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John Hollinger: MVP Race Down to Two. Not Those Two.

ESPN Insider John Hollinger writes that there are really two candidates for MVP, and they are Dirk Nowitzki and ... Tim Duncan:

When it comes to basketball, we're all fascinated by the little guys. For starters, guards have the ball in their hands for much of the game and, in addition, the buckets they make tend to be more spectacular and skillful. Moreover, we relate better to guys nearer to our own size.

For that reason, both fans and media alike have tended to make the same mistake over and over again: Overrating guards at the expense of the big guys who, invariably, are the major difference between winning and losing.

I say that by way of introduction to my assessment of the MVP race. Two guards -- Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant -- are two of the most entertaining players you'll ever see, and certainly among the game's elite. However, if you're filling out an MVP ballot and the top two names on it aren't Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan, I think you've got some serious explaining to do.

Then he backs it up with a lot of numbers, of course, and they're pretty convincing. One great thing about Nowitzki is that he is an incredibly effective scorer, but has very few turnovers, leaving plenty of possessions for his teammates to score.

In fact, I wonder if this is a key insight as to why Nowitzki hasn't captured the imagination of TV viewers quite like Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash have. We don't get to see Nowitzki embattled very often. We don't get to see him falling down, making the play against a hard-fouling double team. We don't get to see him making too many impossible shots. Why? Because when the hard double team comes, he generally gives the ball up. Instead of taking impossible shots, he finds the kinds of easier shots that come with being seven feet tall, skilled, and mobile.

That approach doesn't help his hero rating, probably, but it does help his team.

The downside, of course, is that he's not as accustomed to having to score anyway. He's the master of taking what the defense will give. He's less practiced at the art of Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, which is taking even more (which may not even be all that important, so long as he has teammates who can get the job done). Sometimes that's what crunch time is about: everyone -- including the defense -- knows it's going to the star, and they have to deliver anyway.

Hollinger closes with a prediction that either Tim Duncan or Dirk Nowitzki will earn a ring this June.