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Head to Head: Is Kevin Durant the NBA’s MVP?

Does Kevin Durant deserve to take home the NBA’s 2013-14 MVP award? Basketball Insiders’ Joel Brigham and Susan Bible debate.

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In recent weeks, Kevin Durant has been playing some of the best basketball of his career and many people are saying that he’s the frontrunner in the NBA’s 2013-14 Most Valuable Player race. Basketball Insiders’ Susan Bible and Joel Brigham debate whether Durant deserves the MVP award:

Kevin Durant is, without question, the Most Valuable Player in the NBA this season.  This is the year he will finally nab the prestigious award.   Put aside Durant’s vast statistical achievements for a moment, and think about what we’ve witnessed on the floor.  The eye test is important in evaluating Durant’s season.

First, let’s take a quick look at the events leading up to Durant’s clear-cut MVP designation.

The Thunder’s 2013-14 season started out in very promising fashion.  Following a Christmas Day rout of the New York Knicks, the Thunder had a 23-5 record and were surging toward another trip to the NBA Finals.  Then news broke that Russell Westbrook would undergo a third knee procedure (in just eight months time) and remain sidelined through the All-Star Break in mid-February.  In other words, the Thunder would be without their star point guard for about one-third of the regular season.  Durant and company would have to try to keep the team afloat until his return.  Given the upcoming tough schedule – over half played on the road – a .500 record would be considered a success.

Instead, Durant has led his team to a .750 record in the first 20 games without Westbrook.  Their present 38-10 record tops the league.  It’s not just that he’s putting the team on his back; he’s taken his game to another level.  At 25 years old, he’s entering his prime and showing excellence on both ends of the court.

Obviously, Durant has been an elite scorer for the majority of his career.  He can get a shot off from anywhere on the court, scoring over one or two, or even three defenders; he’s currently leading the league (by far) at 31.2 points per game.  Instead of just settling for a game plan of taking increased shots during the short-handed stretch, he’s expanded his overall game.  With Westbrook out, he’s leading the Thunder in assists (5.2) and steals (1.5).  He even tops Serge Ibaka in defensive rebounds (7.0).  Durant has maintained his superb free throw shooting (8.7 per game at .883), and this year, his 2.2 three-pointers per game is a career high.   He’s involving others – such as role players Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones – and making them shine while building needed confidence.  It’s not talked about too much, but Durant has evolved into a solid multi-positional defender.  He’s markedly stronger and tougher than ever before.  Plus, he’s seriously furthered his clutch label.  When his team needs him to close out a game or provide immediate offense or simply make something positive happen on either end, he responds.

Watch Durant on the floor.  He’s more comfortable in leading, unafraid to offer correction to his teammates as well as praise.  The game has slowed down for him as his basketball IQ soars.  Durant’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is not only at the highest level of his career at a mind-blowing 31.3, it’s the best in the league.  So is his Win Shares rating. Durant has now scored 25 or more points in 13 consecutive games, all since January 7. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Durant’s point total is the highest for any NBA player in the month of January since San Antonio’s George Gervin scored 590 points in 16 games (36.9 PPG) during the first month of 1980.

Look at the All-Star results for this season.  Durant was the only Thunder player named.  His MVP nemesis, LeBron James, will be joined by two of his teammates – Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – at the All-Star Game.  Speaking of the defending champions Miami HEAT, Durant and the Thunder put on a clinic in a recent match-up, winning 112-95.  They’ve now won 10 games in a row.

No other player in the league is doing what Durant is doing with less help on the court.  Nobody is more valuable to an NBA team as Durant is to the Thunder.

Durant came in second to James in MVP voting the last two seasons.  No more.  The award is his this year.

– Susan Bible

 

Type “NBA MVP” into Google News and the headlines paint a pretty strong picture of who pundits think will win this award when it’s given out this spring.  Here are a few sample headlines from the last week:

“No Question, Kevin Durant is the MVP” and “Kevin Durant Tightens Grip on LeBron James’ MVP Trophy” and “LeBron Hasn’t Lost MVP, Durant Has Taken It.”

You get the picture.

Before the season even started, there were plenty of people with feelings that someone other than LeBron James would take home the trophy, because after taking home four of the last five (and two in a row), the voters were bound to get bored.  Ennui played a large part in Derrick Rose winning the award in 2011 (otherwise LeBron would be at five and counting), and there’s probably a part of voters, deep down, that has been waiting for a reason to assign a vote to Kevin Durant rather than His Highness.

No question about it, Kevin Durant is doing things this season that put him in an echelon with some of the greatest players of all-time, but let’s not get too hasty, here.  It literally just rolled over to February, and there’s plenty of season left to play.

In the meantime, it’s not like James’ MVP credentials are horrible—certainly not poor enough that we should count him completely out of this race.  While it’s true that Durant is leading the league in some very telling advanced metrics like PER and win shares, as well as in the less complicated category of “points per game,” James is literally right behind him in all three of those measures.  James, though, is shooting a career-high 58 percent from the field, which is ridiculous considering he attempts 16.5 field goals a game.

He’s also not so far behind Durant in terms of PER that he couldn’t overtake him, and the same should be said for both players’ team wins.  At the moment, James is in awe (just like everybody else) of everything Durant is doing, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have a hot streak of his own in the coming weeks.  Remember that James is a superhero, capable of some really incredible things when fully motivated, so if he blows up and allows the HEAT to take over the top spot in the conference and/or the league, while Durant cools off once Westbrook returns, it’s far from certain that this MVP race is already decided.

There are two-and-a-half months left of basketball, folks, and LeBron is sure to make this conversation interesting before those ten weeks are over.  Gear up for one of the tightest MVP races in ages, and know that while Durant looks like the favorite right now, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

– Joel Brigham

Does Durant deserve the MVP award this season? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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