MVP Race May Reflect Eventual Playoff Seedings

My MVP Criteria:  Statistical analysis, leadership, dependability, and impact upon team’s success.  When trying to determine the league’s Most Valuable Player you must take more than the box score into consideration.  Any star in today’s league can “WOW” you with an impressive line, but how many games did Kevin Love (17) and Blake Griffin (32) win last year, combined?  That isn’t intended to be a slight upon either of the two, rather I’m just trying to place perspective upon posting impressive stat-lines, and the overall impact upon your team’s success.  Yes, the relative health and productivity of your teammates can impact your game, but if you want to truly be considered most valuable, then you must find a way to overcome the team adversity and still produce.

That said, let me end the mystery and let you know (as of now) LeBron James is not at the top of my list of potential candidates.  Before you dismiss me as a “hater”, go back and read my criteria for what I consider most valuable.  First of all, I am fully acknowledging that LeBron James is the most physically gifted basketball player in the league.  Quite possibly, alongside the likes of  Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O’Neal, James could be the most imposing physical specimen the league has ever seen at his position.

As much as I cannot deny his 27.7 points, 6.6 assists, and 8.4 rebounds are, without a doubt, mind-blowing….I also cannot ignore the fact that he has consistently disappointed in the waning moments of close games.  I assure you, I am not attempting to pile on, as I can personally say I hope the young man can finally get that ‘proverbial monkey’ off his back so that his critics and detractors can shift their argument from “he has NO rings!” to “well, he ONLY has ONE!

Leading Contenders

Derrick Rose: Chicago Bulls (36-9), PG- 22.8 Pts, 8 Asts, 3.5 Rebs (45% fg, .314% 3pt, 82% ft)

Even though the  Bulls have suffered through nine games without Luol Deng (wrist), 29 games without Rip Hamilton (groin, thigh, and most recently his shoulder), and even 10 games missing Rose, himself (due to various injuries), Rose should be leading the MVP race by the narrowest of margins.

All of those potentially catastrophic injuries during the first 2/3 of such a condensed season, but the Bulls have still won nearly 80 percent of their games.  While that should definitely be considered a testament to coach Tom Tibodeau’s (Head Coach of the Year front-runner) defensive system, Derrick Rose remains as the unquestioned ‘heart’ of that city.  With the uncertainty of Hamilton’s health, the Bulls are one of a few teams that need to be active at the deadline.

If the front office is able to bring in additional firepower, then not only could Rose earn his second-consecutive MVP, but he could also lead his Bulls past the defending Eastern Conference Champion Miami Heat.

Kevin Durant: OKC Thunder (32-10), SF- 27.9 Pts, 3.4 Asts, 7.9 Rebs ( 50% fg, 36% 3pt, 84% ft)

Kevin Durant is posting career numbers in nearly every statistical category, as is his teammate Russell Westbrook.  That would seem to be contrary to what some basketball pundits would prefer, but it is obvious this young core has galvanized around Durant.  At times, Durant is simply un-guardable.  Listed at 6’9″, but he seems closer to 6’11” when you see him on the court, he’s been a match-up nightmare for opposing small forwards.

Although, he’s still primarily a shooter, Durant has shown the added ability of taking the ball to the rim and even posting up with authority.  His 7’5″ wingspan and added strength have made him an imposing defender (1+ Blocks per game, 1+ Steals per game) at his position.

Durant’s Thunder currently hold a 4-game lead over the Spurs (Western Conference playoff positions).  They have five huge meetings with the Spurs, Lakers, Miami (twice), and Bulls over the next few weeks.

Depending upon how Durant and the Thunder fare over the course of that stretch could determine the outcome of this award.

Kobe Bryant: LA Lakers (27-16), SG- 28.8 Pts, 4.8 Asts, 5.7 Rebs (43.5% fg, 28.6% 3pt, 83% ft)

Dismiss this by calling it a “homer pick” all you’d like, but the numbers don’t lie.  The man is leading the league in scoring, is second in the league in minutes played (16th season), and has likely endured the most adversity of any MVP candidate.  From having to adapt to a new coach and basketball philosophy, enduring a ligament tear in his right (shooting) wrist in the second pre-season game vs the Clippers, Andrew Bynum’s 4-game suspension, to simply having to play in a starting line-up (in all fairness) that is severely lacking at two vital positions, Bryant just keeps coming.  Even the strongest of Lakers fans would acknowledge the increasing level of (inevitable) doubt they were left with after the Lakers’ unceremonious exit in last year’s playoffs.

Kobe Bryant’s current pace has not only erased all such doubts, but it seems to have altered the organization’s initial plan/direction of looking towards the future, to making an attempt at one last Finals drive with the current core of players.  Bryant’s detractors often point towards his “miss-use” of his supporting big men, but with Pau Gasol averaging near his career numbers and Bynum having has turned into a career year (17.6 points, 12.7 rebounds), I ask someone to please explain such criticisms?  My main concern with Bryant, aside from the extended minutes for a player in his 16th season, was his propensity to revert the 2006 version of himself a bit too often. Bryant has recently addressed this issue, and is not only providing his same stellar productivity, but also has instilled a belief within Bynum that can go a long way towards the 24-year-old’s development.  Although, Bryant can undoubtedly still get the job done, the more he can rely upon his burgeoning big man along the way, the easier it is to “close the show” in the clutch moments with rested legs.

Receiving Consideration:

LeBron James- “Check the stats”…even with the late-game shortcomings, it would be difficult to deny LeBron’s game.  Can his Heat maintain their 5-game lead (loss column) over the Magic and find a way to catch the Bulls in the standings? Those answers will go a long way towards LeBron’s viability as a true league MVP.

Tony Parker-  Often ignored, when discussing the league’s top point guards, Parker is in the midst of not only a career-year, but the Spurs have fully transitioned into ‘his’ franchise.  Yes, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili remain as strong contributors, but the Spurs will ultimately win or lose depending upon how Parker is able to produce.  If the Spurs are able to hold off the Lakers, and challenge for Thunder for the top-seed out West, then expect Parker’s name to continue moving up this list.

Kevin Love- Again, stats don’t tell the full story.  Love has not only transformed his body, but has fully transitioned into the best Power Forward in today’s NBA.  With the range of a shooting guard, Love is commonly mistaken as an “non-athletic” by people that don’t truly watch the games.  Anyone paying attention to Love’s development will tell you the young man has the total package.  It will be tough to accomplish without his PG Ricky Rubio (torn ACL), but if Love is able to somehow keep his Timberwolves afloat and manage to sneak into the playoffs, then don’t be surprised if you hear his name ‘mentioned’ once the MVP discussions truly take place.

Dwight Howard-  Say what you will about his “wishy-washy” personality (and I have said plenty), his overall impact upon his team is undeniable.  Without some of the offensive ‘polish’ of some of his contemporaries, Howard is still able to use his supreme strength/athleticism to the tune of about 21 points, 15 rebounds, and 2+ blocks per game.  While his ‘approach’ to the trade deadline and impending free agency may have turned some people off, his absolute dominance on the defensive end is only paralleled by OKC Thunder PF Serge Ibaka in today’s NBA.


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