In September of 1999, Chipper Jones was having a good season. The Braves and Mets were in a pennant race, and Jones was a big reason why. When they opened a three-game series against each other on September 21, only one game separated the two teams. Chipper hit two home runs that day, and a homer in each of the next two games. The Braves went on an eight-game winning streak, the Mets on a seven-game losing streak, and the Braves won the division again.
Jones, for his efforts, won the Most Valuable Player award. This was a year where Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both topped 60 home runs, and Jeff Bagwell and Matt Williams were also very strong MVP candidates. Needless to say, before Chipper hit those four home runs and the Braves went on that streak, few people were talking about his MVP candidacy.
Fast forward to the 2008 NBA All-Star Break. With apologies to Kevin Garnett and Chris Paul, there were really only two MVP candidates in the NBA: LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. The Rockets went into the break with an eight-game winning streak, but no one was even talking about Yao Ming as an MVP candidate, let alone Tracy McGrady.
The Rockets were 32-20 at the time, and looked like they'd sneak into the playoffs, but before the streak started, most likely as a first-round victim of the Spurs or Suns or something. Two weeks (and four wins later), it was announced that Yao would miss the rest of the season. The Rockets, according to conventional wisdom, were done.
A funny thing happened on the way to the lottery. The Rockets kept winning. Their streak has now reached 20, and in the eight games of the post-Yao era, McGrady has stepped up his game: 25.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.4 apg, and 48% from the field. It’s not that much better than he’s been playing all year, but it’s certainly better.
Somehow this player – who has missed 15 games this year and has infamously never made it to the second round of the playoffs – has been thrust into the MVP discussion. It’s absurd. He’s probably had six or seven years in his career better than this one, and if you simply compare the stats, he certainly isn’t going to beat LeBron or Kobe.
Yet if I had a vote, I’d have to seriously consider T-Mac right now. Houston is now tied with San Antonio atop to Southwest Division, just one game behind the West-leading Lakers. That would be amazing even if Yao were playing. The fact that T-Mac is leading a ragtag Rockets team (have you looked at their roster lately?) is simply incredible.
The Rockets have 18 games left. We know they’re going to lose eventually, but if they can somehow grab that top seed in the West - at the expense of Kobe and the Lakers – the same mentality that led to MLB voters giving Chipper Jones the 1999 MVP could bring T-Mac the NBA hardware in 2008.
Posted by Kenn Ruby at 3/14/2008 5:46:00 PM