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Point/Counterpoint: The NBA’s MVP Race
Posted By HOOPSWORLD On October 13, 2013 @ 12:26 pm In NBA | No Comments
Will LeBron James continue to make history and win his fifth Most Valuable Player award? Is Kevin Durant finally poised to break through the second place barrier? Or, is it Chris Paul’s time in Hollywood? Our analysts debate over who will win the NBA’s 2013-14 MVP award below, and we encourage you to participate as well in the comment section.
Michael Jordan, the greatest NBA player of all time, finished his career with five MVP trophies. In his prime—the six championship seasons he played between 1990 and 1998—he actually took home “only” four of those trophies, losing one to Charles Barkley in 1993 and another to Karl Malone in 1997.
The year that Barkley won, Jordan actually finished third behind Sir Charles and Hakeem Olajuwon, even though Jordan led the league in win shares and PER that season and without question was the NBA’s most dominant star that year. By 1997, when Malone’s career season gave voters an excuse to spread the love, they did, leaving Jordan, once again the league leader in win shares, without an MVP trophy he probably deserved.
LeBron James knows this feeling all too well, as he lost out on the MVP trophy in 2011 because voters fell in love with Derrick Rose and grew tired of handing the thing out to James every spring. A few years later, and that blip on the radar is the only time in the last half a decade that LeBron hasn’t been named the league’s best player.
Assuming the voters haven’t grown bored again, James should be the MVP again in 2013-2014.
Only three players in league history have ever won three straight MVP awards: Larry Bird (1983-86), Wilt Chamberlain (1965-68), and Bill Russell (1960-63), but James looks primed to join that club by the end of this upcoming season for a number of reasons.
The first is James’ statistical dominance over the last several seasons. James has been the league-leader in PER every season since 2007, finishing last year with a 31.59 PER, the second-best of his career by only a slim margin. He also has led the league in win shares for five consecutive seasons, and those two statistics show the value of a player in terms of efficiency and his contributions to a team’s wins. No one has touched LeBron James in either category for five years. There is little reason to believe that will change now.
It doesn’t take a sabermetric, however, to know that what James is doing right now is historic. He’s led the Miami HEAT to the NBA Finals three years in a row and has won the last two titles. Few players in league history have ever been as physically overwhelming as him, and those that have certainly couldn’t have matched his athleticism and versatility.
He’s also just as good defensively as he is offensively, and with the ability to guard all five spots on the floor (and guard them well), it’s a miracle that he hasn’t won an NBA Defensive Player of the Year award yet. He has been named to five NBA All-Defensive First Teams, though, which supplements his offensive dominance quite nicely.
It’s adorable that we can talk about Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose as potential MVPs, but even if these players have their best seasons yet as pros, it will be hard to topple the King. Nothing has changed in four months for anyone to believe that James isn’t still the favorite to win this award.
Of course, the same could’ve been said about Michael Jordan in 1993 and 1997, but voters won’t do to James this spring what they did to him in 2011, will they?
- Joel Brigham
As LeBron James begins the NBA season with his sights set on winning his fifth MVP award in the past six years, it is Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers who may arise as the man best equipped to join Derrick Rose as the only individual aside from James to win the award since Kobe Bryant won the award back in 2008.
Ironically, Bryant beat Paul out that year after leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a 57-25 record and the first overall seed in the Western Conference. Paul—then a member of the New Orleans Hornets—finished one game behind the Lakers at 56-26. In one of the most competitive Western Conference Playoff races ever, each of the conference’s qualifying teams won at least 50 games.
Paul admirably led his Hornets to the franchise’s second seed, and by virtue of tiebreaker, won the Southwest Division over the San Antonio Spurs. The 2008 Southwest Division title is the only division title that the Hornets have won in their history and was one of only six times that the Spurs did not win the division since Tim Duncan entered the league way back in 1997.
With the Western Conference expected to be as competitive as ever, Paul’s Clippers have a good chance of rising to the top of the conference, and if so, he will have a very realistic opportunity of winning the award that eluded him years ago. In the Clippers’ pursuit of excellence, Blake Griffin will play a major role. In order to make the franchise a legitimate conference contender, he will have to develop his low-post repertoire and become a more complete scorer. That is where Doc Rivers comes in.
After being handpicked by Paul to be Vinny Del Negro’s successor, Rivers has the clout and the security necessary to prod Griffin into becoming a more complete player. After leading both the Clippers and the Hornets to each franchise’s first division title in their respective histories, it is he who has the reputation of being a culture changer and a paradigm shifter.
The question that remains then, is whether or not the Clippers have the talent necessary to actually rise above the other formidable cast of challengers in the Western Conference? The loss of Eric Bledsoe hurts, but the primary pain of his departure results from losing his immense potential. Bledsoe is believed that have the tools necessary to thrive as a starting point guard in the NBA, but that was something that he did not have the opportunity to showcase regularly as Paul’s backup. Last season’s 8.5 points, 3.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game in 20.4 minutes was impressive, but newcomer Darren Collison should excel in a similar role for the Clippers.
The addition of J.J. Redick gives the Clippers one of the more coveted shooting guards from this past summer’s free agency class, while the acquisition of Jared Dudley will ensure that the Clippers always have at least two floor spacers on the court at all times. Antawn Jamison and Byron Mullens give the Clippers two additional frontcourt players whose talents can be utilized by Paul. In sum total, the 2013-14 version of the Clippers, though not necessarily more talented than last year’s team, may be a better fit for Paul’s talents.
With Rivers patrolling the sidelines, he may be the piece to pull it all together.
With the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies and Houston Rockets all expected to be amongst the top contenders in the Western Conference, Griffin’s progression as a more traditional frontcourt player with a more versatile skill set will go a long way toward determining the Clipper’s immediate fortunes.
Still, at the end of the day, it is Paul who is the leader of this team. When it is all said and done, it is he who will either be looked upon as the piece that began the modern renaissance of the franchise that has made just nine playoff appearances in its 33-year history.
And if the Clippers do something great this season, if they manage to match last year’s 56-win total and win the Western Conference in the regular season, it is he who will be holding the Maurice Podoloff trophy.
With Rivers and Griffin, it is he who is best equipped to put a halt—even if only temporarily—on James’ dominance of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award.
- Moke Hamilton
In three of the last four seasons, Kevin Durant has been second only to LeBron James in MVP voting. While that will likely never be mentioned amongst the top accolades of his career once it is all said and done, it is as true of a testament as any of Durant’s other accomplishments to his status as one of the league’s premiere players.
Winning the award is a very tricky thing as well; there’s no set criteria or requirements, although individual statistics and team success weigh very heavily in the minds of the voting members of the media.
There are several other factors that come into play as well, though, which is where Durant should be able to sway the minds of voters this year.
First, James has taken the honor four out of the last five years. He has the HEAT pursuing their third-straight championship this season, but he’s reached the point where greatness is expected every time he steps on the floor. When he delivers, that’s just the norm; it’s a bigger story when he doesn’t. He’s at somewhat of a disadvantage because he’s not just competing against the league’s best players, but what he’s done in past seasons as well. I say just somewhat because it obviously hasn’t held him back at all the last two years.
The HEAT also improved again this offseason. While Pat Riley’s ability to attract quality free agents despite limited resources and ownership’s willingness to pay the luxury tax should be lauded, they work against James’ MVP chances when you compare what’s happened to Durant’s Thunder over the last two years.
From a talent perspective, the Thunder don’t stack up well with their Western Conference championship squad of 2012. Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams are all they have to show for James Harden, who has gone on to establish himself as arguably the league’s best shooting guard in Houston, and they’re quite young to expect any type of consistent, major production from.
Fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook is also going to be out of the lineup for the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season due to the same knee that prematurely ended his season last year in the first round of the playoffs.
If Durant can keep the Thunder atop the Western Conference, that would likely impress voters more than James keeping the re-loaded HEAT ahead of everyone in the East.
A key development in James’ game that helped lead to his stockpiling of MVP trophies was becoming dominant on the defensive end. That is somewhere Durant has to be particularly focused in on if he is indeed to take the award away from James. Just scoring at a high rate isn’t going to get it done for Durant, but he’s actually become quite capable defensively and is extremely well-rounded overall for someone who is such a lethal scorer.
At 25 years of age, Durant has already been knocking on the doorstep of his first MVP for years. The Thunder may have seen better times as an organization, but this upcoming season is going to be Durant’s best chance yet to get the league’s top individual honor.
- Yannis Koutroupis
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