Durant over Lebron for MVP? Better Believe it.

The conventional wisdom is that Lebron James has already wrapped up the MVP award.

With Kobe Bryant being unable to compete at the level necessary to merit the award because of injuries, Lebron James had a clear path to grab the award for the second consecutive year after the Cavaliers demolished the Lakers for the second time in as many tries last month. Then Cavs point guard, Mo Williams, went down with an injury along with Cavs guard, Delonte West, who has not been playing. How does Lebron respond? By become the best playmaker in the league by averaging over 10 assists since Mo Williams went down. Even more amazing, Lebron has taken over the NBA scoring lead in that same span. Lebron’s PER this season is 31.64 and if he keeps it at that pace, it’ll be a top 5 PER of all time. The only other players in the top 5 in PER? Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. That’s how good Lebron James is this season. That the Cavs are the best team in the league record wise and that James is routinely considered, along with Kobe Bryant, to be the best player in the league only helps his case.  Add all this to the fact that the Lakers have been playing superb without Kobe and it seems difficult to see anyone challenging Lebron James for MVP honors.

Enter Kevin Durant.

I’m going to put it out there. If the Oklahoma City Thunder win 50 games, my vote would go to Kevin Durant. The Oklahoma City Thunder are on pace for 48 wins right now, but John Hollinger’s nifty ESPN playoff predictor has the Thunder winning 50 games by season end. Perhaps that didn’t register. The Oklahoma City Thunder might win 50 games this season!

If it still hasn’t registered, let me kindly put it in perspective. The Oklahoma City Thunder were supposed to be an embarrassment. Mediocre at best. Teams were supposed to look at the Thunder as a gimme win. If a team was in need of a pick-me-up, they would look to the Thunder as a sure victory. And  who could blame them? Last year, the Thunder only won 23 games all season. They’ve already surpassed last season’s win total by 7 wins. If the Thunder make it to 50 wins, then they would have improved by 27 wins. That’s double the number of wins they had all season – and they’d make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference.  No longer are teams going to Oklahoma with a smile on their face. They know what I know. Kevin Durant is a bad, bad man.

It may take a while for the world to notice, but Kevin Durant is a top 5 player in the NBA. He is the reason why the Thunder are playing so well. Give credit to Scott Brooks for infusing this team with a defensive identity and Jeff Green for being a consistent stud, but it is Durant who is the floor general. Durant’s individual play is every bit worthy of MVP honors. He is second in the league in scoring pouring in 29.7 points per game (Lebron is #1 at 29.8) while pulling down 7.4 rebounds per contest. His shooting percentage is 48.5% which is exceptional given the amount of jumpers that he takes. He’s top 5 in PER and he’s been worthy of second team defensive honors this season.

Compared to Lebron, Durant isn’t nearly as dominant statistically. He doesn’t need to be. After winning 66 games last season, Hollinger’s predictive model puts the Cavs finishing at 62 wins – 4 games worse. This is after adding considerable talent to the Cavs roster including Shaquille O’Neal and Anthony Parker. Lebron, for all his stellar player, hasn’t been as good individually as last season either with his PER down a notch this year. As good as Lebron has been and as good as the Cavs are, they are merely meeting expectations. Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder are exceeding expectations.

But here’s what convinced me to put Kevin Durant over Lebron James if the Thunder win 50 games. Lebron plays in the Eastern Conference which is clearly inferior to the tough Western Conference. The Celtics haven’t been nearly as good as expected and Orlando has been considerably worse than last year after losing Hedo Turkolu to the Toronto Raptors. Consider this, the Thunder are 16-6 against the Eastern Conference. That’s almost a 73% win rate. If you put the Thunder in the East, where Lebron James plays, they’d win 55 games. And admit it, if the Thunder won 55 games, you’d have to give the award to Kevin Durant, wouldn’t you? I can’t in good conscience punish Durant for playing in a tougher conference.

Perhaps all this talk about individual play and wins is missing the point, though. Kevin Durant has also given Oklahoma City something to cheer about. A franchise that couldn’t give tickets away a few years ago is selling out 90% of their home games. The team is going to make the playoffs for the first time since they moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City and they are built for the future. Just as Lebron put Cleveland on the map; Durant is doing the same for Oklahoma City. He’s doing it in a tougher conference and massively exceeding expectations.

Next time I see Kevin, my only two words to him will be: MVP, MVP!

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6 Responses to “Durant over Lebron for MVP? Better Believe it.”

  1. Ok, my criticism of your argument starts out pretty cliche, considering every argument over who should be the MVP in every sport proceeds as such – it’s important to consider the specific wording of the award. Most Valuable Player – not “best player,” although the two so often overlap that MVP can be effectively translated that way. My MVP right now would go to LeBron because, in my own opinion, he is more valuable to his organization than any other player is to their own, Kobe included, regardless of injury. I’ll tell you why.

    Kobe could definitely make an argument for the BEST player in the NBA, no question. He’s won multiple championships over his career, and won one last season as the best player on the best team. He also was clearly the best player on the best team of NBA talent there was to assemble in leading the USA to Olympic Gold in Beijing. But, as we’ve seen over the past couple of games, the Lakers are able to beat good teams without Kobe. I’d even go as far to say that, with their current roster, the Lakers would be a playoff team if Kobe were to miss all 82 games this season.

    In contrast, LeBron’s team, as well as Durant’s team (can we agree to officially nickname him KD instead of “the Durantula?” That nickname is about as lame as “The Black Mamba.” Yeah, I said it. What.) wouldn’t even sniff the playoffs in their respective conferences without each player’s presence. I’m not trying to say that they’re totally inept – far from it, every individual NBA player is fantastically good at basketball. It’s just the way that the teams are designed. They each have transcendent, “do-everything” talents, and their teams are built to maximize the effectiveness of that type of player. Based on that, I’d say that both KD and LeBron are more deserving of MVP consideration than Kobe – this season.

    However, that’s not the point you’re making. I think you’d agree with me on that, in spite of your unrequited love for Kobe Bean Bryant. LeBron is far more worthy of consideration for the MVP than KD is, this season, because the Cavaliers are the best team in the league overall this season, and especially right now on the strength of their current extended winning streak. You’ve already cited all the relevant statistics, but what you don’t mention is that this winning streak has continued in spite of the absence of Delonte West as well as Mo Williams. That means that LeBron is playing with a backcourt of backups, himself, the corpse of Shaquille O’Neal as his secondary offensive option, and Anderson “Floor Burns” Varejao. I’m not saying Varejao is terrible – he certanily has value – all I’m saying is that if he and Ben Wallace were running a 2-on-1 fast break against me, I’d focus on Big Ben. And that’s saying something.

    Durant’s lineup, in contrast, isn’t a collection of All-Stars, but it’s serviceable. Russel Westbrook would be an upgrade at PG for probably more than half of the teams in the NBA, and although they’re both undersized, Jeff Green and Nick Collison would be valuable contributors in the post for whatever team you placed them on. They’re certainly not very deep, and don’t have much of a margin for error, but think of it this way – knock out offensive options #2 and #3 for the Thunder, to equate KD’s situation with the one LeBron’s in now. That’d be Westbrook and Green. Do the Thunder go on a win streak? Actually, do the Thunder win ANY games? I’d guess that they would struggle to score against the likes of the Timberwolves and the Nets.

    Really, though, the most important factor is how well each team is doing, and yes, you address that. The Thunder are in a more difficult conference and have greatly improved their record from last season, but the Cavaliers are the class of the league this season, at least to this point. KD’s individual achievements this season are certainly worth recognizing, but that’s why they have a “Most Improved Player” award. The fact is, LeBron’s team is the best in the NBA, and no player has been more critical to his team’s high level of performance than he has. I’m not saying that LeBron is necessarily more important to the Cavaliers than KD is to the Thunder – I’m saying that the Cavaliers are simply better, and comparing each player’s team’s performance to other teams with players in discussion for MVP is critical to determining individual player “value.”

    Think of it this way – the Thunder are analogous to a gently-used BMW, while the Cavaliers are a BMW straight off the lot, and KD and LeBron are each equally-valuable, monetarily, as individual entities, top of the line engines. The gently-used BMW had the same engine as the new one put in it for whatever reason – just take for granted that the engines in each vehicle are equally valuable when compared, taking only the indivudal values of the engines in to account. But, that’s impossible to do, because each engine is a part of a whole. Though each engine is equally important to its respective vehicle, the value of the engine in the used BMW is at least somewhat less than that in the new BMW, simply because the former can’t equal the latter in terms of top-end performance.

    The Cavaliers are firing on all cylinders, to continue my cheesy metaphor, while the Thunder are proving all their doubters wrong. The difference is, the Cavaliers are capable of beating every team in the league, as they’ve demonstrated this season. The Thunder can certainly run with the big boys as evidenced by their contention for a playoff spot, but given their current lineup, I just can’t see them being favored to win against any of the league’s titans this season, like the Lakers, Cavs, Magic, Nuggets, or even the Hawks.

    That’s my semi-coherent response to your well-thought-out defense of why KD should be MVP. Durant is a fantastic player, and I’m certain he’ll win an MVP in his career, as well as a title or two. Neither one will happen this year, though. His team’s performance must improve in order for him to be legitimately considered a better candidate for the MVP award than LeBron, because in spite of injuries, age, and offensive limitations for basically the entirety of the Cavaliers’ roster, LeBron’s team is still the team to beat in the NBA this season.

    • Jackson –

      First, it should be noted that Kobe is not out of the MVP running. He’s banged up. If he plays the last two months of the season as he did the first two months, I’ll forgive his poor January. At the beginning of the season, Kobe was INSANE and he’s hit 4 game winners already. Hard to top that. However, right now, as of today, I have KD first and Lebron second.

      The judgment of what makes a MVP is silly. Personally, I think we should give it to the best player and call it a day. If that were the case, Kobe’d have about 5 of those trophies, but the media has developed sort of an amorphous criteria for what a MVP is.

      Most of the criteria you mentioned, Jackson, are arbitrary. I suggest a better approach.

      Nate’s criteria for MVP: Could the candidate be doing anything more? I know Lebron can do more and I know his team can be better – they were last year. How are you going to add talent and then get worse? Lebron increased his stats last year and led his team to 66 wins. This year, he’s on pace for a lower PER and less wins.

      What more could Durant be doing? He’s going to be among the league leaders in several statistical categories including points and PER. But more important, he’ll improve the Thunder by 27 games if they win 50 games. That’s 33% of a NBAseason.That’s how good he’s been.

      I don’t understand your argument about success. Yeah the Cavs are better, but they have better talent and play in an inferior conference. Surely that contributes to the Cavs success. In other words, do you honestly think the Cavs would be #1 right now if they played in the West? I sure as hell don’t.

      In any event, it is moot because we all know how this story ends. Lebron will put up great stats in the playoffs and fail to win the championship. Good for Lebron. But the simple fact of the matter is that before I give a guy two MVPs (as many as Kobe and Shaq have combined!!!) I want him to be a champion. I know it hurts you Jack, but it is my steve nash rule.

      • dickfingers Says:

        KObe Bryant has hit 4 game winners? how many has he taken? if you really break down the stats (or google it) Kobe is one of the worst clutch time performers in the league. see: last years finals when he had to be saved by fisher and ariza. the media has created a jordan like image when that is the furthest from the truth. he played second fiddle for the first thrree rings and barely won last year. O-ver-ra-ted

      • First, Last year’s finals? Kobe was bailed out? You mean when they won in five games?

        lol.

        Kobe game 1: 40/8/8 – win Kobe game 2: 29/8/4 – win Kobe game 3: 31/8/3 – loss Kobe game 4: 32/7/8 – win Kobe game 5: 30/6/5 – win

        And just so we’re clear, it was Kobe who passed out of the double team so that Fisher could be a hero in game four. Nobody ever talks about that assist, but if Lebron did it, that’s all we would ever hear about.

        Second, your point about Kobe riding Shaq’s coattails is ridiculous. Kobe was the best player in game 7 at Portland in the WCF and brought them back down from 15. His performance in that game was the stuff of legends especially his defense and ball movement in that fourth quarter. In 2001 & 2002, Kobe was best player in the WCF which was the default championship round since the East was so weak. He’s always been a better defender than Shaq and he’s the best closer.

        Your point about Kobe’s clutch statistics is unpersuasive as well. While 82games.com has purported to keep “clutch statistics” their definition of clutch is lacking. Why talk about with 5 minutes left? 5 minutes is almost half a quarter. Let’s talk about with 2 minutes left. Let’s talk about with one minute left. Let’s talk about game winners. That’s clutch to me and the rest of the world. That’s where Kobe’s come through. Empirical evidence in this area is always more persuasive than, as President Bush would say, “fuzzy math.”

        So yeah: 4 rings, 1 MVP, 1 Finals MVP, 8 Defensive First Teams, 10 Defensive teams, 8 All NBA 1st teams, 10 All NBA teams, 12 All Star appearances, 3 all Star MVPs, 6 NBA records, 22 Laker Records, 81 points, 62 in three quarters, 6 finals appareances and top 10 player of all time and counting…overrated? Whatever.

      • dickfingers Says:

        “and he’s the best closer. ” thats my point right there. he is the best closer, but when you go to 82games.com you find out he blows dick in the last 5 minutes of a game, and yeah I would call that clutch time. BUt you still call him “the best closer” why? because he wants the ball. he bounces it off his foot or airballs about 80 out of 100 but you’ll take those 20 game winners and call him the “best closer”.

      • Nate, you make some good points…but you are wrong.

        First, let me say that Kevin Durant is amazing. Kobe and LeBron are the two best players in the game, with Wade a close third. Durant is coming on strong right behind them. He is already the best pure scorer in the game. Last year many bball pundits were saying Melo scored easier than anyone. I didn’t quite know what that meant but I do now, and Durant has supplanted Melo as the “easiest scorer” in the NBA. I still can’t explain it though, so for those of you expecting an explanation, tough luck.

        Durant is still not as good all-around as LeBron is. LeBron makes his teammates better, gets more boards, and is a beast driving to the rim. If Bron so felt inclined, and his body would allow it, he could drive to the hole and get fouled on every position. Also, you assertion that Durant is deserving of 2nd team All-Defense is ridiculous. Does Durant have the ability to be a great defender? Yes. Is he a great defender right now? No. He’s still very young when it comes to playing defense. He’s not great at playing help defense, he’s a liability against stronger forwards in the post, and it seems like he doesn’t care enough about playing D. I believe all this will change with time. With his skill set and length, if Durant can get a little bit stronger and play with more vigor on defense, he can be a poor man’s Scottie Pippen (Before you or anyone else scoffs at this, Pippen was one of the greatest perimeter defenders of all time and the greatest help defender. If you are 70% as good as Pippen was on defense, that’s saying something).

        Speaking of defense, LeBron’s is overrated. People see those amazing come from behind blocks..ahem goaltends…and become blinded. LeBron has all the tools to be a lock down defender but he’s not one. Every once in a while he can lock a player down, but he doesn’t do it on a consistent basis. Whenever an announcer pronounces LeBron as Defensive POY, I want to cut off my ears faster than van Gogh (That’s right, I pulled out a reference to a post-impressionist painter. I’m very well rounded ladies. And fellas…go holler at Jack, especially if you are Canadian and have floppy hair).

        Anyways, it seems to me your main reason for giving Durant the MVP is that he is playing above expectations and his team is far exceeding them. On the other hand, the Cavs are merely meeting expectations, as is LeBron. SO?? You are suffering from the same disease that MVP voters were during the 1993 and 1997 seasons. Both those years Michael Jordan was the best player in the NBA, yet Charles Barkley won in 1993 and Karl Malone in 1997. Why? Because those two years weren’t MJ’s best while Barkley and Malone each had one of their greatest seasons during those years. That doesn’t mean they were the best player in those respective seasons. All it means is, compared to their other seasons, Barkley and Malone exceeded what they had done, while MJ had a normal season by his standards. The thing is, you don’t vote for an MVP by comparing a player to what he did in previous seasons. You vote by comparing a player to his contemporaries during that particular season.

        I agree, LeBron is playing a little worse this year than he was last year. If last year was a 100 then this year is a 97. I also agree that Durant is playing out of his mind this year, and has made the leap. If last year was an 85 then this year is a 95. It’s still not as good as LeBron’s year. Just because a player and his team are far exceeding expectations, while another player and his team are merely meeting expectations doesn’t mean the former player is the MVP. LeBron averaged 28.4pts 7.2asts 7.8rebs last year. For him to exceed those numbers to the same degree that Durant has exceeded his numbers from last year, LeBron would have to put up a 40/15/15 every night. Cleveland went 66-16 last year. For them to exceed expectations to the same degree that the Thunder have exceeded them, the Cavs would have to go 82-0 and win every game by 10+ points. That’s ridiculous. Preseason predictions and expectations should have nothing to do with determining MVP. All they should do is show how stupid people are who make them.

        To end this, I want to share some words from a very wise man: “Let’s be real. Lebron James is currently the best player in the NBA. It isn’t even close.” Ohhhh wait. Those aren’t words from a wise man. They are from you.

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