Lakers at Hornets and Some MVP Thoughts

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Published: December 23, 2008

The reigning MVP comes to New Orleans tonight in a classic showdown at the top of the Western Conference’s standings.  Because of the Laker’s hot start, and the Hornet’s little choke job that landed them at 5-5 early in the season, Chris Paul has routinely been around 4th or 5th on most MVP articles while Kobe(at least until recently) has been usually Robin to LeBron James’s Batman.

In honor of this matchup, and because last year I waited way too long to get into the MVP discussion with anything real, I’ll lay out my first argument of the season:

Every year I like to ask myself when we the MVP debate kicks off, “what if we replaced Candidate A on his team with another star who plays a similar position?”  I.E. If last year we had replaced Kobe with Paul Pierce, Manu Ginobili, or LeBron James, would the Lakers have been much worse?  When Nowitzki won the MVP – or the year Garnett did, if you replaced either with Tim Duncan or each other, would their teams collapse?

So how are things stacking up so far this year?  Away we go:

Among the Association’s big men: Dwight Howard, Garnett, Duncan, Nowitzki, Yao and Stoudemire are all battling it out as usual.  This year they are also taking on competition from Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Chris Bosh, Pau Gasol, and Boozer when he’s not injured.  Between Howard, at the top of that list, and Garnett, at the bottom, the PER difference is about five total points.  Even if you decide you want to split out consideration to just the center position, Dwight Howard’s dominance of the middle isn’t as large as you’d think, with Yao only trailing by 3.5 points.

The wing positions are also stocked with some interchangeable candidates.  LeBron and Wade are at the top. with Bryant, Roy, Manu and . . . well . . . Vince Carter, who is surprisingly in the conversation, though oh-so-out of the conversation for many other reasons.  To use PER, the difference between LeBron and Wade is under three points, though granted, their runner ups are a good five points further back.

Last we get to the lead guards of the league.  Go ahead and try and pick a player you could replace Chris Paul with.  I’ll wait.  Nash?  He’s slipped a lot.  Deron Williams?  He’s still struggling from his injury and is barely above average so far this season.  Billups?  Defensively, sure, but his offense can’t hold a candle to Paul.  In fact, the closest two point guards to Paul according to PER are Devin Harris and Tony Parker, and both of them are shoot-first points, ranking 49th and 51st among the league’s point guards for % of assists they dish out – as opposed to turning the ball over or shooting themselves.  And their PER?    Harris is more than five and a half points less than Paul, and Tony Parker is nine points lower. 

Irreplaceable.

That all said, I am realistic.  Like last year with Kobe “leading” the Lakers to new heights, the Hype Machine is  going full bore in Cleveland.  The Cavalier’s have rolled off an impressive record, and LeBron has been putting up insane numbers, including leading all players with PER.(beating Paul by almost two points)  If he keeps anything like his current production going, he’ll win the MVP, and even with my Paul bias, I’d probably not be bothered by it either.

On to the game:

Matchup: Lakers(22-5) @ Hornets (16-7)

Off Efficiency: Lakers 109.1(3rd), Hornets 107.3(6th)
Def EFficiency: Lakers 99.7(4th), Hornets 102.2(12th)

The Lakers started off the season at a torrid pace, dominating on the defensive end, dominating the boards, and scoring efficiently by getting to the line all the time.  Recently, however, their winning margins have shrunk, and the titans have fallen to earth, even losing a pair over the weekend to Miami and Orlando.  They won last night in Memphis, but trailed by five with only three minutes to go before Memphis melted down and Kobe scored a quick seven, capping the game off with a steal and dunk with one second remaining in the game that put the Lakers up 9.  I think he did it just to be a dick.

The Hornets come into the game on a four game winning streak, having won 11 of their last thirteen.  The last two games against the Lakers have opened up dismally, with the Hornets falling behind by twenty-five or more each time before furiously rallying against a relaxed Lakers team and then falling just short in the end.  I have a hard time believing the Hornets aren’t going to come out dead-set determined to not let that happen again.

Injuries:

Lakers: Jordan Farmar is out, and may be on his way to the surgeon’s table.
Hornets: Peja reportedly should play.

Positional Analysis

PG: Derek Fisher v Chris Paul
Advantage: Hornets
Fish loves to body up opposing point guards, slap at them, push them, grab them, and generally irritate the crap out of them.  This is typically a good thing, because if he makes a point guard get selfish and go at him, trying to score, then bad things generally happen to the opposing team.  With the Hornets, however, when Paul is looking to score, it’s not a bad thing.  Unless you are the opposing team.

SG: Kobe Bryant v Rasual Butler
Advantage: Lakers
Rasual will do his best to track Kobe, and will probably do a good job.  Good job as in Kobe scores a bunch, and Rasual gets frustrated.  One thing is certain, however, we can’t have Rasual in as bad of a shooting funk as he was last game, or this will be really painful.

SF: Luke Walton v Peja Stojakovic
Advantage: Hornets
This is assuming Peja can come back and stick some shots.  Not lots – just a few. Like Fisher, Walton likes to throw his body around, try and undercut rebounders, and generally be a pain in the ass.  Unlike Fisher, he’s no where near as good at it, and the injury he’s still trying to knock the rust off his game after being stalked all summer and cowering in a basement lest the woman kidnap him, take him to her house in the country, break his knee-caps Misery-style and ride him into the ground like a broken-down nag.  It’s no wonder he got injured.

PF: Pau Gasol v David West
Advantage: Even
Gasol may have a few more tools and height than David West, but he’s about as tough as tissue paper.  It’s part of why he’s got that scraggly beard, so you won’t see his chin trembling every time someone fouls him.  Okay, that’s a bit over the top, but Gasol scowls a lot but can be intimidated.  West doesn’t get intimidated, and hopefully will take the hammer to Gasol.

C: Andrew Bynum v Tyson Chandler
Advantage: Even
After being designated in the off-season as a center prospect without peer, Bynum has had a good, but fairly ordinary season.  His numbers of 12 and 8 are a bit misleading because he does only play 28 minutes a game, but he’s having difficulty keeping his fouls down and his consistency up.  A bit like Tyson Chandler.  If he gets in a groove, he’s got just the body type to give Chandler fits, but I’m fairly confident these two will battle to a draw.

Bench
Advantage: Lakers
Much maligned Lamar Odom leads a pretty strong bench brigade, even with back up point guard Jordan Farmar not playing.  Besides Odom, the Lakers roll out talented swingmen and stopper Trevor Ariza, designated gunner Sasha Vujacic, village idiot Radmanovic, and Foul machine Chris Mihm.  Odom does a bit of everything, and would probably start for most of the teams in the league.  His defense is also extremely good, and in the past he’s proven to be very effective containing David West.  Vujacic hasn’t been sticking his shots this season, though he can get hot, but Radmanovic, a leading contender to win gold in the “worst career shot selection” event, has been hitting his shots and with the solid defenders around him can actually change the course of a game.

Daniels, Posey and Morris Peterson are a good big man away from being a very solid second unit, and as it stands, have started to prove it can hold the fort for the starters if they can keep the ball out of Sean Marks hands on offense.  However, if Devin gets minutes over Peterson, Morris should put a bag of flaming turd on Byron Scott’s chair in the locker room, because he’ll deserve it.  My ideal rotation:

Paul-Butler-Stojakovic-West-Chandler
Daniels-Peterson-Posey-Wright/Bowen-Armstrong(I guess)

Enjoy the game.  Unless you’re a Lakers Fan.  Then I hope you really, really don’t enjoy it.