Most Valuable Player: Kevin Durant, Thunder
The 2013-14 MVP race in the NBA should not be as one-sided as ESPN Forecast says it is. Not to me, anyway.
It's rather hard to rationalize the sort of gap between Kevin Durant and LeBron James that survey generated when you remember that Dwyane Wade has missed 28 of Miami's 80 games.
That's only six fewer games than the 34 missed by Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City, which is a stat that’s generally regarded as one of the pillars of Durant's MVP case.
But when we ask ourselves which of these two titans had the better overall season, bearing in mind what their anticipated ceilings were individually and how their teams fared in the face of their respective competition and injuries, Durant has the edge.
It's his time, his turn, whether or not you see the edge as slight or pronounced.
He's about to win his fourth scoring title by nearly five points per game ahead of Carmelo Anthony, which would represent the third-largest gap in league history. You're surely already well-acquainted with a stat touting Durant as just the fourth player ever -- after Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan -- to average at least 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists for an entire season. He’s also about to become the first player since Jordan in 1989-90 to average at least 33 points in three successive months with his January/February/March onslaught. And he's the first player since -- who else? -- His Airness in 1991-92 to average 30+ points and shoot at least 50 percent from the floor.
Durant, to be precise, was shooting 50.6 percent from the field, 39.9 percent from 3-point range and 87.3 percent from the line entering Sunday's play, all of which feeds into a gaudy PER reading of 30.2.
I thought for the longest time that LeBron still had a chance to squeeze past Durant at the finish -- after a preposterous surge of his own sandwiched around both sides of All-Star Weekend to remind us all that James had won four of the previous five MVPs -- as long as Miami found a way to swipe the No. 1 seed in the East away from Indiana just before the regular-season buzzer. And that might well still happen.
But I’d argue that the Thunder, while forced to settle for No. 2 in the West thanks to San Antonio’s ruthlessly efficient ensemble cast, have won more than enough to validate Durant’s candidacy, given that OKC not only swept the four-game season series from the Spurs but also brought a halt to San Antonio winning streaks spanning 11 and 19 games.
It also doesn’t hurt that those doing-it-by-committee Spurs don’t really have a viable MVP candidate of their own, isolating KD versus LeBron at the forefront of this race even more.
As for the rest of the five-man MVP ballot …
Surges from Blake Griffin and Joakim Noah after the calendar flipped to 2014 have swayed us like everyone else, which is truthfully somewhat harsh on Indiana’s Paul George, given that the Pacers’ ridiculous 33-7 start gave them an equally valuable cushion on Miami that amazingly still has enough air left to give Indy a shot to finish atop the East entering the final four days of the season.
So the No. 5 spot on our ballot has to stay somewhat flexible. We’re listing the slumping George there for now after Miami’s loss Saturday night in Atlanta gave the Pacers yet another shot to hang onto the home-court advantage for the Eastern Conference finals that they’ve seemed determined for the past month to throw away. But be advised that Golden State’s Steph Curry, Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki, Houston’s James Harden, Phoenix’s Goran Dragic and Charlotte’s Al Jefferson are among the other names waiting to pounce on George’s spot should we feel the need to recalibrate after seeing the final standings Wednesday night.
Stein’s ballot: 1. Kevin Durant; 2. LeBron James; 3. Blake Griffin; 4. Joakim Noah; 5. Paul George
October prediction: James