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Daily Babble: Four Non-MVP Candidates Who Mean Plenty To Their Respective Teams

On one hand, it is only January, and already MVP talk is heating up.  On the other hand, we're in the middle of January, so what better to do than babble about who will take home the individual hardware come summer?

Fair points from both sides.  So we'll firmly sit the fence this time around and settle for the middle ground, in which we give you four guys (not named Howard, Paul, James, Garnett or Bryant) who won't legitimately compete for the trophy but who do make all the difference in the world to their respective teams:

Jamaal Tinsley, Indiana:  The Pacers surprised many by jumping off to a 15-13 start under new head coach Jim O'Brien.  The on-court catalyst?  Their improved point guard.  Tinsley is still as putrid a shooter as ever, but he is moving the ball with a fervor not seen since the very beginning of his career (dishing 8.7 dimes per game), getting his points, controlling the offense with more authority than ever before and -- the occasional shooting excepted -- doing his best to stay away from the types of bad decisions and situations that got him labeled a head case in the first place.  It comes as no shock that of the Pacers' recent 1-6 string, Tinsley only suited up for the first two games before being sat down with injuries.  The man has been playing while banged up all season, and one can expect the Pacers to become far more dangerous once he returns to displace neophyte (hey, Walt) Andre Owens from the lineup.

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Joe Johnson, Atlanta:  Yes, the shooting percentages and the scoring numbers are down.  But Johnson is still the Hawks' unquestioned offensive leader with his 21.3 points per game, and he has also become far more of a team leader than ever before.  Johnson seems to be finally understanding that he is part of a growing movement in Atlanta rather than a man simply out to collect his points and his paycheck, and the new 'tude can only be helping his young team's play.

Chauncey Billups, Detroit:  Up until a rough patch at the end of the loss to the Celtics on Saturday night, Billups had done just about everything right this year as he looked to rebound from his disastrously poor showing in last season's Eastern Conference Finals.  He has just slightly upped his scoring and assists from last season, but his field-goal and three-point percentages are considerably higher, he is playing great defense, and most importantly, Billups is leading the most efficient offense in basketball.  Chauncey isn't turning the ball over much, and he is getting it to Tayshaun Prince, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Jason Maxiell and others in all the right places. His revival from the end of last season has been a huge factor in this team's early-season success.

Caron Butler, Washington:  Perhaps the single most unsung player in the league this year.  He will be an All-Star this season, and people will begin saying his name with more regularity, but it will take quite a bit for the lookalike for Malakai from "Save the Last Dance" to get the props he deserves.  All Butler has done this season is turn himself into Superman and the heart and soul of the Wizards in the absence of the Hibachi in the process.  He scores (22.2 points per game), boards (6.8 rebounds per) and shares the rock (4.6 assists per), and he does his offensive work with great efficacy.  Butler is shooting over 50 percent from the field, over 40 percent from deep and close to 90 percent from the line.  He has heightened both his offensive arsenal and his defensive effort, and those efforts have both set a great example for his teammates and helped this team to keep chugging on even without Arenas.  Somehow, the Wiz sit at 17-15, and Butler is in no small part responsible for much of that record.



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