With LeBron James having his second consecutive without-a-doubt MVP-caliber season, the real debate has raged over who No. 2 is. Carmelo Anthony might just be sealing that deal with his past few weeks of basketball.
In a matchup of two of the best teams in the NBA, Anthony led the New York Knicks to a 125-120 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, scoring 36 points to Kevin Durant's 27 to lock the two in a virtual tie for the scoring title.
As Durant is the man he's trying to pass to be the league's unquestioned No. 2, this becomes increasingly significant to figuring out who has meant more to their team this season.
That's continually the crux of the "Most Valuable Player" argument, isn't it? What does most valuable mean?
Well, breaking it down to the simplest level possible, it would be how much is a certain player worth. That is to say, what is a player's intrinsic worth within their current situation.
We can branch out on that in many different directions, but it really comes down to which player has meant more to the success of their team this season.
Whether or not that's the best way to give out an award that would make more sense going to the best player in the NBA in a given season is beyond the argument. The award, as it stands, is deeply entrenched in value, and that's what gives Anthony the opening to slide into the No. 2 spot.
If this were an argument based on the better player, or even over which player is having the better season statistically, Durant wins in a landslide.
He scores more efficiently, rebounds more, gets more assists and picks up more of each of the glamor defensive stats (blocks and steals).
We could even go further than that. You could make the argument that Chris Paul's defense and offensive creation make him a better and more valuable player than Anthony, while Tony Parker's playmaking abilities and overall efficiency make him stand out among the other players in the league at his position.
However, when we're talking about what certain players mean to their teams, we get down to Anthony and Durant, with a case to be made for Paul as well.
Putting this entire debate into a silly microcosm, we could use their Sunday game as jumping off point.
Kevin Durant didn't have a great game in terms of efficiency, yet the Thunder had every chance to beat the Knicks.
Oklahoma City was kept afloat by Russell Westbrook, whose near triple-double put the Thunder in a spot to win.
New York needed that 36-point performance from Anthony in order to take down the mighty Thunder. J.R. Smith is constantly on the verge of destruction, Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton are constant coin-flips and the rest are to be relied upon for no more than 15 points at the most.
While the two can clash at times, Durant always has Westbrook, and Westbrook always has Durant. They'll constantly be able to bail each other out, and it happens with regularity.
Anthony can count himself lucky when he has a sub-par game, but the Knicks get enough production elsewhere to win.
Seeing as how the two of them are at the same spot in scoring, looking at a benchmark of 28 points is an easy comparison to make.
However, it seems that the Thunder are far worse off with Durant on the bench, compared to the Knicks with Anthony on the bench.
Oklahoma City averages 113.7 points per 100 possessions with Durant on the floor, compared to 106.5 points per 100 possessions without him. That's a difference of 7.2 points per 100 with him out there.
Anthony's Knicks average 112.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, compared to 107.2 points per 100 possessions without him, a difference of 5.6 points per 100.
What really makes things confusing, however, is when you factor Russell Westbrook into the mix. Oftentimes when Durant is sitting, Westbrook is right there with him. That's even more true during a blowout win (they've won a ridiculous 41 games by at least 10 points, and 19 by at least 20).
When Durant sits during blowouts, Westbrook does too. The offense stagnates and the point margin narrows.
Anthony has been involved in just 26 double-digit victories, and seven by at least 20 points.
On the other side of the coin, it seems that Durant has become the more valuable defender by virtue of the team's style of play.
Forcing turnovers is key to that fast pace of the Thunder, while preventing baskets and forcing missed shots is most valuable to the Knicks.
Durant's penchant for playing the passing lanes and forcing more turnovers helps his team, while Anthony's sometimes fumbling footwork and inability to stay in front of some of the quicker ball-handlers hurts his team.
While the difference between Anthony and Durant isn't big enough to make a huge gap between the two after taking a look at their offensive merits, it's obvious that Durant is more valuable to the Thunder as a defender than Anthony is to the Knicks.
In the end, while Durant is quite obviously the better player, in the sense of the league's MVP Award, Anthony might just have the slightest edge for the No. 2 spot.
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