With only a few weeks remaining in the season and the playoffs just around the corner, it’s the perfect time of year to discuss who should be the league’s Most Valuable Player. Or at least it should be, but with NBA fans, writers, players and coaches always seemingly anointing the award months in advance — Derrick Rose’s assumed win as of about three-four weeks after the All-Star break actually registers as somewhat late notice by NBA standards — there’s actually no real point in having further deliberations as to who deserves the flawed award.

Instead, what I want to talk about here is a distinction less singular, but one nearly as important as winning the league’s actual Most Valuable Player honors — meriting a regular chant of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” while shooting from the free throw line at home games.

Any basketball fan will tell you that, surely, these honors are far from one and the same. Whereas the league MVP award is only given out to one player at one time, the “M-V-P!” chant may come and go for as many as 10-12 players over the course of a given season. Over the years, the chant has evolved from a fanbase wishing to inform a player that they believe him to truly be the most valuable player in the league, to that fanbase trying to send all kinds of diverse messages, ranging from “Hey, great season you’re having” to “Damn, that dunk was pretty cool” to “Me and my friends are bored, so we’re gonna chant something obnoxious to try to start shit with the dude sitting in front of us.” It’s gotten to the point where the chant has come close to losing all meaning, and that’s something of a shame. It’s time to figure out which players right now are truly deserving of the “M-V-P!” chant, and which need something a little more creative.

So what makes a player worthy of receiving the “M-V-P!” chant? Well, I’ve written about this extensively elsewhere, but to sum up, to be in the discussion for “M-V-P!” honors, you have to fit into at least one of the following categories:

  1. Arguable league MVP candidate.
  2. Past MVP winner, still playing at high level on a good team.
  3. Clear franchise player on contending playoff team.
  4. Huge disappointment having a slightly above-average game.
  5. Great player in the midst of a career-defining game.

The first three are the more obvious qualifications, the fourth one a sarcastic one, and the fifth the trickiest to define. For the purposes of this article we’re going to mostly focus on the first three, and break down the cases of a number of players who have either been mentioned in the MVP discussion, have received “M-V-P!” chants over the course of this season, or haven’t gotten much of either but could make a convincing case nonetheless. Don’t go to your team’s next home game without reading — unless, of course, you’re a fan of the Nets, Raptors, Cavaliers, Sixers, Pacers, Rockets, Kings, Bobcats, Pistons, Nuggets, Jazz, Wizards or Grizzlies, in which case, you’re probably not too worried about being inspired to recklessly fire one of these off. You guys can skip to the bottom.

1. Derrick Rose
Getting this one out of the way early, because it’s boring and a no-brainer. Rose is clearly the best, most important and most fan-beloved player on his team, he’s playing for a legitimate contender, he’s had two or three career-defining games this season alone and we all know he’s gonna win the actual thing in a couple months’ time anyway. Chant away, Chicago faithful.

Verdict: “M-V-P! M-V-P!”

2. Dwight Howard
The only other player in the league with a case as absolutely bulletproof as Rose’s — and perhaps not coincidentally, one of the few players presenting any kind of threat to him winning the league MVP. Also the best, most important and most fan-beloved player on his team, and by a much more considerable margin to the rest of the Magic than Rose is to the rest of the Bulls. The only thing that makes this slightly imperfect is how lousy Howard’s free-throw shooting is (under 60 percent for his career), resulting in a lot of awkward “M-V-P! M-V-…..awwwwww“-type chant interruptions. Unfortunate, but it’s hardly Dwight’s fault that the fans never want to serenade a player while he’s grabbing defensive boards and skying for alley-oops.

Verdict: “M-V-P! M-V-P!”

3. LeBron James
The third player most frequently mentioned in the straight-up MVP discussion makes for the most debatable “M-V-P!” case. By qualifications 1 and 2 (clear MVP candidate and past winner) LeBron would appear to undoubtedly qualify, but he’s made things tricky by jumping teams (rule No. 2 really applies mostly to those players who stuck with the team they won the MVP for) and joining with a teammate whose perennial MVP case is nearly as strong as his is, making LeBron a huge fail for qualification No. 3. Still, with the past wins, the incredible personal stats and the fact that he very well could be walking away with the trophy itself if he hadn’t generated more bad publicity in the past 12 months than any player since Kobe in ’03-’04 … you might let some of that shit slide.

Verdict: “M-V-P!”

4. Amar’e Stoudemire
A guy who was probably getting the loudest “M-V-P!” chants in the league as the calendar year turned over to 2011 — and I’ve been to games this year at the Garden where he was getting them not just during free throws, but at dead balls, time outs and post-game conferences — Amar’e's once rock-solid case for meriting the “M-V-P!” chant has taken a huge hit since Carmelo Anthony came to town. Not only has the team started losing so much that no Knick could conceivably win an MVP award at this point, but the “clear franchise player” role has been muddied as well — it’s Melo pictured on the huge billboard outside MSG now, and it’s Melo that usually gets the ball at the end of games to try to carry the Knicks to victory. It’s a shame, because Stoudemire’s emergence as a leader and fan-favorite in NY was one of the best stories of the season’s first half, but on the new-look Knicks, he had to sacrifice more than stats to try to mesh with his new All-Star teammate.

Verdict: Shhhhh…

5. Dirk Nowitzki
A guy whose once-arguable case for the MVP trophy has gone limp over the year as his personal stats and his team’s record have both sagged, Dirk can take comfort in knowing that his case for “M-V-P!” showering at the American Airlines Center remains stronger than everyone in the league’s outside of Dwight and D-Rose. Not only does he hit the best/most important/most-beloved trifecta with the Mavs by a country mile, but he’s a former hardware-winner as well, still playing at a fairly elite level. Plus, what guy do you have more faith in to actually hit the free throws while you’re chanting for him? Easy peasy.

Verdict: “M-V-P! M-V-P!”

6. Dwyane Wade
Sorry, Dwyane, you know the rules — only one per team, and despite it still being “your team” by most accounts, LeBron has to get the edge on account of the slightly-superior stats and the already-occupied mantelpiece. Don’t worry, Bosh won’t be getting ‘em either. And besides, you’ve still got LBJ on rings, and very likely always will.

Verdict: Shhhhhh…

7. Kevin Durant
The presumptive MVP in the preseason, nobody really talks about Kevin Durant as a candidate for the award this year, due to both his stats and team record being great, but not quite as great as everyone seemed to expect. Even with that disappointment, however, Durant remains a solid choice for “M-V-P!” chants, being the franchise player on a 50-plus win team, and one who could go off for 40 on just about any given night, all but forcing the hometown fans to chant something. You could argue that Russell Westbrook’s emergence as a fellow elite player this season could quell this some, but nobody (including Russ himself) would dispute Durant’s place on top of the Thunder hierarchy, making West’s breakthrough something of a non-issue.

Verdict: “M-V-P!”

8. Kobe Bryant
Still frequently talked about as one of the best players in the game, it nonetheless seems likely that Kobe’s days of being seriously considered as an MVP candidate are well behind him. But as the longest-tenured and most career-successful player on this list, Kobe seems likely to be showered with “M-V-P!” chants right up until his last home game at the Staples Center. Talk about Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum being more important to the team’s success than No. 24 these days if you’d like — and you could very well be right — but fact of the matter is it’d be absolutely unthinkable for anyone else on this team to ever get a single “M-V-P!” serenade while the Mamba is still in the building. And with Kobe’s resume, and his still playing at a high level, it’s hard to argue with that.

Verdict: “M-V-P!”

9. Monta Ellis / Kevin Love
Two anointed franchise players having incredible statistical seasons and sporadically receiving the “M-V-P!’ designation from their fanbases, but both of whom are a little too far removed from the actual discussion to be meriting that kind of love. Though both have had games to make them temporary qualifiers under the No. 5 reasoning — particularly Love’s 31/31 against the Knicks and Ellis’s 39-pointer on Christmas — the one-way play of each and their respective teams’ well below .500 records sink their “M-V-P!” cases, as far as I’m concerned. They’re certainly deserving of fan-chanting in general, but this particular chant just isn’t happening.

Verdict: Shhhhhh…

10. Steve Nash / Tim Duncan
Maybe the toughest cases to debate of anyone in the league, because neither is even mentioned in passing as a legitimate MVP candidate anymore, and Duncan isn’t even the most productive player on his team this year. But as a couple of multiple MVP winners, who have come to define their respective teams as arguably no other players in franchise history have done, and who still get it done on a fairly regular basis, could you really deny them this, should their fanbases be willing to provide? It’s too close to call in totality, so maybe it needs to be taken on a game-by-game basis.

Verdict: “M-V-P!” on a night of particular turn-back-the-clock dominance, Shhhhh… all other times.

***

Now that we’ve clearly delineated the players who are undoubtedly deserving of the “M-V-P!” chant, let’s take a moment to address how stupid it is that this is the only chant that 99 percent of NBA fans have in their arsenal with which to reward their players’ performances. It’s true that nothing else lands quite as resoundingly as the “M-V-P!” chant, but hey, not everyone can be the league’s most valuable player, and plenty of players not worthy of that distinction can still be damn deserving of some kind of distinction. So what other stadium-wide three-syllable choruses should fans be treating their beloved players to?

1. “R-O-Y! R-O-Y!”
Before Blake Griffin graduates to being “M-V-P!” worthy in a couple of seasons, it seems almost cruel to not let the Clipper fans be treated to this once-in-a-generation marvel show their appreciation the best way they know how. So chant him for the award he deserves and will almost certainly get. He’ll know what it means, trust me.

Properly Used For: Griffin, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins

2. “M-I-P! M-I-P!
True that nobody cares who actually wins this award, and that the choice of winner is usually somewhat dumb. But fans don’t have to be so literal with it — it should just be used for players who aren’t quite at MVP level yet (if they ever will be), but who took that big step this season, jumped up a tier in the league rankings and made the season that much more fun to watch in the process.

Properly Used For: LaMarcus Aldridge, Russell Westbrook, Rudy Gay (pre-injury)

3. “A-S-G! A-S-G!”
Best used pre-All-Star for players deserving of making it, and post All-Star for those who actually did make it. (Feels a little hollow otherwise.) Just a way to let your guy know that while he’s not quite an “M-V-P!” guy, you’re aware of his perceived status as being among the league’s best, think it’s a damn right fit, and plan on having him rep your team in the mid-season classic for the foreseeable future.

Properly Used For: Al Horford, Manu Ginobili, Deron Williams

4. “LOVE THIS GUY! LOVE THIS GUY!”
A chant reserved for those who did not make the All-Star team and likely never will, but who proved to be unexpected contributors and emerging fan favorites to their respective teams nonetheless. These guys are perhaps the most deserving of all for such chants, as their efforts will undoubtedly go unrewarded around the year-end award sweep, despite filling the NBA season with the detail and character missing in between the broader strokes.

Properly Used For: Kris Humphries, DeAndre Jordan, Tony Allen

5. “THANK YOU ____! THANK YOU ____!” Sometimes, you just gotta show your appreciation by showing your appreciation. With a couple of guys in the league, there’s really nothing to say but thank you. Thanks for giving us your all this season, thanks for providing a reason to watch even when the rest of the team was painful, thanks for sticking with us and not selling out our team or city, thanks for giving us hope for next year. It’s important to occasionally let ‘em know straight up, you know?

Properly Used For: Amar’e Stoudemire, Kevin Love, Monta Ellis

Well, now that you all know, I expect you to spread the word in time for the playoffs. Print out a couple thousand copies of this article and hand them out at the season’s remaining home games if you must. The postseason is not a time for intra-fanbase confusion, no sir.