The NBA Dribbled Out

In the last two weeks the MVP race has turned into the race for #2e. So lets go through the list of potential second fiddles, shall we? 

Kobe Bryant My new bestie, before sitting out a few games towards the end of this year, Kobe Bryant has been a beast. He’s neck and neck with Durant for the scoring title this year. The difference is Kobe is playing in his 16th season, Durant in his 5th. Kobe’s also averaging an astornomical 38.5 mpg. That’s ridiculous after all the miles he’s logged. With a new coach in Laker land, a new point guard, some typically abnormal behavior from Andrew Bynum (3-pointers, really?), and a sometimes lethargic Pau, Kobe has willed this team to a top 4 spot in the West. This can’t be overlooked, even if he’s not as efficient as the other guys on this list. 

Conclusion #4

Kevin Durant In all probability Durant will win his third straight scoring title this year. He’s also been incredibly efficient while scoring all those points, shooting around 50% from the field, 38% from beyond the arc and 86% from the line. While keeping his scoring up, he even ceded a lot of the offensive load to Russell Westbrook (a canny move normally reserved for a player 10 years Durant’s senior) and 6 Man of the Year, Russell Westbrook. Durant has also upped his rebounding total from last year from 6.8 to 8. If you’ve been watching him, he’s also starting to be a two-way player; it’s the sign of a truly committed superstar, and I have no doubt he’ll be in the MVP discussion for the next decade. This year, however, it’s not gonna happen. The Thunder lost the top seed in the West to the all-around play of San Antonio’s old Big Three, plus their newbies (Plus, Popovich has been incredible). That’s the primary reason Durant won’t, and shouldn’t win it this year. He’ll have plenty more opportunities, you can be sure. 

Conclusion #3

Chris Paul "Lob City" has quickly morphed into "Flop City" and CP3, Blake and Reggie Evans are the most notable offenders that I’ve seen. But Chris Paul has made the Clippers relevant, and not just in that Sam Cassell - Elton Brand way we saw a few years ago when the Clippers actually won a playoff series. The swagger that’s long been lacking in Clipperland (especially because "swagger" would be considered too "urban" for bigoted owner, Donald Sterling), has arrived with the stormy (and suspect) addition of Paul. Just know that in a 7-game series with Paul playing hard for all 4 quarters—instead of just the last one—the Clippers will be very hard to beat. Paul has paced himself all season for this moment. That’s because Chris Paul, a guy the Clippers brought in to turn things around, turned things around while allowing himself an extra gear for the playoffs (like Durant, CP3 plays beyond his years). The Clippers are only concerned with trying to win, and all the superficial stuff is just that. Chris Paul doesn’t give a crap about anything except the score within the 48 minutes he’s at work. That’s all you can ask for in a franchise saver, and that’s why I rank him above Durant—for now.

Conclusion: #2

That leaves only 1 remaining candidate, and you could probably guess who it was, and skip the preceding graphs. In a quantitative analysis of LeBron James, he is head and shoulders above the rest of the league, which is a nice way to say he fills up the box score better than anyone since Michael Jordan’s historic 1988-1989 MVP season where he averaged 32 ppg, 8 rpg and 8 apg. LeBron isn’t close to the statistical heights reached by Jordan that year, but he is shooting an incredible 53% from the field while sharing the ball with teammates, rebounding and generally being the dominant player we all know. He’ll be the first player since Jordan to have a PER (player efficiency rating) above 30. The next closest this year is Durant at 26.56. 

The Miami Heat (with Dwyane Wade) finished second in the East to a Chicago team that lost Rose for a huge chunk of time, which some will use to argue their case for Durant or Paul, but LeBron’s dominance extends beyond the traditional win-loss metric. Offensively, he’s incredible, but he’s just as dangerous patrolling the top of the key for a quick steal, or a block from-behind in transition that turns a game in the Heat’s favor. When the Heat are rolling on defense and LeBron and Wade are running up and down the court like some sort of Olympic relay on steroids, they’re impossible to beat. 

The only question boils down to June. Can they—and when we write “they”, we really mean LeBron—do it in the Finals? That’s where the bar has been set by LeBron and his Miami cohorts when their egos ran rampant in Miami during 2010’s victory parade…before a single game had been played. They were close last year and LeBron was roundly criticized for failing to deliver. So anything less than a title will be considered a failure this year as well.

Not since Jordan’s heyday did a player have this much pressure to win everything, and at least for Jordan, he had a couple titles under his belt as well as the awe and fear (rightfully) associated with his persona. LeBron is still title-less and a lot of players believe he isn’t just fallible, but fragile. I know Boston will be gunning for him, and so will Derrick Rose and the Bulls. Then there’s the actual Western Conference winner to contend with, which might mean a match-up against one of the other players on this list.

We. Shall. See. LeBron will most likely become the 8th player to win 3 MVP awards, but the caveat to that list is the caveat to his career. He’ll be the only player with 3 Maurice Podoloff trophies, but not the one that matters; The Larry O’Brien trophy Dirk and Co. won last year. A title will be the final feather in LeBron’s cap or another black mark critics will use to tear him down. A regular season MVP award shouldn’t mean anything at this point, it’s the titles that measure the Titans (Bird, Magic, MJ, Russell, Wilt, West). Right now LeBron is a titan without the capital T, for title. It’s on him now. 

Goddamn, I’ve got goosebumps again. 


PHOTOS/Getty Images

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