Do Thunder Have MVP And Sixth Man Winners?
This is the time of year when low rumbles morph into loud speculations about who will win the various NBA performance awards. Following the conclusion of the regular season later this month, the Most Valuable Player, Sixth Man of the Year, and so on, will be named.
A few of the likely MVP candidates include LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Love; players such as Jason Terry, James Harden and Lou Williams are a few who have garnered Sixth Man consideration.
It’s rare that one team produces both an MVP player and the league’s Sixth Man in a single season. In the 1995-96 season, Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan and Toni Kukoc grabbed the titles, respectively. The Bulls went on to win the championship. Ten years before that, Larry Bird and Bill Walton of the Boston Celtics were honored with the awards. Their team also won the title that season, in 1985-86. (writer’s note – most recently Allen Iverson and Aaron McKie won in 2000-01, but Sixers didn’t win the title)
Could the Oklahoma City Thunder end up being the first NBA team in 11 years with both the MVP and Sixth Man?
“Of course, that would be two great accomplishments,” Harden told HOOPSWORLD. “But we’ve still got 14 or so games left, so we’ve just got to finish the season out strong and let the cards fall where they are.”
“I think it would be awesome,” said teammate Cole Aldrich. “I think that those guys have worked hard. This team has worked very hard for them to get those honors. It’s great to get individual awards and all that. It speaks highly of those guys, and it speaks highly of our team and our organization.”
Recently the league’s reigning MVP, Derrick Rose, said he believes the Most Valuable Player frontrunner is Durant. Despite Durant’s tendency to waive off such suggestions, you can’t argue that his impressive stats and defensive improvement warrant consideration.
The three-time All-Star is averaging 27.5 points (second behind Bryant) and 1.9 in three-pointers, plus he’s logging career-highs in rebounds (8.2), assists (3.5), blocks (1.1) and field-goal shooting (.502).
Durant was also recently named the 2012 NBA All-Star Game MVP.
“You can probably mark the conversation down for the next decade or so,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “The guy is only going to get better. He’s about winning. If you’re one the better players and you’re winning – the way we’re winning – he’s always going to be in consideration.”
Then Brooks told us something unexpected.
“I don’t talk to him about it. He’s never mentioned it to me.”
In fact, that was a common thread shared by certain players in the locker room.
“It’s one of those things where all the writers are kind of getting excited at the end of the season and MVP,” explained Aldrich. “For us, it’s a very, very, very, very small topic. We’re just out here playing; we’re out here having fun. We’re just enjoying each other’s presence every day and just going on the court and getting better. It’s all we can worry about.”
“The funny thing is, it’s never been brought up here,” added guard Reggie Jackson. “We’ve never talked about it. I don’t think we even think about it. I keep seeing people tweet about it – I may see it on ESPN – but I never even actually thought about it. He does so much for this team that I really think he deserves it. I’m really hoping he gets it.
“I think we’re all pulling for him and everything he’s done for us,” he continued. “Of course, I believe (he’s) one of the best athletes in the league. I don’t really think he’s thinking about it. If it happens, I think it would be well-warranted.”
Is it too early to even make such grand predictions?
“No, it’s not too early,” answered Daequan Cook. “He’s been improving all year. He’s at that level now. He’s been considered the best all season. He’s been playing against the best players and performed at the highest level, and coming out with wins on top of that.
“He’s been proving that he’s in a great position to be considered the MVP of the season this year.”
Others think it might be a bit too early to declare a clear MVP of the league.
“He’s been playing like an MVP candidate,” said guard Royal Ivey about Durant. “I think it’s still early. I don’t think he’s worried about the individual accolades, so if he gets it, that’s the icing on the cake. That’s another trophy or accomplishment in his life…another trophy in his trophy case. But for the most part, he’s on to bigger and better things.”
“I don’t know who’s going to get it, but I really hope so,” shared Jackson.
“He’s doing a lot of things better for us, and we’re winning games,” said Brooks, whose team has a 40-13 record.
“It’s really a coin flip. There’s probably five guys who you could argue for that deserve it.”
Prior to the start of the season, Durant called winning MVP “some lofty expectations.”
“I try to be the best player I can be and work as hard as I can,” he said. “I’ve got to live with the results whether it’s MVP or not MVP. Hopefully my time comes for that, but the way we play as a team dictates everything as far as individual accolades. But I can’t worry about that.”
On the other end, Harden pointedly said the Sixth Man of the Year award was a personal goal.
“That’s a great award,” Ivey said. “He’s been playing at a high level all season long. He’s a great young player. If he wasn’t on this team, he’d probably be starting somewhere else. He knows his role.”
“He deserves it,” declared Cook. “He’s been playing with his heart; he puts his heart into everything. He’s been consistent. That’s the good thing about it. You can’t really say he hasn’t been consistent all season, because regardless if he hasn’t scored, (he’s had an) impact on playmaking, rebounding and defenders having to defend him and play him honest. It’s just helped this team so much.”
Harden, now in his third year, has experienced increases nearly across-the-board this season. He’s averaging 16.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, .493 field goal percentage, and 1.8 in threes at .387 shooting. He’s league-ranked second in True Shooting Percentage (.657) and fourth in Offensive Rating.
Both Durant and Harden are among the top seven in the league’s Win Shares category.
Time will tell if this team, with the best record in the Western Conference and second in the league, has produced both an MVP and Sixth Man this season.
“I don’t know how many times it’s happened, but both of them are great players,” Jackson told us. “Both of them work hard, and I believe it’s well-deserving. I believe they’re great faces and great players in this league. That’s what hard work does. They both enjoy what they do and they both work extremely hard at it, and that’s why they’re both successful in this league.”
Double award winners don’t occur often, but history could be made again this season.