- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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Over the years, I've learned these lessons as a sports writer:
1. Never say something about a player's mother.
2. Never walk into a locker room next to Michael Wilbon and expect to get recognized.
3. Never publicly discuss who should be the MVP in any sport if there are more than three weeks left in the season.
I've also learned that sometimes that last rule has to be ignored.
Much of the talk in my circles during the All-Star break concerned what the NBA should do about the (your favorite adjective here) slam dunk contest and how LeBron declined (again) the opportunity to take the last shot of a game. But there was a sidebar conversation, too, that took on a small life of its own: Who, at midseason, is the league MVP?
Now, as I said, I know better than to join in these conversations this early in the year, and I tried to avoid all participation. But as the days went by and I still hadn't heard the one name I think should be in consideration, I had to do what Jean Dujardin, as George Valentin, did at the end of "The Artist:" Break my silence.
And just like Valentin did, I had only two words: "Kevin Love."
So I said it. And when I did, when I said his name in my out-loud voice, looks turned into lasers and the questions/accusations started flying at me.
How can you not choose LeBron?! Or Kevin Durant?! Who, I was reminded on various occasions, I picked at the beginning of the season to be the 2012 MVP.
How can you ignore Chris Paul?! He's already done what no player in the history of the NBA has been able to achieve: Make the Clippers relevant.
How can you not say Kobe?! Who, if the season ended right now, would win the scoring title.
Easy. Like my words, I had two numbers: 4 and 2. As in, Love is fourth in the league in scoring (25.0 points per game) and second in rebounding (14.0 per game) going into Tuesday night's game against the Clippers. No other player can claim that combination of high stat rankings, and no other player will be at both of those levels when the season ends. Not LeBron, not Derrick Rose, not Durant, not Paul.
Plus, Love came to the All-Star Game MVP-couture'd up in a tux, and messed around the night before and won the 3-point shootout in Orlando. The only other power forward to ever do that is the player Love replaced this season as the best at that position in the game: Dirk Nowitzki.
But MVPs have to be on winning teams! A great player's numbers should be reflected in wins!
Heard it all before, but I've always questioned why a team's achievement should be a decision-tipping criterion for an individual award. Why should a bad team be held against a player if the player is playing at an MVP level?
In building my case for Love, I argued that he has Minnesota going into the second half of the season overachieving at .500 and two places out of the playoffs. And I followed up with the trump card of every MVP conversation known to man: "If you took him off the Timberwolves "
More ammunition: In the first 34 games (and remember, the season is only 66 games long this year), he has proven to be -- with maybe the exception of Rose, who isn't having an MVP-caliber season in Chicago -- the single most important player to a team in the NBA. Period.
Now think about that for a minute before your eyes and thoughts turn into lasers burning through the computer screen at me.
Allow me to put this into some historical context. The last and only Timberwolves player to win the MVP was Kevin Garnett in 2003-04. He won it with averages in points (24.2) and rebounds (13.5) below what Love's are at this point.
The same applies to other power forwards and centers who have claimed the award recently. Tim Duncan, in both of his MVP seasons (2001-02 and 2002-03), had comparable scoring numbers (in 2001-02, he averaged 25.5; it was down to 23.3 the next MVP season), but his rebounding averages (12.7 and 12.9) were lower than Love's are right now. Nowitzki averaged 24.6 points and 8.9 rebounds in his MVP season (2006-07). Karl Malone, in his 1998-99 MVP season, averaged more than a point less per game (23.8) and more than four fewer rebounds (8.9). In Shaquille O'Neal's only MVP season (1999-2000), he had a better scoring average (29.7) than Love's current numbers, but his rebounding average (13.6) was lower.
Yes, LeBron is balling out of his mind so far this season, trying to make up for his performance in last year's Finals. And yes, CP3 and Kobe and KD are all playing some of the best ball of their careers. But none of them is doing what this Wes Unseld/Bill Laimbeer/Moses Malone mash-up has done so far.
Which leads me to a fourth lesson I've learned as a sports writer: Never ignore the truth.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.
Start with his numbers. Then look at what he's done for the Wolves. Any questions? Didn't think so. Kevin Love is in the MVP conversation.