NBA: The MVP Will Come out of Los Angeles

Kirk JacksonContributor IIIMarch 5, 2012

Two MVP candidates Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul
Two MVP candidates Kobe Bryant and Chris PaulHarry How/Getty Images

A little over halfway through the season, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul are two MVP candidates playing at a high level this season.

Paul is averaging 19.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 2.2 steals while playing just over 36 minutes per game.

Bryant is averaging a league-leading 28.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.3 steals while playing 38 minutes per game.

But their MVP play is more than just statistical greatness. They bring the qualities of leadership and determination both guys display on a consistent basis. They possess the intangible elements that enable their teams to elevate and succeed on a higher level.

Paul and Bryant bring a defensive tenacity, a competitive drive, and an iron will to get the job done under any circumstance. Excuses are not valid—everyone is held accountable.

The main focus for MVP attention has been on LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who are outstanding talents and among the best players in the league. But as great as they are, they may not be the most valuable pieces to their respective squads.

James is an all-around threat blessed with outstanding court vision and passing ability. James is an elite rebounder for the forward position and is an improved defender. The self-proclaimed “King” is basically a stat stuffer—a fantasy owner’s dream who puts up video game numbers. James has an extremely high basketball IQ and generally makes great decisions during the game, (minus a few late game situations).

But if you take James off the roster, you still have a formidable team, especially in the weaker Eastern Conference. With James off the roster, the Miami Heat would not be the favorite to win it all, but they would still finish with one of the better records in the conference and could possibly contend for the title.

The Big Three LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade
The Big Three LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwayne WadeMarc Serota/Getty Images

Chris Bosh is a top-15 caliber player; Dwayne Wade is a proven closer, champion, and arguably the best player on the Miami Heat. The Heat have a solid bench and good role players, like Udonis Haslem, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Mario Chalmers; the list goes on and on.

Kevin Durant is an effortless scorer who is developing a ‘killer instinct’ like Mr. Bryant and is really coming into his own this season. One of the great things about Durant is his work ethic, as he is always trying to get better each season. His size and length can someday prove to make him a nightmare on the defensive end, just as he is on the offensive end. Durant is the unquestioned leader of this young Oklahoma City Thunder team, which is oozing with youth and talent. 

But Russell Westbrook arguably may be more important to the Thunder than Durant. Westbrook is the most explosive and athletically gifted point guard in the league, aside from last year’s MVP, Derrick Rose. Westbrook has the pressure and responsibility of handling the team’s offense. He may not be as efficient as Durant, but he is a well-rounded player, more than capable of getting a triple double on any night. And from a defensive stand point, he is a little bit better than Durant.

What hurts Paul’s chances, surprisingly enough, is Blake Griffin and the surrounding cast of high flying athletes. I believe when people watch SportsCenter highlights, they see all of these athletes and just assume Paul and company should be doing that and it’s not a big deal.

The Clippers have had talent in the past. Remember when they had a young Quentin Richardson, Darius Miles, Corey Maggette, Lamar Odom, Keyon Dooling, etc.?  I know Michael Olowokandi was probably one of the worst draft picks in recent memory, but the Clippers had talent—they just couldn't manufacture wins.

Dynamic duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook
Dynamic duo Kevin Durant and Russell WestbrookRonald Martinez/Getty Images

Paul brings leadership to manage and help develop the talent that is on this year’s version of the Clippers. As a point guard this season and in seasons past, Paul has maximized the talent and is playing at a high level.

It’s actually quite puzzling Bryant isn’t receiving more buzz or attention for MVP contention. To be leading the NBA in scoring at age 33, playing in your 16th season, is quite a remarkable accomplishment in itself. People may believe he shoots too much, the ball should be spread around more, etc.

Those points are valid to some degree, Bryant does a good job of facilitating the ball, and guys like Pau Gasol and Andruw Bynum would get more touches if they were more demanding and aggressive in the interior paint. They do not actively call for the ball and establish themselves on a consistent basis on the offensive end in the paint.

Bryant is performing at a high level despite his age and coming off a knee surgery. As a matter of fact, injuries will not even deter this guy—it’s like he isn’t human. Even this year, torn finger ligaments on his shooting hand, broken nose, concussion—nothing will stop him. Bryant has some talent to help him, but there are plenty of holes on the team as well.

Derek Fisher is a stand-up guy, a consummate professional and an outstanding leader on and off the court. But Fisher is old, can’t consistently put up offensive numbers, and is a liability on defense. The Lakers’ bench is also an issue, as they are one of the most inconsistent groups in the league from a statistical perspective. The Lakers' bench averages 21.2 points per game (league worst), and their efficiency rating is also a league worst 25.0.

Take Bryant off the Lakers and they will more than likely miss the playoffs; he is the heart and soul of that team. Take Paul off the Clippers, they will resemble the same team as last year, when they did not make the playoffs.

Take James and Durant off, they still are playoff capable teams. They may not be competing for a title without Durant and James, but they are still formidable.