March Madness: NBA MVP Edition, Round of 64

Deciding the NBA MVP with a March Madness Bracket

The NBA MVP Bracket

Instead of writing a traditional NBA MVP column, I’ve decided to create an NBA MVP Bracket modeled after the NCAA Tournament. I used Sports Illustrated’s Top-100 Players of 2017 to seed the 68 players (for example, Chris Paul was #4 — thus, he’s the fourth 1-seed; Russell Westbrook was #5 — thus, he’s the top 2-seed and in the same region as Chris Paul). Because players like Isaiah Thomas and DeMar DeRozan have vastly outplayed their preseason ranking, there are some crazy early tournament matchups. Below are the Play-In Games and Round of 64. Check back in a couple of days for the Round of 32.

[Note: I replaced Chris Bosh (declared medically unfit to play by the Miami Heat shortly after SI’s rankings came out) with Nikola Jokic — Jokic has had, by far, the best season of any player not in the top-68].

Play-in Games

(16) Marvin Williams vs. (16) Kristaps Porzingis

Porzingis wins by default after police arrest Williams for the murder of Bismack Biyombo:

Winner: Porzingis.

(16) Thaddeus Young vs. (16) Andrew Wiggins

Instead of describing this uninspiring matchup, let’s watch Andrew Wiggins dunk for a few minutes:

Winner: Wiggins in a blow-out, 76–56.

(11) Nicolas Batum vs. (11) DeMar DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan made it known how disappointed he was with SI for ranking him #46 — and boy, did he respond. DeRozan has averaged a career-high 27 ppg, was named an All-Star starter, and has an outside shot at an All-NBA team. Batum’s had a nice season, but if he weren’t for Kemba Walker, I would probably forget that Charlotte had an NBA team.

Winner: DeRozan dominates, 92–78.

(11) Andre Iguodala vs. (11) Isaiah Thomas

Another play-in game, another savage response to SI’s top-100. Isaiah Thomas was ranked 1 spot ahead of DeRozan at #45 and was none to happy about it either. All he’s done this season is average an absurd 29p/6a and lead the league in 4th quarter scoring. Andre Iguodala . . . well, he’s at least found ways to stay relevant.

Winner: Thomas cruises to easy victory, 85–70.

The Banana Boat Region

With 3 of the 4 Banana Boat Brothers, this bracket has a great pedigree as well as some 2017 breakout stars. There’s a couple of busts in this bracket, but it makes up for it with 1 of the best Cinderella’s in the MVP Tournament.

(1) LeBron James vs. (16) Kristaps Porzingis

This could be a hell of a matchup . . . 3–4 years from now. If Porzingis is a Unicorn, LeBron is a Minotaur.

Winner: LeBron stomps the young Unicorn, 88–66.

(2) Anthony Davis vs. (15) JJ Redick

Anthony Davis is averaging 28p/12r/2b. JJ Redick is a feel-good mid-major that can hang with anyone, but ultimately gets worn down by overwhelming talent.

Winner: Anthony Davis keeps Redick at bay, 77–64.

(3) DeMarcus Cousins vs. (14) Marcin Gortat

Boogie vs. The Polish Hammer. This matchup would be abysmal to watch — think about all the technicals, cheap shots, bully-ball, bitching at refs, etc. Although he’s struggled to find his place with the Pelicans, Cousins is still one of the best players in the NBA.

Winner: Cousins wipes the floor with Gortat, 70–53.

(4) Jimmy Butler vs. (13) Chandler Parsons

Jimmy G. Buckets has averaged 23p/6r/5a this season. Meanwhile, it took Chandler Parsons 46 games for his scoring output to eclipse his Instagram output. I’ll give ya a guess who wins??

Winner: Butler by a billion, 102–54.

(5) DeAndre Jordan vs. (12) Danilo Gallinari

Gallinari is a nice player, but this is an instance where both players were fairly ranked.

Winner: DJ outmuscles DG, 62–54.

(6) Carmelo Anthony vs. (11) Isaiah Thomas

Much like Isaiah and DeRozan, Carmelo also took issue with SI ranking him #24— in fact, he even took issue with Slam magazine ranking him #15. Unlike Isaiah and DeRozan, Melo has done nothing to prove the rankings wrong. Mr. Thomas, on the other hand, has put up better numbers than prime-Allen Iverson this season.

Winner: IT zips by Melo, 100–88.

(7) Derrick Favors vs. (10) Nikola Jokic

Compare what you find when you Google each of these players:

(google.com)

Winner: Jokic blows the doors off of Favors, 84–60.

(8) Dwyane Wade vs. (9) Rudy Gobert

D-Wade is averaging the 2nd-fewest points (18.8) and the fewest assists per game (3.9) of his career. Gobert, on the other hand, is averaging career highs in points (13.1), rebounds (12.7) , and blocks per game (2.5), and is on the short list for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Winner: The Stifle Tower shuts down the fading Wade, 65–58.

The Heart of Darkness Region

This region is absolutely loaded with great players having great seasons. I count 9 All Stars — and that doesn’t even account for Portland’s 2 stud guards or Wizards’ breakout star Bradley Beal. Surviving this region is like Marlow surviving his trip up the Congo River — close to impossible.

(1) Chris Paul vs. (16) Greg Monroe

Here’s a pass you don’t see everyday:

Winner: Chris Paul could be wearing “CP3-legged shorts” from the State Farm ad and still run circles around Monroe — Paul cruises, 85–65.

(2) Russell Westbrook vs. (15) Jonas Valanciunas

Russell Westbrook — a point guard — averages more rebounds per game (10.6) than Jonas Valanciunas — a center — (9.7). ‘Nuff said.

Winner: Russ blitzes Jonas, 88–70.

(3) Paul George vs. (14) Bradley Beal

Blind résumé:

Player A: 23p/3r/4a/48% FG/41% 3FG/20.6PER/7.4 Win Shares (“WS”)

Player B: 22p/6r/3a/45% FG/38% 3FG/18.4PER/4.5 WS

Pretty even, right? It gets crazier:

  • Player B is an elite defender; Player A is not; and
  • Player B is his team’s offensive focal point; Player A is his team’s 2nd option.

Starting to lean towards Player B . . . but, wait:

  • Player A has a +16.5 On/Off rating; Player B has a +7.8 rating; and
  • Player A’s team is 41–25; Player B’s team is 34–33.

Player A = Bradley Beal; Player B = Paul George. Paul George is a better player, but Bradley Beal might be having a better season — especially since he recovered from an early-season injury and helped turn the once 2–10 Wizards into 1 of the hottest teams in the NBA.

Winner: We have our first major upset!! Beal catches fire late and shocks PG13, 84–83.

(4) Draymond Green vs. (13) Reggie Jackson

2016–17 for Draymond Green: 10p/8r/7a; Defensive Player of the Year front-runner; and he had a triple double without scoring 10 points!!!

2016–17 for Reggie Jackson: 15p/2r/5a; missed 21 games; and was nearly traded for Ricky Rubio’s expiring contract.

Winner: In a game featuring 10 technical fouls and a whole lot of trash talk, Team Draymond prevails, 70–56.

(5) John Wall vs. (12) CJ McCollum

CJ McCollum has played like a top-30 player all season (23p/4r/4a with a near 50/40/90 (% FG/% 3FG/% FT)). Unfortunately for him, John Wall has played like a 1st-Team All-NBA player this season (23p/4r/11a with much better defense and plays on a much better team).

Winner: The Wizard of Wall Street sprints past an up-and-coming McCollum, 102–94.

(6) Damian Lillard vs. (11) DeMar DeRozan

Time for another blind résumé:

Player A: 26p/5r/6a/22.5 PER/7.0 WS

Player B: 27p/5r/4a/23.9 PER/7.0 WS

Can’t get much closer than that statistically. Here’s more:

  • Both players are regarded as poor defenders;
  • Both players are the “go-to” guy on their respective teams;
  • Player A’s team is 29–37; Player B’s team is 39–28.

Player A = Damian Lillard; Player B = DeMar DeRozan. I’m giving the edge to DeRozan for his well-documented improvement from last season, his consistency, and because he does this almost once every game:

Winner: DeRozan posts, jab-steps, and out-executes Big Game Dame in a classic, 82–80.

(7) Kyrie Irving vs. (10) Steven Adams

I’m invoking the Highlights Doctrine here:

Winner: Kyrie skates past Adams, 99–88.

(8) Andre Drummond vs. (9) Kemba Walker

March means 1 thing — it’s Kemba Time!

Winner: Kemba commits Husky-on-Husky crime, 89–80.

The Freaks of Nature Region

Do you like freak athletes? How about unicorns? Great — this region has Durant, Wiggins, Harden, Giannis, KAT, Dirk and Dwight in it.

(1) Kevin Durant vs. (16) Andrew Wiggins

Same as the LeBron-Porzingis matchup — let’s try this again in 3–4 years.

Winner: Durant by 20, 95–75.

(2) James Harden vs. (15) Luol Deng

You could make the argument that Luol Deng is the most overpaid person . . . in America (4 years/$72 Million).

Winner: The Beard by a gazillion, 120–55.

(3) LaMarcus Aldridge vs. (14) George Hill

George Hill has had a career year (17p/3r/4a/20.1 PER) on the quietly impressive Jazz — but he’s missed 27 games. Aldridge (17p/8r/2a/18.3 PER) has only missed 8 games (despite having a scary heart condition) on the NBA’s top team. Sometimes the best ability is availability.

Winner: Aldridge overcomes a double-digit deficit in the 2nd half to win, 79–75.

(4) Paul Millsap vs. (13) Tristan Thompson

In the Under-Appreciated Player Bowl, Millsap gets the nod over TT mostly because of this nonsense:

Thompson and Khloe Kardashian (Mirror)

Winner: Millsap, 80–75.

(5) Klay Thompson vs. (12) Giannis Antetokounmpo

Poor Klay Thompson drew the worst 1st-round matchup in the entire tournament. But instead of feeling bad for Klay, let us marvel at the size of the Greek Freak’s hands:

(Larry Brown Sports/ESPN)

Winner: Giannis wins a wild one, 86–83.

(6) Karl Anthony-Towns vs. (11) Pau Gasol

Anyone who hasn’t seen KAT play much this season should take a look at this excellent piece on his 2nd season by The Ringer’s Kevin O'Connor:

This guy’s ceiling is way up there — like in the Hakeem/Shaq/Duncan range.

Winner: KAT wins easily, 90–77.

(7) Gordon Hayward vs. (10) Brook Lopez

Let’s play “Guess which player is 7 feet tall”:

Player A: 22p/6r/4a/47% FG

Player B: 21p/5r/2a/ 47% FG

Player B is Brook Lopez. Brook Lopez is 7 feet, 275 lbs. and averages less than 1.5 rebounds per quarter!

Winner: Hayward handles his business, 82–72.

(8) Dirk Nowitzki vs. (9) Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard is having a better season, but he is, by all accounts, an insufferable person to be around. Thus, instead of discussing Dwight, let’s learn about why Dirk’s patented fadeaway jumper is so unstoppable:

(youtube/ESPN)

Winner: Dwight by a couple, 76–72.

The Hurt or Injured Region

No one likes injuries, but for whatever reason, this region is packed with players who missed significant amounts of time this season — Blake Griffin, Kyle Lowry, Al Horford, Mike Conley, Kevin Love, and Khris Middleton. Good thing it also features The Terminator — Kawhi Leonard.

(1) Steph Curry vs. (16) Zach Randolph

Imagine if a team Steph Currys played against a team of Zach Randolphs . . . Team Curry would hit 40 three-pointers on their way to a 140–112 victory . . . however, Team Curry would play the last 8 minutes of the game with only 4 “healthy” Currys and the last 3 minutes with only 3 “healthy” Currys.

Winner: Curry, 140–112.

(2) Kawhi Leonard vs. (15) Goran Dragic

This is 1 of the greatest sequences of basketball by an individual player I’ve ever seen:

Winner: Kawhi, 94–82.

(3) Blake Griffin vs. (14) Jeff Teague

When healthy, Griffin has been pretty spectacular this season. He’s missed 20 games, but I’ll still take Griffin’s 22p/9r/5a/22.5 PER for 47 games of 67 games over Teague’s 15p/4r/8a/18.9 PER for 67 games.

Winner: Blake in a close game, 83–80.

(4) Kyle Lowry vs. (13) Jae Crowder

I made the mistake of getting lost in the stats in my Who is the 2nd Best Player in the Eastern Conference article earlier this season and did not include Lowry in my rankings. Lesson learned — Crowder is one of the best values in the league, but Lowry is one of the best guards in the league.

Winner: Lowry, 86–80.

(5) Al Horford vs. (12) Eric Bledsoe

Bledsoe’s 2016–17 season is like that unknown 12-seed who is talented and athletic, but undersized at every position — it could pull-off an upset, possibly 2 — but, ultimately, the team will run into another team with future NBA players at most positions who will lock them up.

Winner: Bledsoe’s statistics>Horford’s team play in 2017, 90–86.

(6) Marc Gasol vs. (11) Serge Ibaka

Did you know that these 2 are teammates on Spain’s national team? Ibaka spent the first half of the season on sabbatical a/k/a the Orlando Magic while Gasol has enjoyed possibly his finest season. And he can shoot 3s now.

Winner: Gasol shimmies his way to victory, 83–75.

(7) Mike Conley vs. (10) Khris Middleton

Conley — this “poor” guy (well, besides the quarter-billion dollar contract he signed this past July) may not be able to catch a break in the All-Star vote, but he catches a break here because Middleton has missed over 50 games this season with a torn hamstring. Sad!y (😉) for Conley, he has to square-off against Kawhi Leonard in the 2nd round.

Winner: Conley with an easy victory, 85–70.

(8) Kevin Love vs. (9) Hassan Whiteside

Even though Whiteside has put up a 17p/14r/2b/21.8 PER statistical masterpiece, Kevin Love was on track to still advance before he was injured. Unfortunately for Love — sometimes the best ability is availability.

Winner: Whiteside with a late comeback, 78–76.


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