Race to the MVP Ladder
The Race to the MVP Ladder is a weekly look at our favorite to walk away with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy (aka the NBA MVP award). The rankings are normally written by Sekou Smith of NBA.com's HangTime blog, Hang Time podcast and The Beat. If you have an issue with the Ladder, or have a question or comment for Sekou, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on Twitter.
LeBron Ready To Cede His MVP Crown?
April 11 -- Before anyone puts words in the mouth of the two-time defending Most Valuable Player of the league, let's be crystal clear about what LeBron James said in regards to Kevin Durant earlier this week.
When asked if Durant should be the frontrunner for top honors this season, LeBron chose his words carefully.
"He's the most consistent basketball player as far as the MVP this year," James said about Durant. "He's put up some great numbers."
"I think KD has had one heck of a season," James said. "If he's rewarded with the MVP, it would be great. It would be awesome for him, for his family. He's played MVP-type basketball. I don't really get caught up into what people say. At the end of the day, they have their own votes and they go from there."
Indeed, the voters will speak soon. And from all indications, Durant's campaign this season has been waged beautifully. With or without Russell Westbrook in OKC's mix, he has been consistently brilliant in all aspects of his game.
As much as people would like to make this KD vs. LeBron showdown, it's really been about the contrasts of two elite artists and admiring the fine work they've done in their own particular ways.
Choosing one over the other almost becomes a preference issue. The Thunder trail the Spurs for the top spot in the Western Conference standings and the Heat are a half game behind the Pacers for the top spot in the East, with their fourth and final matchup of the season set for tonight in Miami (7:30 ET, NBA TV). So that all-important his-team-finished-higher-than-his factor might not even come into play.
But the fact that LeBron responded to questions about Durant the way he did, at this late stage of the race, is perhaps most telling. Both players have had to work under duress this season: LeBron for long stretches without a fully healthy Dwyane Wade (various injuries), while Durant didn't have Westbrook (various knee injuries) to lean on for huge chunks of the season.
The chorus for a Durant-over-LeBron MVP finish this season grew a bit louder this week and took an interesting twist when Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said (as biased as it might be) that Blake Griffin had also surpassed James and should finish second to Durant.
It's a slight that will no doubt leave a mark on James, as Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com makes clear:
Wednesday, one of James' favorite people in the league, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers, said he'd have to bump James down to third place on his own Most Valuable Player rankings to make way for Blake Griffin behind Kevin Durant in the top spot.
This was while James was dragging the Heat on his back with a 37-point performance as Dwyane Wade sat out his 27th game of the season and Chris Bosh contributed a grand total of three points. The Heat lost to the Memphis Grizzlies and fell behind the Indiana Pacers for the top record in the Eastern Conference.
Over the past 10 games, eight of which Wade has missed with a hamstring injury, James has averaged 29 points, seven rebounds and six assists. In the past five games he's averaging 31 points but also 40 minutes, something he hoped to avoid as the playoffs approach.
Those are MVP-type numbers, but the Heat are only 5-5 in those 10 games and that has essentially sealed the deal for James. He most likely will not become the first player in history to win five MVPs in a six-year span as he'd aspired to this season.
In 2011, James gave what amounted to a concession speech in early April when he knew Derrick Rose was taking the MVP title that he'd held for two seasons from him. He did it again Wednesday when he effectively admitted he knows the award is probably going to Durant this season.
That leaves us with a simple choice as we head into the final six days of the season: do we go ahead and call the race now or do we play out the string and pick a winner for the sake of formality?
Because the incumbent seems to have already made that choice for us ...
-- Sekou Smith
Editor's note on player stats: Instead of going with points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals to measure each MVP candidate's numbers, we are instead going with PIE.
While we do not discredit traditional stats around these parts, PIE is one stat we think helps accurately reflect the overall value of a player.
What is PIE?: It stands for Player Impact Estimate, and it's a new NBA-developed stat that measures a player's (or team's) overall impact on games.
PIE eliminates league- , season- or style-of-play bias, enabling comparison of a player (or team) across different eras. The PIE formula also includes the team's rate of success -- which some see as the ultimate measure of a player's worth.
But if you're looking for the traditional (and advanced numbers), they're just a click away, too.
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