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Spurs mailbag: Kawhi’s MVP chances, free agent point guards, tacos

Answering fan questions in the first-ever PtR mailbag.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Pounding the Rock’s first Spurs mailbag. You can tweet your questions for the next mailbag using the hashtags #AskPtR or #AskQ.

Let’s do this thing.

At this point, we are all familiar with Kawhi Leonard’s case for the Most Valuable Player award. He’s the best player on a 60-win team; he’s a destructive perimeter defender opposing teams avoid like the Black Death; he’s ridiculously efficient on every shot type; he’s made several big shots in big moments; he has dope cornrows.

Smart basketball people are jumping in on the bandwagon, too. Read this or this or this or this for your Kawhi MVP fix.

His claim to the MVP throne is not what we are talking about, though. The thornier question is what, exactly, are Kawhi’s chances to steal the award away from Russell Westbrook, James Harden and LeBron James?

We could use Basketball Reference’s MVP award tracker — a statistical model which bakes in previous voting results and churns out a percentage — to create a baseline for Kawhi’s chances. The formula spits out six percent for Kawhi, sixth-highest in the league behind Harden, Kevin Durant, Westbrook, James and Curry.

That’s far too low. We can safely eliminate Durant (didn’t play enough games) from this discussion and Curry, who has a solid claim for the fifth spot.

Now, it’s certainly possible that Kawhi steals the MVP by virtue of second-place votes. He fits the traditional mold of a MVP candidate. He is who voters have been trained to reward based on historical context. Even if Westbrook or Harden garner more first-place votes, Kawhi could find himself with a sneaky-high number of second place votes, which could put him over the top if enough media members don’t gravitate towards Westbrook or Harden.

For that reason, I put Kawhi’s chances of winning MVP at 15-20 percent.

Kawhi improved his scoring average for a sixth consecutive season, along with increases in assists (3.5), 3-pointers (2.0), Player Efficiency Rating (27.7) and usage rate (31.2).

He’s been markedly better than last year, when he finished second in MVP voting. But he shouldn’t be a frontrunner for the Most Improved Player award. Giannis Antetokounmpo has improved more. So has Nikola Jokic. And Isaiah Thomas. James Johnson is garnering serious consideration for the award, too.

MIP always has a long list of candidates fitting the bill. Kawhi won’t win, even though he’s managed to make another leap in his game.

No, I don’t think Dewayne Dedmon’s playoff inexperience should affect him. He’s a different type of player than Boban Marjanovic (obviously).

Since Dedmon joined starting lineup, San Antonio’s top-ranked defense has elevated to a new level. He’s been the perfect big man complement to LaMarcus Aldridge.

Marjanovic, as good as he was last season, remained a gadget player Gregg Popovich deployed in low-leverage regular season games. He wasn’t fit for the rigors of postseason play, because opposing teams could roast him in pick-and-rolls over and over again. Dedmon does not have that weakness. He’ll be valuable in any playoff series.

Let’s survey for the current market for big men. Timofey Mozgov signed a four-year, $64 million contract last offseason. Joakim Noah and Bismack Biyombo inked four-year, $72 million deals.

Those big men aren’t too good at basketball; Dedmon, a big men with a pliable skill set, is actually very good. Plus, another hike in the salary cap this offseason will increase player salaries in an already inflated big man market.

So Dedmon is gonna get paid. He should expect at least $15 million per season, given the precedent set by the NBA. Anything less would be pennies on the dollar.

Just a rough guesstimation of the Spurs frontcourt rotation in the playoffs: Aldridge (33 minutes), Dedmon (23 minutes), Gasol (23 minutes), Lee (17 minutes). I have no idea about Davis Bertans’ playoff usage, nor do I even want to venture a guess. Anything is in play with Pop.

At first, Aldridge popped into my head. He’s from Texas, played college basketball at the University of Texas and now he plays professional basketball for the Spurs. Texas eating establishments are quite good at making tacos. With years of taco experience, he’s the logical frontrunner.

But then I thought about Kyle Anderson. He’s 6-foot-9, 230 pounds; Boris Diaw is (listed) at 6-feet-8, 250 pounds. Kyle has the build to be a quality eater in the league.

Second point: Anderson runs really slow compared to his NBA peers. Perhaps it’s because he chows down on al pastor tacos during his off time?

This is a question better suited for Spurs draft connoisseur Trevor Zickgraf, but I’ll take a stab anyway.

From my extensive experience watching college basketball the one college basketball game I watched this season, I really liked Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss. He averaged 16.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.1 3-pointers per game on a team that lost just two games all season. He even made a Tim Duncan-esque bank shot in the national championship game, so he’s pretty much a lock for the Hall of Fame.

Patty Mills. Because he’s perfect.

Say what you want about the man, but Tony Parker is still an important player for this postseason run. He’ll need to sustain positive production for the Spurs when he’s paired against the elite point guards in the league. Which is basically every team in the Western Conference.

It’s not Dejounte Murray’s time yet. But it might be soon.

Let’s go with 20 minutes per game — 25 max. Anything more figures to stretch their old-man bodies to the physical brink. Anything less feels like they are being under utilized.

Woah boy, the 2017 free agency class is stacked at point guard. There’s three distinct tiers of point guards available:

  1. Elite-level: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry.
  2. Starter-level: Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Jeff Teague, Derrick Rose, Patty Mills.
  3. Bench contributors: Shaun Livingston, Darren Collison, Brandon Jennings, Langston Galloway, Deron Williams.

It’s safe to cross Curry, Paul and Lowry off the Spurs point guard wish list. That leaves Holiday, Hill, Teague and Rose (yuck) if the Spurs want to nab a starter-level point guard in free agency.

My personal favorite among the crop is Hill, a 32-year-old point guard with past Spurs experience and a well-rounded game. It’s worth noting, though, that Tony Parker is still on the books for $15.5 million next year. Unless he retires (unlikely) and Mills walks too, San Antonio won’t have enough cap resources or the willingness to dive into the point guard free agent pool.

Q: Would you sacrifice eating Whataburger again if it meant getting a young Tim Duncan back? — Alfred Herrera

Absolutely yes. 100 percent without hesitation. And if you didn’t think I was serious enough, I’d even give up Whataburger for the rest of my life AND willingly eat at Burger King five times a week if we could get another 20 years of young Tim Duncan.

I’d take one for the team. You’re welcome, Spurs fans.

And that’s a wrap. Until next time ...