It's the end of the season, which means picking awards, and nothing seems to stir the pot more than the perennial NBA MVP debate. Mark Cuban's making the case for Dirk Nowitzki (surprise). Bill Simmons figures it's Kobe. Chauncey Billups is The Star's Doug Smith's choice. I'd go with LeBron James for pretty much dragging the Cavs into the No. 4 seed in the east.
All of these names have something in common: they're so far and away the No. 1 player on their team that drawing distinctions between them is difficult. But what about those teams where the load is shared a little more equitably?
I've often thought that a Most Valuable Duo award would be worthwhile, and get rid of the Most Improved Player, or the Sixth Man Award. Call it the StocktontoMalone Trophy. Some candidates from this year:
Parker/Duncan, Spurs. Eva's squeeze has arrived as a front-line guard, his speed and smarts stepping into the breach when the unflappable, steady Duncan's feet started giving him problems this year.
Cassell/Brand, Clippers. Disclaimer: I haven't seen a lot of the Clippers this year. But I can read the standings, and I can see Brand has finally been recognized as one of the NBA's top forwards, while Sam Cassell has steadied them into the playoffs where they may well win a round, perhaps even two.
Wade/Shaq, Heat. Regular visitor and hoop savant Mark Freedman figures Shaq is nowhere near the game-changing force he once was, but he still averaged 20 this year and next to Wade, that's a pretty productive second option occupying a whole lot of space and the obligatory double-team in the middle.
Kidd/Carter, Nets. Carter still takes way too many shots and Kidd, whose career appears to be just beginning its descent years, doesn't make enough. The Nets are going well with the emergence of Krstic in the middle, but it's the chemistry between these two that has been their most consistent strength this year.
The winners? Steve Nash to Shawn Marion, Phoenix. Nash's superior service has already been well established with last year's NBA MVP kudos, but Marion's versatile star is perennially underrated. He's getting MVP mentions but there's no way he's going to win -- he may not even crack the top three. If anyone deserves an award like this, meant to recognize hidden talents and the fine art of the two-man game, it's Shawn Marion.