There is no clear cut front-runner in the race for the most valuable player award, which creates a real interesting finish this month. Five candidates have surged in the forefront (in no particular order): Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
With the exception of Love, each MVP contender is in the middle of a heated chase for playoff positioning. Durant and Westbrook are spearheading the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West, with Kobe Bryant’s L.A. Lakers not too far behind. In the East, LeBron has carried the Miami Heat to the second-best record in the East with still a good chance to catch the Chicago Bulls for home-court edge.
We break down the MVP race and who deserves to be holding the Maurice Podoloff trophy at the end of the regular season.
Where would the Minnesota Timberwolves be without Kevin Love? In his fourth season in the Association, Mr. double-double has elevated his game from all-star status to superstar status. He ranks fourth in scoring (26.0), second in rebounds (13.4) and has racked up more than 100 3-pointers. Love is considered more as a power forward than a center, which eliminates him from being named to the All-NBA first team. But if you’re going by performance alone and no position restrictions, Love deserves to be on the first team.
At 33, the Black Mamba remains one of the deadliest scorers in the league. His 28.1 scoring average is No. 1 in the league, and if he can stay on that number he’ll be the oldest scoring champ since Michael Jordan. Bryant’s season has been somewhat of a roller-coaster. He got off to a fast start, then tailed off a bit in March, but picked it up in early April. He’s currently nursing an injured shin, which has forced him out of the lineup. The Lakers may have shifted the offense to their big men (centers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol), but when the game is on the line there is no one better than No. 24.
Oklahoma City’s best player is Kevin Durant, but what makes the Thunder special is Russell Westbrook. When Westbrook is on, there is nobody better in the league going end-to-end. He is kinda like that wild race horse that has a difficult time getting into the starting gates. But once the race starts, he explodes out of the gates. Only Derrick Rose can match Westbrook’s coast-to-coast skills. He can attack the rim, he can pull up for a jumper, and he can defend. He is fifth in the NBA in scoring (24.3) and sixth in steals (1.7). Westbrook still has trouble with turnovers, but if can dial it down just a tad he’ll drive past Rose as the best point guard in the world.
If the MVP was based purely on statistics, then LeBron James would be a cinch to claim the trophy. He is third in the league in scoring (26.8), 14th in assists (6.4), and third in steals (1.9). He also averages 7.9 rebounds and shoots 53% from the field, the highest shooting percentage among the top 10 scorers. But because James plays on a team with all-stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, some voters may mark him down along with the fact that he hasn’t been able to shed his reputation as a terrible fourth-quarter performer. Regardless of his shortcomings late in games, James remains basketball’s most complete player and it’s not even close.
Kevin Durant came into this season on a mission. He posted four 30-point games in the first week of the lockout-shortened season, and he is finishing strong with two 40-point games in April. He also had a 51-point outburst on Feb. 19 against the Denver Nuggets and hit a memorable game-winning shot against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 29. Durant ranks second in scoring (27.8) and is well on his way to post career bests in rebounds (7.9), assists (3.5), steals (1.4), blocks (1.2), and field-goal percentage (50%). If the Thunder finishes with the best record in the West, it’s going to hard to ignore KD as the league’s MVP. And when it’s all said and done in the regular season, Oklahoma City could have the MVP (Durant), the best sixth man (James Harden), best defender (Serge Ibaka), and best coach (Scott Brooks).