Baker's Dozen - Remembering Kobe & the MVP Race

Welcome to the 3rd edition of Baker’s Dozen. As I did previously, I’ll go over stories that impacted the association this week, as well as some miscellaneous views and opinions. Enjoy...

NBA Reflects on 1st Anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s Death

This week marked the 1st anniversary of the tragic helicopter crash that killed 9 people, including Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Many in the NBA took to the socials to express their feelings on January 26th. One of my favorite pieces was this one about the relationship between Kobe and Spanish big man Pau Gasol. I find it interesting so few players were able to sneak inside the harsh exterior of the Black Mamba and become friends. Gasol was one of them. It appears that Gasol will be one of Kobe’s best spokesman post-mortem, providing fans with a glimpse into the softer side of Kobe.

As a kid growing up in Toronto, watching Cabbie on the Street was a weekly highlight. Cabral "Cabbie" Richards was the coolest guy on TV and always had a way of getting professional athletes to open up. He has a charming ability to make superstars seem like regular, everyday people. One of the biggest stars he encountered and befriended was Kobe Bryant. Their interviews are legendary. Check out one of them below. 

Cabbie was featured in an excellent article from The Undefeated, about the impact that Kobe made through a variety of different stories. Check it out here. One article I read this week that hit particularly close to home was the story of the Lakers finding out about the news on their team plane. 

Lastly, on a lighter note, Kobe was involved in one of my favorite commercials of all time. For me, his deadpan expression is on-point and it's a subtly funny commercial. 

MVP Race

Let's take a look below at the MVP race follow the first quarter of the NBA season. 
  1. Joel Embiid - Embiid is having his most impactful season in the NBA thus far, leading the Philadelphia 76ers to a 14-6 record and the top spot in the Eastern Conference, while averaging 28.3 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.3 bpg on a career-high 54.4 FG%. He’s been clutch (hitting the game-tying shot versus Miami with 3.3 seconds left), dominant (monster back to back performances in wins versus Boston - 42 points/10 rebounds & 38 points/11 rebounds) and healthy (he’s played in 16/20 games thus far this year). What more does the big fella from Cameroon need to do to be considered the MVP?  
  2. LeBron James - What else is new? LBJ doing LBJ things. The best player in the game continues to hum along nicely at age 36. LeBron is averaging 25.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 7.5 apg, while playing in a career-low 33.3 mpg. The Lakers are sitting 3rd in the Western Conference at 15-6 and look as strong as ever, while James watches the fuel that's left in his nearly inexhaustible tank. Is there anyone that you would rather have play for your life in today's NBA? 
  3. Stephen Curry - playing on a team that is missing Klay Thompson, with a diminished Draymond Green (is he punking everyone and waiting for next season to be good again?) and a rookie center, Chef Curry is leading his Warriors. At 11-9, the Dubs are tied for 8th place in the Western Conference prior to their game on Sunday night. Steph is averaging 27.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 6.1 apg with a unreal 40.8 3P%. Besides his on-court highlights, Steph has been mentoring #2 overall pick James Wiseman, lauding the young franchise talent for his mindset after being sent to the bench after starting the first 16 games of the season - "For a young guy like that to see it the right way, it means a lot. I told him that in the locker room after the game. It's not a guarantee that in this league guys are going to handle it the way he did." Chef Curry knows his way around all parts of the kitchen. 
  4. Nikola Jokic - While teammate Jamal Murray hasn't exactly lived up to last year's Playoff performance (how could he?), Jokic has been putting up monster numbers: 25.7 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 8.7 apg & 1.7 spg - all career-highs. The Joker knows that he can decimate teams with either his scoring ability, if left guarded 1-on-1, or his passing if another defender comes to double him. He's a nasty proposition to deal with. If the Nuggets continue to sit near the top of the Western Conference (presently 4th at 11-8), look for Jokic to gain some traction in the MVP race. 
  5. Luka Doncic – When you're averaging damn near a triple-double on the season, you have to be included in the MVP conversation, right? Unfortunately for Luka, Dallas is floundering at 8-12 to start the season, which isn't helping his cause, despite putting up completely ridiculous numbers: 27.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg & 9.4 apg. If the Mavericks don't pick it up soon, Doncic won't find himself involved in the MVP vote this year. 
Player on the MVP radar: Damien Lillard - did you see his Reggie Miller-esque performance in Portland's much-needed win against Chicago? In the five games since CJ McCollum went down, Dame is averaging a ludicrous 34.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 8.4 apg on 49.5 FG%. If he can keep Portland afloat while CJ is out, he will be deserving of more MVP chatter. 

Players you won’t see on my MVP radar this year: Giannis Antetokounmpo - he’s not winning a 3rd straight MVP for the simple fact that he hasn’t backed up his first two in the playoffs. He could average 40/20/10 and I wouldn’t vote for him.

Line of the Week: While Luka Doncic (35 points, 11 rebounds, 16 assists & 4 steals) and Rudy Gobert (29 points, 20 rebounds, 3 steals & 3 blocks) both had outstanding lines, we have to give this week's number one spot to LeBron James for putting up a season-high 46 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals & 2 blocks while hitting 7 3-balls in a win versus Cleveland.

Have a question for Tom? Send an email to and I'll answer as many as I can in our first mailbag article coming soon. 

Check out previous columns:

January 24, 2021: Baker's Dozen - CJ's Injury, Playoff-bound Knicks & Most Improved Player Rankings

Photo Credit: Harrison Hill via Imagn Content Services, LLC