again about Isiah’s ability to find young talent. Like a miner in a dark cave, Zeke may have found another gem in Matt Barnes. I have a special scouting report from Chief KnickerBlogger Talent Evaluator, David Crockett:

Barnes can start or come off the bench. He has always been an underrated defender – good feet, long arms, and just a little more athletic than you think he is. Perhaps most importantly, he doesn’t need the ball to make an impact. Barnes is a very good passer. He runs the floor and boards. He does all the hustle stuff, and unlike Tim Thomas he’s good at defensive rotations. That help will be critical as Marbury and Crawford continue to feel their way into their roles.

I know Brown has been angling for his guy, the ancient George Lynch, but i think Barnes will grow on him and stay in the rotation even after Quentin Richardson gets healthy.

If Barnes is the real deal (and I have no reason to doubt Dr. C.) then it’ll be all the more reason to trade Hardaway. On second thoughts make those odds 10:1 in favor of Isiah trading Penny. The obvious choice is Richardson at small forward and Crawford at shooting guard. Earlier I said that Jamal would find his way to Brown’s dog house, and I’ll stand by that statement. Don’t be surprised if Isiah finds a way to upgrade the position, or if Ariza, Barnes, and Hardaway steal Crawford’s minutes at the 2 to provide a better defensive alignment.

Coach: New York’s biggest upgrade might not see any time on the court. Larry Brown gives the Knicks their first real coach since Jeff Van Gundy. Although you won’t see Brown buffing the floor holding onto opposing player’s ankles, his presence will be felt on the court as if he was doing just that. The Knicks don’t have a particularly good defensive team, but Larry Brown will get every bit of effort possible out of his players on that end of the court. While Brown’s wanderlust will eventually get to him and the Knicks will be worse off when he goes, the Garden faithful should enjoy their hometown coach while they have him.

Outlook: I’ll start with the most pessimistic view. Eddy Curry’s heart sidelines him for good, and Quentin Richardson’s back keeps him from playing more than 40 games. Jerome James tries to eat the $30M the Knicks gave him and Channing Frye is too soft to man the center. Isiah panics and trades Hardaway & David Lee for Mike Olowokandi and instantly gives him a 6 year $45M extension. Trevor Ariza and Nate Robinson spend the year at the end of the bench, as Brown has Isiah grab Lynch & Eric Snow for their leadership abilities. Their traded unprotected 2006 pick wins the draft lottery & turns into Andrea Bargnani, the next Dirk Nowitzki.

The best case scenario might start with Eddy Curry and Stephon Marbury making the All Star team. Isiah Thomas is able to turn Malik Rose and Penny Hardaway into Dan Gadzuric, Danny Fortson, and a first round pick. The two became expendable because of the rapid development of Frye, Lee, Ariza and Barnes. Brown makes the Knicks one of the top defensive teams in the league, and they take the Atlantic. The Knicks use home field advantage in the first round to trounce the injury ridden Pistons. In the second round they face the Cavaliers and Trevor Ariza gains national prominence on his ability to shut down LeBron James. Against the Heat, Shaq inexplicably wanders on the court to break up a fight between Dwayne Wade and Nate Robinson. All three are suspended, which allows the Knicks to advance to the Finals.

Reality lies somewhere in between, the Knicks only won 33 games last year, and I think improving by 8 and making the playoffs seems to be reasonable given all that is involved. 41-41 and a first round whipping.

I Don’t Mind Losing

The West is over. The Phoenix Suns, or their fans, are out of excuses. Apparently, the Suns didn’t have enough rest between their Friday night OT win to end round 2 against the Mavericks and game 1 the following Sunday against the Spurs. In the second game, Phoenix was still smarting from the loss of Joe Johnson when they lost by 3 against Emperor Popovich and Darth Defense. Yesterday the Spurs won by 10, and I’m sure Joe Johnson was still rusty. Or it was playing on the road. Or just a couple of shots here or there.

One of the quotes from game 3 from Steve Nash is “we haven’t found a way to stop them yet.” My question would be have they really been looking? I know the Suns aren’t the best defensive team in the league, but they’ve really stuck with “Plan A.” Their bench outside of their 6 man rotation (McCarty, Outlaw, Voskuhl, Shirley, and Barbosa) has seen 16 minutes the entire series. That includes 13 minutes from Barbosa in game 1. It’s hard to find new ways to stop the same team that’s beat you three straight without changing the personnel. In other words Phoenix hasn’t really tried anything else.

But I digress on that topic, and would rather talk about the battle in the East. The title of this entry refers to my Blog Bracket’s Eastern pick. I chose the Heat to win in 5, but I wouldn’t mind being wrong. In fact I wouldn’t mind if the Pistons won the series, and I have 3 reasons.

1. Defensive Shift
If the Pistons could find a way to win this series, it might usher in a new era of NBA defense. And before I’m deafened from the rolling eyeballs of my readers I’d like to say this defensive era will be different from the last. The Chuck Daly Pistons created a style of play that would be distilled into it’s pure form with the Knicks and the Heat. However this new defensive era would not be of might, but rather of skill and athleticism.

There is no one from those 90s teams that is represented on today’s Pistons or Spurs. There’s no Laimbeer or Aguirre. No Ewing or Oakley. No Alonzo or P.J. The new century has brought about a new way of preventing scoring. The Pistons trio of Ben, ‘Sheed, and Tayshaun is more likely to hit your shot than your torso. Bruce Bowen couldn’t even make it with the Heat in 1997. If a Pistons-Spurs finals were to emerge, the league would have to stand up & take notice. You might see more Tayshaun Princes and less Tim Thomases.

2. Alonzo Mourning.
Ok so you’re thinking that since I’m a Knick fan, I don’t like Alonzo Mourning due to the rivalry. And you’d be damn right. But in case you root for another team and that dislike means nothing to you, I’ll give you something else to think about.

First is the New Jersey Nets. Imagine how exciting the East would have been with Kidd, Jefferson, Carter and Mourning roaming East Rutherford. Alonzo’s defense would have made the Nets a contender. New Jersey went into the playoffs winning 10 of their last 10, and that’s with Jason Collins’ sorry ass in the starting lineup (sorry the Knicks fan is coming out again). I’m well aware that Mourning was involved in the deal, but that brings me to my next point.

The second reason is the Toronto Raptors. I know every player out there wants to win a championship, but I hate players that do it only by riding on the coattails of others. That Gary Payton didn’t find it palatable to go to L.A. until Karl Malone convinced him that he’d get a ring with Shaq & Kobe makes me think it was less of a charitable act and more an ego-centric one (Kevin Pelton’s reply in the comment section in 5,4,3…)

Which brings me back to Mourning. If he wanted to do an unselfish act, he could have suited up & been a mentor to budding big men Bosh & Araujo. Alonzo could have helped be a difference in Toronto’s season, and maybe help them make the playoffs. Instead he never played a game in purple, and pouted until Toronto released him so he could fly south back to Miami where ‘Zo could earn his first ring by playing 20 minutes a night.

3. An Intriguing East in 2006.
Let me ask you a question, which storyline would be better for next year? The Heat make themselves the kings of the East by beating the defending champions Detroit Pistons. So Detroit becomes a fluke champion, having won the title against a flawed and injured Lakers team. Every other team in the East becomes an afterthought.


The Pistons move on to the Finals for the second straight year, and Shaq goes home for the second straight summer wondering how the biggest man in sports lost to a team effort. So the Big Guy comes back next year with three chips on his shoulder to settle. The first with Kobe & the Laker management for rejecting him. The second against the Pistons for stopping him twice in a row. The last against the rest of the league for choosing the diminutive Nash as MVP instead.

If the Heat win this year, it’d make them as instant favorites next year. However if Detroit pulls off the improbable, who would you pick as the 2006 East favorites? Detroit? Miami? Indiana? New Jersey? New York? (Sorry had to throw that last one in there.)

I have nothing against Shaq. Or Dwayne Wade, who seems to be on the verge of becoming one of the league’s elite. It’d just be a more interesting league if Detroit went on to the Finals.

Duncan Out Of MVP Race As Well?

On Monday Knick fans rejoiced upon hearing of Tim Duncan’s injury, but the missed time could knock the Spurs power forward out of the running for the most valuable player award. The early reports have Duncan out from 2 weeks to the rest of the regular the season. Even though San Antonio’s pitiful performance against New York underscores Tim-may’s importance to the team, if Duncan doesn’t suit up before the playoffs, 62 games on the season won’t be enough to make him a legitimate candidate. Since Duncan was my favorite to win the most valuable player award, it might be a good time to revisit the rest of the field.

In The Paint
Dirk Nowtizki
PPG: 26.7 (3rd)
PER: 25.9 (5th)
PTS/40: 26.8
RPG: 10.1
No one else gains more from Duncan’s demise than Dirk. The Wurzburg sharpshooter can’t seem to get out of the Big Fundamental’s shadow. Of all the places Nowiztki had to settle, he picked the one state where the other foreign born 7-foot power forward resides with his two rings and two MVPs. The easiest way for Dirk to get some recognition is for the Mavericks to overtake the Spurs in Duncan’s absence. If Dallas wins the Southwest, Dirk would be a prime MVP candidate.

Steve Nash
PPG: 16.0
PER: 22.8 (12th)
PTS/40: 18.5
APG: 11.5
When Nash missed 3 games in January and the Suns lost all of them, everyone jumped on the Steve Nash for MVP bandwagon. However when he missed three more a month later, it did more to hurt his status than help. The Suns went 2-1 including a victory in Dallas, and the second injury brought up questions about Nash’s durability. While there are intelligent arguments that support Nash’s MVP credentials, the more popular argument is that the Suns miraculous improvement is solely due to Steve Nash’s greatness. Nash could win the award by staying healthy and the Suns winning home field in the West.

Driving Towards the Lane
PPG: 22.7 (12th)
PER 27.3 (3rd)
PTS/40: 26.5
RPG: 10.4
If Dirk or Nash falters down the stretch, the default vote may go to the big guy. Shaq’s health is usually a concern, but the Diesel has only missed 4 games on the season. The Heat resurgence is largely credited to O’Neal and that they have the NBA’s top record is the icing on the cake. Even though he’s not the dominating force he was once, Shaq is still one of the league’s best players. One question that could make the Big Aristotle a better candidate is if voters ask themselves “if Nash and Dirk are both leading MVP candidates, then why didn’t they accomplish more when they were together in Dallas?”

Eighteen Footer
LeBron James
PPG: 26.3 (4th)
PER: 26.5 (5th)
PTS/40: 25.2
RPG: 7.1
APG: 7.4
Just look at those numbers, and then remember to drink legally James has to fly to Mexico. Voters tend to remember the latter part of the season more than the earlier, which is unfortunate for LeBron. If Mt. Mutombo’s judo chop/rebound landed this month instead of earlier in the year, LeBron’s Phantom of the Opera performance would be fresh enough in people’s mind to move him up a few spots. While voters might hold Cleveland’s recent slide and the coaching fiasco against him, ‘Bron really didn’t have much to do with either. The Boy King has upped his scoring in March (32 PPG) including 56 in a losing effort versus Toronto, and can he be blamed for Paul Silas not being able to keep straight which of Jeff McInnis or Eric Snow is the one he can’t stand?

Beyond the Arc
Amare Stoudemire
PPG: 26.1 (5th)
PER: 26.9 (4th)
PTS/40: 28.7 (1st)
RPG: 8.5
Dwayne Wade
PPG: 23.9
PER: 24.2 (7th)
PTS/40: 24.7
RPG: 7.0
APG: 5.2
Personally I’d put Amare the Great ahead of Wade. He’s hasn’t missed any games, has a higher PER, and leads the league in scoring per minute. Each player is the high scorer on an elite team, but both are being overshadowed by teammates. With all the hype surrounding Shaq and Nash reviving their respective franchises, neither will be able to win the award without a miracle.

Heave From MidCourt
Allen Iverson
PPG: 30.3 (1st)
PER: 23.3 (9th)
PTS/40: 28.6 (2nd)
APG: 7.7
Wasn’t getting Webber suppose to make Philadelphia a contender? A.I. might be in the top 4 if the Sixers were atop the Atlantic. Not being able to win the worst division in the league doesn’t earn him many votes, leading per game scorer or not.

Kevin Garnett
PPG: 22.5
PER: 28.5 (1st)
PTS/40: 23.2
RPG: 13.9
K.G. has virtually the same stats this year as last, but the T-Wolves are mired at .500. What does that say about the MVP being an individual award?

All Star Game MVP Odds

G *Allen Iverson
G *LeBron James
F *Grant Hill
F *Vince Carter
C *Shaquille O’Neal
F Antawn Jamison
F Ben Wallace
G Dwyane Wade
G Gilbert Arenas
F Jermaine O’Neal
F Paul Pierce
C Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Shaq – None of the West’s centers other than Yao matchup physically against the Big Diesel. Working against Shaq is his jovial nature. Usually the Big Diesel works better with a little motivation, but everything is coming up roses for Shaq. His team is thriving after the Laker’s divorce, and he just won his second ASG MVP last year.
MVP Probability: Low

Allen Iverson – The recognition he earned as the 2001 All Star MVP game helped him win the MVP on the season. Iverson’s “street cred” and Mighty Mouse style gives him loads of respect among the players. Remember Shaq saying he was one of the 5 best players of all time? As the starting PG, AI will have the ball in his hands and can control the game.
MVP Probability: High

LeBron James – Twenty years ago Ralph Sampson won the All Star MVP in his second season, so it wouldn’t be surprising if James pulled it off in his sophomore year. LeBron’s affable personality will keep him from a Jordan-esque lock out. However at 19 years, the other players may figure that he’s got plenty of time to get his accolade, and not share the ball with the boy king.
MVP Probability: Medium

Grant Hill – Wouldn’t that be a nice story?
MVP Probability: Low

Dwayne Wade – Similar to LeBron, but James doesn’t have to live under Wade’s shadow. Dwayne has one edge that LeBron doesn’t. If Shaq is in a charitable mood, he might be willing to play the two man game with Wade to aid his teammate win the MVP.
MVP Probability: Medium

Jermaine O’Neal – After a disastrous season, it would be a nice gesture from the rest of the players to feed J.O. the ball. He should get plenty of minutes. The West has 6 power forwards, and other than Ben Wallace, the East doesn’t have another PF to match up against a bigger team. I know the All Star Game is a veritable points orgy, but how long can the East stay with Hill & Carter guarding Duncan and Garnett?
MVP Probability: Low

G *Kobe Bryant
G *Tracy McGrady
F *Kevin Garnett
F *Tim Duncan
C *Yao Ming
F Amar? Stoudemire
F Dirk Nowitzki
F Manu Ginobili
F Rashard Lewis
G Ray Allen
F Shawn Marion
G Steve Nash

Kobe Bryant – After driving Phil & Shaq away and turning the Lakers from championship contenders to a .500 team, no one has more to prove. Other than Nash, there isn’t another PG on the team. Bryant will have the ball enough to be as greedy as he wants.
MVP Probability: Medium

Yao Ming – Even among NBA All Stars, the 7-5 Yao sticks out.
MVP Probability: Medium

Steve Nash & Dirk Nowitzki – Both are MVP candidates, whose teams are performing better than expected. The difference between the two is there are about 5 forward/centers on the West, while Nash is the only true point guard.
Nash: MVP Probability: High
Dirk: MVP Probability: Low

Tracy McGrady & K.G – The anti-Nash & Dirk. Both aren’t MVP candidates, whose teams are worse than expected. However both are too talented to be ignored.
MVP Probability: Low

The MVP is tied to whichever team wins. If the East wins, I think Iverson is most likely to take the award. With little defense being played, AI should have an easier time getting to the hoop. If the West wins, Nash only needs double digit assists to take the award. The way I see it, it’s a point guard’s year.