Head-to-Head: Who Wins 2014-15 NBA MVP?

Who will win the NBA MVP award this season? Jabari Davis, Alex Kennedy and Nate Duncan debate.

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Entering the 2014-15 NBA season, Kevin Durant and LeBron James seem like the frontrunners in the Most Valuable Player race, considering Durant is the reigning MVP and James has already won it four times. However, there are a number of other players who could enter the discussion throughout the course of the season.

For this week’s head-to-head, Jabari Davis, Alex Kennedy and Nate Duncan will discuss: Who will win the 2014-15 NBA MVP award?

Kevin Durant

We’ve traveled nearly 18 months throughout the ups and downs of the NBA galaxy since Kevin Durant uttered his now-famous “tired of being second” rant for an April 2013 edition of Sports Illustrated, and the 26-year-old scorer still finds himself searching for that elusive NBA title he clearly desires more than any other accolade. Durant may have been “the real MVP” for 2013-14, but that seemingly has done little to satisfy the 6’10 small forward’s hunger for more in terms of his team’s overall success. It is that desire in particular that should lead to him being considered one of the frontrunners for the award for the foreseeable future.

As one of the top MVP candidates for 2014-15, Durant is joined by plenty of stiff competition such as LeBron James, Derrick Rose or perhaps dark-horse candidates like Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis or John Wall. Put simply, much like the heightened level of competition in an eternally-unfriendly Western Conference playoff race, Durant finds himself with several stars vying for the crown that he currently holds.

Although some may continue to question the nature or status of his relationship with teammate Russell Westbrook particularly when it comes to the proverbial pecking order at times, Durant continues to show a tremendous amount of maturity as he openly acknowledges that much of his own personal success (which ultimately leads to the team’s) is a direct result of being able to play alongside a player as passionate and dedicated as Westbrook has been. Not only does this denote a heightened sense of self-awareness and perspective, but it also shows an understanding and embracing of true leadership.

Durant continues to exemplify what it means to be a professional, leader and teammate both on the court and off, but don’t take that to mean he isn’t as fierce a competitor as anyone else. While on the outside he may appear to have a generally laid-back personality, these last two years of losing in the Conference Semifinals (2013) and Conference Finals (2014) seemed to only add fuel to his internal fire.

The likelihood of Durant remaining in the vaunted 50-40-90 discussion – at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from beyond the arc, 90 percent from the charity stripe – while remaining around the 30 points per game mark are relatively high given his current career arc, as are his team’s chances to be in competition for one of the West’s top spots. For these reasons, Durant should be considered one of the frontrunners in this discussion as we head into the season.

– Jabari Davis

LeBron James

Last season, LeBron James’ statistics were down just enough to allow Kevin Durant to take the Most Valuable Player award. His play on the defensive end dropped off and he averaged fewer rebounds, assists, steals and blocks than we have become accustomed to seeing from him.

One could argue that James and his teammates had gotten somewhat complacent after winning two straight titles. Miami’s aging supporting cast also could’ve contributed to James’ drop in numbers, since Dwyane Wade became a part-time player and they were relying on a number of players in the twilight of their career including Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Chris Andersen and Rashard Lewis among others. James was forced to carry the team’s offense at times, which could’ve led to his drop in production on the defensive end as well as his decreased assist numbers. He was also banged up throughout the season, as the HEAT unintentionally ran him into the ground while trying to preserve Wade for the postseason.

Now that he is back in Cleveland with a new supporting cast, I think James’ numbers will once again increase and he’ll be the frontrunner to hoist the MVP trophy once again.

This Cavs team has the potential to be the best team James has played on, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love entering their primes and a talented supporting cast that includes Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Anderson Varejao, Mike Miller and Shawn Marion among others. While it could take some time for these new pieces to come together, they should be one of the most talented teams in the NBA once they jell (and certainly better than last year’s HEAT team, which was limited due to injuries and aging).

Also, if James did get complacent last year after stringing together multiple titles and MVP awards, that won’t be the case this season. He’s determined to win Cleveland their first NBA championship, as he’s stated, and he’s no longer the reigning champ or MVP.

James has shown that when he’s in the right situation and mindset, he can be an absolute monster on both ends of the floor. He has flirted with Michael Jordan’s record for highest efficiency rating in a season and he can seem unstoppable at times.

I think we’ll be seeing a lot of that LeBron James this season.

– Alex Kennedy

The Field

To start, I think it is very unlikely anyone other than Kevin Durant or LeBron James wins MVP. Those two were far and away the two best players in the league a year ago. If they stay healthy, I fully expect that to remain the case this year–in fact, those two remaining the best players is probably more likely than someone else winning MVP.

With that said, what would have to happen for either not to win it and who could plausibly surpass them? A look at NBA history is instructive. Usually when a player who isn’t the best wins the MVP, his team has to surprise while the best player’s disappoints, at least compared to previous years. Examples include Derrick Rose over James in 2011, Allen Iverson over Shaquille O’Neal in 2001 and Charles Barkley over Michael Jordan in 1993.

If the Cavaliers and Thunder win 55 games or less (an unlikely proposition) or fall outside the top two seeds in their conference (even if not through the fault of either James or Durant), that could open the door to some other candidates.

The prime candidate is Anthony Davis. He has gotten some buzz as the potential third-best player in the NBA after his stint at the World Cup, and his box score statistics were near that level on a per-minute basis already a year ago. He has not had a commensurate effect on his teams’ fortunes (especially on defense) as measured by various plus/minus systems, but I expect that to change this year as he learns to apply his ample physical gifts. The Pelicans were also injury riddled a year ago, and traded for Omer Asik this offseason. They have enough defensive talent to become a top-10 or even top-five defense if Monty Williams can get them to jell quickly. If that happens, it would be possible for the Pelicans to win well over 50 games. That is really the absolute baseline for an MVP candidate–the 1987-88 Chicago Bulls in Michael Jordan’s first MVP year. Davis’ defense could also provide a defense for those who pick him over James and Durant despite what will likely be superior individual statistics for them.

Other potential candidates include Derrick Rose if the Bulls outpace the Cavs during the regular season and he returns to form, Stephen Curry if the Warriors grab a top-three seed in the West, and Blake Griffin if Chris Paul misses significant time and he blows up statistically.

– Nate Duncan

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