The MVP Race: The (MVP) Case Against the Golden State Warriors
Just about every advanced metric shows that Kevin Durant should be leading this year’s MVP race.
The leading scorer on a team with the league’s best record, Kevin Durant also leads the league in Win Shares and True Shooting, and is second only to Anthony Davis in Player Efficiency Rating.
He boasts season averages of 27 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists, and has absolutely demoralized any defender faced with the grave challenge of defending him on a given night.
So why isn’t Durant getting more love in the MVP Race?
It’s the same reason why Stephen Curry and Draymond Green have yet to be included in this particular race at all this season; the word MOST. The idea behind being the most valuable player to a given team (to me at least) is that you ADD more value to your team’s ability to win games than anyone else in the league.
Secondly, and again in my opinion, you can’t have two players from the same team among the top MVP candidates; the fact that they are each so valuable caps the potential value added by their fellow superstar. An injury to star player isn’t as big of a deal if you have a second star player to lean on. If there is only one star player on the team and he suffers an injury, the team is likely going to struggle to win games. That is just a fact of life in the NBA.
The argument against Kevin Durant is that the Warriors would likely have a very similar team record if they had played each of their games with him on the bench. Playing with 2 (perhaps even 3) other potential MVP candidates, one of which is a former back-to-back MVP himself, hurts his overall value.
We know that when LeBron James sits, the Cavaliers have a 4-16 record. We know that if Russell Westbrook wasn’t playing every night, averaging a triple double for the Thunder, they’d very well be a lottery team. But we also know that last season, without Durant, a very similar Warriors team was 73 games during the regular season. We also know that if Curry was to sit Durant, Klay and Draymond will likely still be enough to overpower the opposition.
And the same truth can used in reverse. We know that if Anthony Davis hadn’t played for the Pelicans at all this season, they still would have started out with a 0-8 record and they still would be out of the playoff picture. The Pelicans would be a lottery team with or without Davis and that is why he too has been omitted from this race.
At the end of the day each person has their own criteria as to what constitutes the Most Valuable Player. An injury, coaching change or a sudden winning streak could change everything in a flash.
1. Russell Westbrook (31.0 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 11.3 APG, 29.5 PER) At this point, detractors can say what they like about Westbrook, but we are all witnessing something very special. Sunday marks his 5th triple double in a row (averaging 28.6 PPG, 13.8 RPG, and 14.6 APG over that stretch), something we haven’t seen done since Michael Jordan was still a Chicago Bull. If he somehow maintains this kind of production all season long, it’ll be very hard to deny him MVP honors.
2. James Harden (28.3 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 11.8 APG, 28.2 PER)
Somehow, the Rockets managed to upset the Golden State Warriors in Oakland with James Harden shooting 34.8% from the field and registering a -6 net rating. Harden didn’t let his poor shooting performance slow him down as he registered 13 assists and 15 rebounds to go along with his 29 points. With that win the Rockets are only 1.5 games behind the Clippers for the 3rd seed in the West and are on pace to win 53 games this year
3. LeBron James (23.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 9.3 APG, 24.0 PER) LeBron will likely have some choice words for his teammates following three straight losses by an average margin of 14 points. But in all honesty, his own level of production hasn’t where it should be either. Over those 3 losses LeBron has posted a very human 21.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG and 7.1 APG. For a Cavaliers squad that is suddenly looking for answers, it might be time for LeBron to do some heavy lifting to keep them in firm control of the East’s number one seed.
4. Kevin Durant (27.3 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 4.8 APG, 30.4 PER) As stated above, we’re only going to be able to punish Kevin Durant for so long. Eventually, if he keeps producing the way he has this year, we’ll have to start considering him a real threat to win the MVP award. For this season, however, I just don’t see that happening, and what really doesn’t help is playing on the same team as a back-to-back MVP who is currently averaging 26 PPG, 4 RPG and 6 APG on 50% shooting.
5. Kawhi Leonard (24.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 26.6 PER) With Tim Duncan retiring this offseason there were a lot of questions surrounding whether or not last year’s MVP Runner-up could take his offensive game to the next level. Through the first 20 games of the season, Kawhi has made his doubters look foolish. Although he has slowed down a little from his hot start to the season, he has still been terrific on both ends of the floor. One area for concern (and I know I’m nitpicking) is that his defense has seemed to slip due to his bigger offensive responsibility. Kawhi currently has a Defensive Rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) above 100 for the first time since his rookie season and his 0.4 Defensive Box Plus/Minus is the lowest of his career.
6. DeMar DeRozan (27.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 25.6 PER) Although DeMar has inevitably cooled down from his early season burst, he is still producing at an elite level. Still on pace to have a career year, he has the Raptors in position to once again challenge the Cavaliers for the East’s number one seed with another 50+ win season. They have won their last 4 games by an average margin of 30 points and have a chance to close the gap on Monday. If they manage to secure that top spot, DeMar will certainly earn some real MVP consideration.
7. Jimmy Butler (25.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 4.1 APG, 27.7 PER) Jimmy Butler looks very comfortable with Derrick Rose out of town. His status as the Bulls’ number one option is now set in stone, and deservedly so. Jimmy has been one of the most effective players on both ends of the court this season and is having no problem adjusting to the full focus of opposing defenses. He has scored 25 or more points in 6 of his last 7 games, and as long as he keeps the Bulls on the competitive end of the playoff picture, he is sure to garner considerable attention from MVP voters.
8. Chris Paul (17.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 9.1 APG, 28.0 PER) The Clippers have absolutely wasted their blistering start to the 2016/2017 season. After running out to a 10-1 record, the Clippers are now 16-6 and hold only a 1.5 game lead over the fourth place Houston Rockets. Although he’s posted a few stinkers during their recent struggles, Paul has (for the most part) upheld his end of the bargain averaging 18 PPG, 6 RPG, and 10 APG over their last 5 games.
9. Isaiah Thomas (26.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 6.3 APG, 25.2 PER) After a rocky start to the season that included some very unfortunate injuries to key players, the Celtics are starting to slowly hit their stride. Isaiah has been leading the way with one incredible performance after the other. Listed at 5-foot-9 (he’s admittedly closer to 5’8”), Thomas is inch-for-inch one of the most talented players in the NBA. Right now he’s leading a very good Celtics squad and if they manage to reach their potential as a team, expect Isaiah to shoot up this list.
10. Giannis Antetokounmpo (22.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 6.1 APG, 27.0 PER) Giannis has been playing great basketball all year long, but he still seems to fly under the radar. That likely has to do with how poorly the Bucks started their season. But with the Bucks playing a little better and the other teams in the East playing a little worse, the Bucks are now one game back from third place in the Eastern Conference and Giannis has been the catalyst. He rebounds and blocks shots like a big man, passes the ball like a point guard and runs the floor like a wing. The only thing he isn’t able to do yet is develop a reliable outside shot, but when that happens, the Eastern Conference needs to look out.