The All-Star break has led to a relative dearth of news on the pro hoops front. Naturally, discussions in the absence of relevant updates have focused on the race for the Most Valuable Player award. Terming the process a “race” is, to be sure, erroneous at best. Even though speculation from all and sundry on the award is fueled from the get-go (and even before the season starts), the more proper assessment is done just before a given campaign ends. No supposed frontrunner gets a leg up early on, and any so-called lead is immediately erased in the face of narrative-driven perspectives.
Take, for example, Luka Dončić’s status as preseason favorite for the accolade. Once competition actually got under way, he wound up being on the fringes of pundits’ supposedly legitimate candidates’ lists, his outstanding efforts pulled down by the Mavericks’ underwhelming slate. Meanwhile, LeBron James’ own run gained enough momentum to install him as the seeming pacesetter; following fellow All-Star Anthony Davis’ sidelining due to injury, however, he found himself hard-pressed to keep the Lakers at the top of standings. They took him down in their ensuing tumble, and Las Vegas oddsmakers now peg him second.
Provisionally, the distinction of having the best vantage point on the Maurice Podoloff Trophy belongs to Joel Embiid, whose traditional and advanced stats underscore how much of a leap he has made under new head coach Doc Rivers. Needless to say, his position is owed in large part to the Sixers’ ascendancy in the East — again fueling the notion that team results should go hand in hand with personal advancement. It’s also why Nikola Jokić’s own bid for the hard has been stunted; the Nuggets have been on a roller-coaster ride from the outset.
Interestingly, Giannis Antetokounmpo has all but been written off for the award, never mind that it remains his to defend, and that his production hasn’t really tapered off. Again, narratives play a big part in shaping and framing voters’ minds. Which, in the final analysis, boils down to this: The “race,” if that, is a marathon, not a sprint, and one that is best viewed close to the end. Anything before falls in the realm of conjecture, good only to while the time away when there is practically nothing else to consider.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.