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updated: 1/2/2011 9:36 PM

Bulls' Rose among early candidates for league MVP

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  • Bulls fans have been casting votes verbally all season, chanting "MVP" at guard Derrick Rose, usually when he steps to the foul line after another strong performance.

      Bulls fans have been casting votes verbally all season, chanting "MVP" at guard Derrick Rose, usually when he steps to the foul line after another strong performance.
    Associated Press

 
 

Bulls fans have been casting votes verbally all season, chanting "MVP" at guard Derrick Rose, usually when he steps to the foul line after another strong performance.

The third-year point guard is definitely in the mix for NBA most valuable player this season. Whether he has a realistic chance at winning, it's too soon to tell. Last week, an espn.com columnist ranked Rose first in the MVP race, so he is getting some support.

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The NBA is probably more wide open than expected this season, which throws a twist into the MVP race. An all-league team of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard would draw few arguments.

But consider which players are most responsible for their team's success and a much different list takes shape. Here's an early-January assessment of which NBA players have been most valuable this season:

1. Manu Ginobili, Spurs: This might sound like a stretch, but San Antonio is well in front in the race for the league's best record at 29-4. Ginobili is the team's top scorer at 18.7 points while tacking on 4.8 assists.

What's surprising is it seemed as though the Spurs made their last title push with Tim Duncan last season and failed. So this year, they basically de-emphasized Duncan in the offense.

Now he's more of a role player, averaging 13.6 points in just 29 minutes per game. San Antonio is letting Ginobili and Tony Parker attack, utilizing their stable of strong 3-point shooters.

Ginobili is 33 and looked like he might leave San Antonio as a free agent last summer. But the Spurs signed him to an extension before July 1 and once again come out looking like geniuses.

2. Amare Stoudemire, Knicks: This was the free agent nobody seemed to want. Phoenix spent two years trying to move him at the trade deadline but couldn't find an acceptable offer.

The Bulls never had much interest due to his history of microfracture knee surgery and limited practice availability. When the Knicks finally signed Stoudemire, it seemed to be a move aimed at preventing a free-agent shutout.

But the Mike D'Antoni-Stoudemire reunion has been a success. Stoudemire ranks second in the league in scoring at 26.4 points per game and New York is on pace to produce a winning record for the first time since 2001.

The team's other free-agent addition, ex-Bobcats guard Raymond Felton (18.0 points, 8.9 assists) might deserve a share of Stoudemire's votes.

3. Derrick Rose, Bulls: The results speak for themselves. The Bulls played without Carlos Boozer for 15 games and without Joakim Noah for eight and counting. Yet they're still a strong third in the Eastern Conference with a 22-10 record.

Rose has improved his overall scoring (24.0 points), his long-range shooting and his passing (8.6 assists), besides taking over games down the stretch. There is no question Rose has been the catalyst to the Bulls posting their best start since the championship era ended.

4. Deron Williams, Jazz: No Carlos Boozer in Utah has been no problem so far. The Jazz was 23-11, just behind the Lakers for the third seed in the West as of Sunday morning.

True, Utah had replacement power forward Paul Millsap ready to step in and grabbed Al Jefferson from Minnesota for almost nothing in return. Those two players are the team's second- and third-leading scorers.

But Williams might be the league's most complete point guard. He scores (22.2 points), passes (9.3 assists), runs the team and hits clutch shots. He's as indispensable as anyone in the league.

5. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavericks: He's out with a knee injury now, but Nowitzki might qualify as an underappreciated star. He supplies steady, efficient scoring, and even though he's not the best defender, he allows Dallas to play with two 7-footers.

Honorable mention: Sure, Kobe Bryant is as valuable as anyone. Dwight Howard is ready to adjust to a new supporting cast. Kevin Durant is back atop the scoring leaders. But which player means the most to teams like Miami and Boston?

LeBron James suggested that the MVP is out of the question for him and Dwyane Wade, but that's easy for him to say watching Wade average 30 points in the last five games.

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