NBA Playoffs 2012: 10 Early Postseason MVP Candidates

Ben Shapiro@benshapironyc1 Analyst IIIMay 10, 2012

NBA Playoffs 2012: 10 Early Postseason MVP Candidates

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    The first round of the playoffs has yet to finish. 

    That doesn't mean it's too early to speculate about the eventual postseason MVP winner though. Michael Jordan, pictured above has won a record six NBA Finals MVP awards. Last season Dirk Nowitzki won his first. The Mavericks have already been eliminated, so Dirk won't be winning a second award. 

    Who are the early favorites to take home this coveted piece of hardware? The following slides contain some decent picks, and each slide is prefaced with the player's current postseason stats. Remember it's still early, so nothing is set in stone. With several rounds of games left, plenty can (and probably will) change. 

Kobe Bryant

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    Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers: 31.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 42.9% FG

    The field goal percentage is low, but the production is high. Kobe Bryant is the current leading scorer in the NBA this postseason. He scored 43 points in the Lakers Game 5 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

    Bryant has already won two postseason MVP awards, and he'd love to add a third. The Lakers probably won't win the NBA Finals without getting an MVP-worthy performance from Kobe, so his teammates won't be too hesitant to feed Bryant the ball as often as he wants it.

    The first round of the playoffs has been an example of this. Bryant has shot the ball frequently, his defense has been solid and, most impressively, he's deferred to his teammates at times when many long-time Bryant observers would not have expected.

    Kobe has so much postseason experience that it's impossible to count him or the Lakers out of playoffs until they're completely eliminated.  

LeBron James

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    LeBron James, Miami Heat: 27.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 48.6% FG

    We all know about the situation with LeBron James. 

    Since before his selection as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, he's been pegged as a future all-time great.

    When it comes to the postseason, we're all still waiting. He's proven himself to be among the more spectacular regular season players in NBA history. There's something missing though. That "something" is a championship ring.

    The first-round victory over the Knicks was nice. LeBron played very well, but everyone is waiting to see what he does in the finals. Some are actually just waiting to see if he even makes the finals. One way or another, LeBron's rep is going to determined by what he and the Heat do in the finals. 

    For LeBron, a finals MVP award would be secondary to a ring, but James would probably love to end this season in possession of both.  

Kevin Durant

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    Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder: 26.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.8 APG, 45.5% FG

    Kevin Durant has already established himself as one of the very brightest young stars in the NBA. He'd love to add a ring to that resume and a finals MVP award would be icing on the cake. 

    So far this postseason he's already made one game-winning shot. It was in the final seconds of the opening game of the Thunder's first-round series against Dallas. The foul line jumper hit the rim and bounced in to give the Thunder a 99-98 win. That's exactly the type of big shot that will go over very well with MVP voters. 

    The trick of course is getting to the finals, which is something Durant has yet to do in his career. 

Chris Paul

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    Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers: 23.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 8.8 APG, 47.1% FG

    Yes, a member of the Los Angeles Clippers is officially appearing in a slideshow about potential finals MVP award winners. 

    Then again, this is Chris Paul we're talking about. 

    Paul spent the regular season transforming the manner in which NBA fans thought about the Clippers. Now he appears determined to change those views in the postseason as well. 

    Of course there's the little matter of the Memphis Grizzlies standing in the way. The Clippers own a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 is in Los Angeles and a Clipper win would elevate them into the second round where they'd square off against the San Antonio Spurs.

    Paul, as the numbers above indicate, has been huge in the opening series for L.A.

    Can he keep it up? It seems unlikely that Los Angeles will win much without him, so Clippers fans need to hope that Paul is prepared for a deep playoff run.  

Russell Westbrook

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    Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: 22.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 4.3 APG, 45.3% FG

    The Oklahoma City Thunder have a two-headed attack. Kevin Durant is one head and Russell Westbrook is the other.

    Westbrook can score points with the best of them. He can also be a bit erratic. In Game 4 of the Thunder's first-round series with Dallas, Westbrook was only 3-12 from the field and scored a total of 12 points.

    The Thunder won the game, but Westbrook's performance was not MVP-worthy.

Paul Pierce

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    Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics: 21.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 42.5% FG

    Paul Pierce is often referred to as "The Truth."

    The truth is that if Pierce has a lot of games similar to Game 2 of the Celtics' opening round matchup with the Hawks, then this award and postseason won't be that suspenseful. In that game, Pierce had 36 points along with a game high 14 rebounds.

    Contrast that with his combined numbers from games 1 and 5 (both were Celtics losses).

    Pierce scored a very modest 28 points and was 12 of 36 from the floor. Pierce's performances and the Celtics' losses illustrate how valuable Pierce is to Boston.  

Dwyane Wade

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    Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat: 21.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, 54.5% FG

    Hasn't he already won one of these awards? 

    Yes, Wade won the Finals MVP award after the 2006 finals when his Heat defeated the Dallas Mavericks.

    That doesn't mean he can't win a second. Playing alongside LeBron James makes accumulating huge numbers a real challenge. Wade's path to an MVP would probably revolve around efficiency. Notice that 54.5 field goal percentage?

    That would be great for a big man, but for a shooting guard, it's remarkable. If Wade can keep up that pace he'll be tough for voters to ignore.  

Blake Griffin

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    Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers: 21.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.0 APG, 56.9% FG

    In the unlikely event that the Los Angeles Clippers actually win the NBA Finals it seems even more unlikely that Blake Griffin could win the MVP award. 

    He does have a shot though. He's going to have to elevate those rebounding numbers which are down by nearly four a game since the playoffs began. 

    If Griffin and the Clippers beat the Grizzlies and advance they'll play the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs. San Antonio's depth in the low post would put a ton of pressure on Griffin to rebound the basketball. If Griffin were to crash the boards and lead the Clippers to victory, it would be a major feather in his cap with MVP voters. 

Tony Parker

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    Tony Parker San Antonio Spurs: 21.0 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 6.5 APG, 50.0% FG

    Put simply, Tony Parker is the engine that powers the league's best team. The Spurs entered the playoffs tied with the Chicago Bulls for best record in the league. Credit goes to Tony Parker. 

    Then the Spurs easily dispatched of the eighth seeded Utah Jazz. Once again Parker was the key guy. Now as they await the winner of the Clippers-Grizzlies series, whoever they play will have to contend with Parker.

    The Spurs are one of the league's deepest teams. They don't need most of their individual players to put up lofty numbers. They just need a leader and a go-to guy. That's Tony Parker, and it's why he has a really good chance at this award.  

Rajon Rondo

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    Rajon Rondo Boston Celtics: 17.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 12.8 APG, 45.6% FG

    There are two players left in the NBA playoffs who have recorded seven playoff triple-doubles. LeBron James and Rajon Rondo. 

    Rondo has 20 career triple-doubles, and the Celtics are 19-1 in those games. For all of Rondo's flaws, his passing ability and all-around game make him impossible to ignore as a legitimate MVP candidate. 

    Triple-doubles hold special places in MVP voters' hearts. 

    In 1988 when the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Detroit Pistons in seven games to win the NBA title, it was a Game 7 triple-double by James Worthy that won the series for L.A. and won the MVP award for James Worthy. 

    If the Celtics win the NBA Finals this season and Rajon Rondo has a Game 7 triple-double, there's no reason to expect historical precedent to be broken.