A couple days ago, LeBron James won his third MVP trophy of his still-young career. It’s pretty clear, at least to me, that his status as best player in the NBA is pretty set in stone at this point. And while he definitely has competitors (Durant, Kobe, Wade, Bonner), his combination of size, finesse, skill on both sides of the ball and sheer determination give him the edge.
Kevin Durant had a pretty damn good year himself, and, in my (definitely not alone on this one) opinion, is the second-best player in the league. He took the Thunder to a completely new level. He did it without a media circus (not to say that the media doesn’t recognize his talents) following him. He just won games, and many times he put it upon himself to do it.
Both players had outstanding years, but who was truly the more valuable player to his team? That, to me, is a concept of the award that seems to be lost on a lot of people this year.
As great as LeBron was to his team, if the Heat were to lose him, they still have two All-Stars right behind him to carry the load. At the same time, Durant has one star behind him, along with a deeper bench and big guys with a combination of skill and toughness, something Miami definitely does not have.
Some might say that there are other candidates who were technically more valuable to their teams. The Timberwolves after Kevin Love's injury were pretty pathetic. And if the Wolves had kept their superstar and stud rookie Ricky Rubio healthy and kept up their playoff push, Love probably would have gotten more votes than he did. With that said, there is no way he was even on the same planet as KD and Bron.
Some said Tony Parker deserved a pretty good look. He had a great year and was the best player on a Spurs team that was nowhere near the title conversation to start the year.
I would give a lot of the credit over to San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich for this turnaround, however, and in return take part of the credit away from Parker. Pop got fantastic efforts out of some virtual no-namers, including Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter, and also got top-notch production out of rookie Kawhi Leonard.
The Spurs are a deep team who can have any one guy step up on a given night, and that’s what makes them a great team. It’s about the team, not one guy.
Then you also have your regulars who will always get votes, simply because of how talented they are—Kobe, Wade, Dirk, etc. All of them will get votes until they retire. None of them deserved the award this year, sadly. (Although, Kobe deserves a lot of credit for playing through injuries all year, and Dirk deserves credit for playing with Odom’s whiny personality for an extended period of time.)
So then it goes back to the same two guys already mentioned: LeBron and Durant. Both finished second in their respective conferences, yet both squads are the favorites by many to make it to the NBA finals. To figure out who deserves it, we’re going to have to look at a few specifics.
1: How Would Their Teams Do If They Were Injured?
As mentioned before, LeBron is lucky enough to be a member of a pretty famous team, and the reason the Heat are so famous is the level of talent their stars bring to the table (along with how that talent was brought together originally).
Their only issue is that they lack depth. Their backup small forward is Mike Miller. Once known as a top-notch sharp shooter, Miller has had a few down years lately. While he has picked it up a bit this year, the drop-off in talent is obviously great.
Wade and Bosh would likely have led the team to a top-three or -four seed in the East even without LeBron, assuming they all stayed healthy. The bottom of the East is pretty weak, and that dynamic duo would beat up on those teams.
The Thunder are lucky enough to have a pretty strong backup wing in their arsenal—their third scoring option, in fact, James Harden. In the event that Durant had to miss some time, I would assume Thabo Sefolosha would move to small forward, and they would slot Harden in as a starter.
Scoring-wise, though, even with Harden, the Thunder lose a ton of talent further down the bench. Russell Westbrook has always had trouble closing out games, especially with his turnover issues. Durant has always been the Thunder's staple when they need a basket.
Obviously, losing LeBron or Durant would be rough for either team, but the effects would be different for different reasons.
2. Do They Make Their Teammates Better?
Both do, but in entirely different ways.
To me, Durant seems like a more vocal leader. His teammates all respect him and know that he is “the guy." He can go talk to any one of his teammates, and they will listen. Simple as that.
LeBron’s situation is a bit different. When I watch the Heat play, I see Wade doing most of the vocal work for Miami. At the same time, I’ve never seen a scorer like LeBron, who also has the ability to give his teammates open looks with his supreme passing ability. While he will speak his mind when he needs to, his vocal leadership isn’t as strong as his ability to get his teammates involved on the floor.
3. Play in the Clutch.
Durant can most certainly hit in the clutch. He didn’t hit too many game winners (though he did hit one outstanding shot against Dallas for a victory early on this season), but he’s great at getting on a roll and finishing games, as well as closing out close games.
I was there for the Wolves' opener when he hit a heartbreaking game-winning runner to give my Wolves their first loss of the season. He did similar things many times throughout the year.
LeBron isn’t as bad in the clutch as some make him out to be. Yes, he struggled and struggled mightily in last year’s finals, but this is about the MVP.
One thing LeBron was great at but was never mentioned by ESPN or any other major sports publication was his ability to close a game that was close after three quarters. On many occasions, he was able to go on a run and make the game a blowout. While that isn’t as cool or interesting as a last-second shot, it’s equally, if not more effective.
Final Verdict: Kevin Durant
It’s ridiculously close, but I went with KD here.
I can’t get past the fact that LeBron has arguably the second- or third-best player in the league in Dwyane Wade, and then Chris Bosh to go along with him. I understand Durant has Westbrook and Harden at his disposal, but anyone who watches each team play knows the difference in talent between Wade and Westbrook. It’s not a huge difference, but the difference is there (mostly in mental composure).
The fact of the matter is I can still see the Heat being a top team in the East this year without LeBron’s superb performance. With no Durant in OKC, I cannot see the Thunder finishing any higher than sixth in the West, even with the extra talent they have.
Like I said, this is ridiculously close, and there are thousands of reasons why LeBron should win, as he did. Looking at the big picture, though, I see Durant as the choice