LeBron or Durant? That’s been the question all season. While other names have come and gone these two have consistently been the front runners in the MVP race all season. But who really deserves it more? The two contributors to the Original NBA lay out their cases for their MVP candidates.
The Case for Kevin Durant, by C.M.
People go on and on about the historic regular season that LeBron James had this year. Hell, at one point in the season I heard some people calling it the greatest season of all time. But just compare his numbers to those of Kevin Durant and you will be a lot less floored. This year, Durant averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.2 blocks, while James posted averages of 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals.
Fans (myself included) and members of the media are astonished by the fact that LeBron posted significant numbers in several different categories. I mean, seriously, how many guys in the league can put up 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists, and 1.9 steals a night? But Durant’s numbers are equally as impressive.
The difference here is that Durant puts up great numbers in the “big man” categories (rebounds and blocks) but does not excel in the guard categories (assists and steals). However, his numbers down low are pretty damn impressive for a wing player as wiry as he is.
The reality is that people think of Durant as simply a scorer, whereas LeBron gets credit as the one guy in the league who can effect a game in every way imaginable. Admittedly, Durant will not penetrate and dish like James, he won’t run an offense like LeBron can, and he isn’t going to shut down the other team’s best player like LeBron can. But Durant doesn’t need to do those things for his team to win like LeBron does. Durant has other guys on his team who can run a pick and roll, who can create for others, and who can shut down the opposition. Instead, KD excels as a scorer (where his input is needed most) and as a rebounder and shot blocker (areas where others on his team specialize).
The Heat need LeBron’s efforts to maintain the delicate balance they have on their roster; the Thunder use Durant’s extra efforts all over the court to put them over the top in several categories.
If you replace Durant with another scorer who would put up those same exact 28 points a game while shooting 49.6% from the field, 86% from the line, and 38.7% from beyond the three-point line, the Thunder become a team struggling for home court advantage. But with Durant on their side, they continue to score the ball at the third highest rate in the league while also standing out as the best shot blocking team and the sixth best rebounding team. For all LeBron’s efforts,Miami still ranks No. 21 overall in both rebounding and assists.
Simply put, Durant puts his team over the top while LeBron is the keeping his team afloat in many different areas.
Lastly, Durant deserves credit for taking a team full of youngsters and delivering them to the third best record in the league; whereas James’ team is stacked with proven veterans. Oddly enough, it is the young Thunder squad who is known around the league for having laser-like focus and the Heat who have a reputation for going through lulls throughout the season. Durant, as the unquestioned leader of his team, deserves a ton of credit for that. He has done everything for this team from leading, to deferring when needed, to sacrificing his body. And for that, he is the MVP.
The Case for LeBron James, by J.M.
Let’s get this out of the way right now. I am not a fan of LeBron. I disliked him when he came into the league and dubbed himself “King James” and that disdain grew when he pulled off “The Decision.” I cheer for almost any opponent he faces and gain sustenance from his 4th quarter meltdowns. With that said, LeBron is easily the best player in the NBA and my vote for the regular season MVP.
After an MVP-caliber 2010-2011 season that was only out-shown by the “anybody but LeBron” MVP race, LeBron took to the offseason aiming to improve his game and take this Miami Heat team to an NBA Championship. With the way he has played this team doesn’t look too far away from that goal. He improved in almost every category including: field goal percentage (53.1%), three point percentage (36.2%), rebounds (7.9 per game), and points (27.1 per game), all while playing less minutes, taking the same number of shots, and greatly improving his post game and defense.
While the argument can be made for Kevin Durant as MVP it is not nearly as strong. Yes, Durant is the better scorer and in all likelihood I would choose him over LeBron in a late game scenario, but his advantage ends there. LeBron is the better rebounder, passer, and defender and a more valuable asset to his team. Some people may argue that because LeBron has one of the best wing players in the league on his side (Wade) along with faux-star Chris Bosh he cannot possibly be the most valuable player. The issue with this argument is that while LeBron may have the better superstar sidekicks, Durant has a team built around him. Surrounding Durant are Westbrook, a young star point guard, Harden, a young wing scorer off the bench, Ibaka, a young dominant defensive presence, and Perkins, a veteran, championship-winning, hard-nosed, post player.
The key difference is that the Thunder were assembled to work as a team, each player knows their role and they almost always defer to Durant (at least this season after the whole “Durant or Westbrook” debacle last playoffs). LeBron, however, is burdened with the task of keeping the Heat afloat without any key role players and two sidekicks who are accustomed to being ball-dominant players. The fact that LeBron distributed the ball well enough to keep both Wade and Bosh scoring frequently and efficiently (22.1 ppg 49.7% FG and 18 ppg 48.7% FG respectively) is reason in itself to hand him this award. I haven’t even mentioned that LeBron was far and away the most efficient player in the league with a PER of 30.8, three points higher than the man in second, Chris Paul, and nearly four points ahead of Durant who placed in fourth.
I know it’s hard to place yourself objectively off the anti-LeBron bandwagon, I struggle with it plenty of times, but when it comes down to it, we all know LeBron is going to win the MVP, and rightfully so. Now if only he could work on that hairline.
Flash back to February 2010: Amare Stoudemire is set to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland. Of course, in the end the trade fell through and James was working his way out of his hometown. The Cavaliers had a shot to land another superstar to team up with James, but they balked at the idea for several reasons, Stoudemire’s shaky health chief among them.
One major reason the Cavs were reluctant to pull the trigger on this trade was because they thought they might have a future star on their hands and didn’t want to give him up. Surely, this trade is a prime example of not only the Cavs failure to appease James and convince him to stay, but also of the fall of that rising star: JJ Hickson.
Hickson had shown flashes of brilliance in a limited role with Cleveland team that finished the season 61-21. In his second season in the NBA, Hickson averaged 8.5 ppg and 5.0 rpg on 55.4% shooting from the floor. He was considered a building block for a team that had little else surrounding James. His upside was such that the Cavs ultimately decided he was worth more than a shot at pairing Stoudemire with James.
In Hickson,Clevelandhad a forward with good size, great athleticism, and an incredibly appealing upside.
However, we all know how the story played out for the Cavaliers: James bolted in free agency and the team was left to pick up the pieces on a haphazardly assembled roster.
As a result, Hickson was rewarded with more playing time during the 2010-2011 season and asked to carry a much heavier load for this rebuilding team. Yet, rather than budding into the star the Cavs brass hoped for, Hickson showed his limitations.
In 80 games, 66 of which were starts, Hickson played 28.2 minutes per game but converted on 10% fewer of his field goals than the previous season and averaged 3.7 turnovers per 48 minutes.
His stock lower than it had been since being drafted 19th overall by the Cavs in 2008, Hickson was traded this offseason to the Sacramento Kings for another fading prospect, Omri Casspi. After suffering through 35 miserable games with Hickson, in which he shot 37% from the field and averaged 4.7 points per game, the forward was released outright.
In all of two seasons, Hickson had transformed from a promising prospect to being rejected by one of the league’s five worst franchises.
However, Hickson managed to find a soft landing spot Portland and has managed to turn some heads in the process. Since being picked up by the Blazers off the waiver wire, Hickson has averaged 14.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, had five double-doubles, and four 20 point games. Best of all, he has strived in two areas that plagued him in the past. With Portland, he is shooting 55.5% from the floor and turning the ball over only 1.2 times a game while playing a career-high 30.1 minutes a game.
Surely, much of Hickson’s success in Portland will deservedly be attributed to the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge has been injured during much of Hickson’s stint in the City of Roses. Certainly, more opportunity has led to more success for Hickson.
However, he had plenty of chances to show his worth during the past three seasons in both Cleveland and Sacramento, but just could not stick. Pride may be kicking in and Hickson is trying to show he belongs. Maybe he is motivated by the fact that this offseason he will be an unrestricted free agent.
Whatever the explanation may be, the fact remains that Hickson is playing quality basketball. In fact, he has done the unthinkable: he has gone from rising star to NBA failure, only to reemerge once again as an intriguing prospect. Hickson is still only 23 years old and although his future may not be in Portland, the Trail Blazers certainly have a reborn player on their hands.
This year it seems as though the race for Most Improved Player has more legitimate candidates than any race in recent memory. Jeremy Lin, Ersan Ilyasova, Nikola Pekovic, Ryan Anderson, and Greg Monroe are only a handful of the names in the conversation. But there is one candidate that is getting no ink (at least on this topic): Kevin Love.
That’s right, last year’s Most Improved Player should be in the running for this year’s award as well.
Wait a minute, is that even possible? Can one player really improve so drastically from one season to the next and win the award, only to improve once again the following season in a similarly extreme manner? It seems impossible…and that’s exactly why Love should be in the running for the award.
Love improved his numbers from 14.0 ppg and 11.0 rpg in 2009-2010 to 20.2 and 15.2, respectively, in 2010-2011. Love made the quintessential leap from average player to very good player, a move that most often garners attention for this award.
However, the fourth year player up in Minnesota has made an even more impressive leap this season: the one to franchise player.
Last year, when Love won the award, I thought Love was a damn good player, but he had plenty of faults. He had reached his ceiling. He was putting up great numbers, but for a terrible team. He was not the kind of player a franchise could build around.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Instead, he is 4th in the league in scoring at 26.5 and 2nd in rebounds at 13.5. He put up numbers in March that the NBA has never seen before, averaging 30.7 ppg and 13.9 rpg all while shooting 45% from 3.
Love is one of the most difficult players to defend in the league. His game can single-handedly change the shape of a game. His mere presence on the court makes countless others better. Sure, he doesn’t make his teammates better in terms of traditional measures, but just ask Pekovic, Wayne Ellington, Luke Ridnour along with Love’s other teammates what kind of effect he can have on their games. I guarantee they would tell you that the focus defenses put on him has led to infinitely more quality shots for everyone on the team.
Last year, Love put up great numbers on a horrendous team. This year, he is putting up once-in-a-generation numbers for a team that would be in playoff contention if not for its losing battle against the injury bug.
He has carried the Timberwolves from worst team in the league to playoff contender, all while he transformed from good to great.
The real problem is that, for whatever the reason, this transformation, arguably the toughest to achieve in sports, is rarely one that garners a player votes for Most Improved Player. Of course, Love is certainly getting his fair share of publicity, with several pundits listing him in the top 3 in the MVP race. And that’s the crux of the problem here: it is unthinkable that a player who is now considered one of the best in the game could really have improved that drastically…TWICE.
Believe it or not, it’s happening in front of your eyes and there is no indication Love is slowing down. Let’s just hope voters catch on in time for the voting for next season’s award.