Kevin Durant IS the MVP
The race for the Most Valuable Player award was on everybody's mind as soon as the All-Star break was in sight. The only discussion worth having was about two guys, though: 4-time MVP LeBron James and multi-time scoring champion Kevin Durant. The two most dominant ballers of this generation have been going at each other since the 2011-2012 Finals.
Every time the Thunder and Heat play each other, all eyes are on #6 of the Heat and #35 of the Thunder to see who would come out on top that night. Fans of both players have thrown out every argument or statistic imaginable in comparing the two, with the MVP trophy looming as a significant contribution to the cause.
In the end, Durant entered the second round of the 2014 playoffs with the Maurice Podoloff trophy, making him the third recipient of the award in the last six years. But, what made this season different for KD? What allowed him to do the one thing that only Derrick Rose has done so far, which was grab the throne from King James?
A Month To Remember
The most obvious answers come from the numbers in January, when Durantula delivered an unforgettable average of 30 points per game on 50.2% shooting. His offense killed opponents in every way imaginable, spreading the floor with a 41% average from beyond the arc, an ability to drive equaled only by Westbrook, along with an 88% showing from the free throw line.
Durant's scoring performance is a big exclamation point for the Thunder forward, and the first real threat to the reign of King James.. But, MVPs do not live on scoring alone, and many have said so in defense of LBJ. In fact, Durant's numbers in January weren't that special compared to the efficiency he displayed the season prior.
During the 2012-2013 season, Durant joined an informal group of NBA players called the 50-40-90 club. This is a group of players that posted 50% on field goals, 40% from the three-point line, and 90% from the free throw line for at least one season. The club's members include Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, and Steve Nash; notice that neither LeBron James nor Michael Jordan is on the list.
In terms of overall performance, however, LeBron is still a better all-around player. He could play any position, defend any position, dominate games whenever he wants, and is climbing the ranks of clutch shooters with a stat sheet that stands out even among the game's elite.
Why then is Durant given the NBAs highest individual honor?
Because history is on his side.
It's long been an open secret in the NBA that statistics only make up half of the story when it comes to the MVP race. If voters made their decisions based on statistics alone Jordan and Kareem would each have nine, Dirk would have three, Kobe would have none, and James would have his seventh right now.
The other half of MVP voting rests on a player's history. Try as they might, voters can't put a season in a vacuum. In this case, James was his own worst enemy, and Westbrook's injury gave Durant the keys to win the award.
Last season, the Heat went on a historic run for the league's longest winning streak, a performance that earned the team a Laureus nomination for Team of the Year. For James to win the MVP this year, he had to top a record-breaking season last year or carry a much heavier load for the team. Any output that merely equals that legendary run would pale in comparison.
Durant had that opportunity when Westbrook went down, and capitalized on his role as the Thunder's leader in a big way. January meant more to Durant than numbers, but went much deeper, by allowing him to carry the entire team on his shoulders. The MVP may be an award given to one player, but the situation involves more than the people in the race.
The NBA specifically made the definition of an MVP too vague to allow more than just numbers to dictate the game. This is what makes the game fascinating, and the MVP race so compelling to follow every year.