Many years, the NBA's Most Valuable Player is a slam dunk.
This year, the race for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy is as wide open as any season in recent memory.
If you think "valuable" is the operative word, Boston's Kevin Garnett is your man. Backers of New Orleans' Chris Paul point to his gaudy scoring and assist totals as well as the Hornets' impressive turnaround. The Lakers' Kobe Bryant may be the frontrunner as he's carried his club to surprising heights with arguably his two best teammates, Andrew Bynum and mid-season addition Pau Gasol, missing significant time. Sometimes overlooked is LeBron James, who puts up the numbers night after night while being facing constant double teams due to his mediocre supporting cast.
Here is a closer look at the candidates.
Kevin Garnett, Boston
It's impossible to overstate KG's impact since he was acquired in the offseason blockbuster from Minnesota for budding star Al Jefferson and several role players.
After winning 24 games in 2006-07, they've smashed the league record for improvement in one season, sold out every home game, and brought back a sector of fans who haven't watched the NBA since the Celtics were good in the early '90s.
Fueled by his passion, winning attitude, determination and dominance, the Celtics equalled last year's win total on Dec. 27. Sure, Ray Allen has helped. But take Garnett off the Celtics and Allen and Paul Pierce are lottery bound. And Boston's league-best record can't be disputed because it plays in the Eastern Conference. The 64-16 Celtics are even more dominant against the big, bad West (39-11, .780 winning percentage in the East, 25-5, .833 vs. the West).
Defense sets KG apart from most MVP candidates.
When asked about the Defensive Player of the Year award, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, "That shouldn't be a debate."