NBA: Kevin Durant and 10 Players Who Will Compete for the 2013 NBA MVP Trophy
The 2013 NBA MVP race is shaping up to be yet another exciting dogfight among the league's elite. While the voting has provided the usual suspects over the years, the MVP race has shown the depth of young talent the NBA currently has.
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant should be a heavy favorite to take home the sport's most cherished individual accomplishment, as he's coming off a stellar season in which he finished second to eventual MVP LeBron James.
Durant won his third straight scoring title and finished the regular season averaging 28 points, 8 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game.
The "Durantula" will have some stiff competition, however. As the league continues to be bombarded with an influx of young talent, the list of contenders for the Maurice Podoloff Trophy gets deeper and deeper.
Who are 10 other stars who will join Durant in the running to be next season's Most Valuable Player? The first few names are pretty obvious, as guys like Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have become fixtures on the list of top vote-getters.
All three have finished, at least, in the Top 10 the past five seasons with only Howard finishing lower than fourth.
Still, there's always a breakout candidate who comes out of nowhere and throws his name in the hat with a big season. Guys like Manu Ginobili, Joe Johnson and Stephen Jackson have slipped into the Top 12 in recent years.
The season may be months away from tip-off, but here are 10 other stars besides Kevin Durant who will vie for the 2013 NBA MVP.
10. Eric Gordon, SG, New Orleans Hornets
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2011-12 Statistics: 20.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists per game. Only played in nine games.
Top 10 Finishes The Past Five Years: None.
Eric Gordon is my dark horse candidate for the MVP. At first glance, Gordon might seem like a stretch. After all, he's the best player on a Hornets team that finished with the fourth-worst record in the league last year and could potentially have two rookies in their starting five next season.
The other stumbling block for Gordon is durability. He's coming off his first season with the Hornets in which he played in just nine games. He's yet to play a full season in the four years he's been in the NBA.
Those are the negatives. These are the positives.
Gordon will be just 24 when the season starts this fall and he'll be the catalyst of a young New Orleans team that has a lot of potential with No. 1 pick Anthony Davis in the fold. He's one of the game's best young scorers.
If he can stay healthy (granted, that's a Manute Bol-sized IF), I like his chances of making a run at the MVP. If we're talking "value," Gordon has as much value to a young Hornets team as any of the other contenders on this list.
New Orleans' success will be a key factor in Gordon's candidacy, but keep in mind that we've seen guys on losing teams such as Kevin Love and Chris Bosh (during his Toronto Raptors days) make cameos in the Top 10 in years past.
9. Tony Parker, PG, San Antonio Spurs
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2011-12 Statistics: 18.3 points and 7.7 assists per game. Played in 60 games.
Top 10 Finishes The Past Five Years: One (sixth - 2011-12)
Apparently, to slow down Tony Parker, all you need is to get him to stand in the middle of two guys hurling champagne bottles at each other. Parker is expected to have surgery on his left eye and may miss this summer's Olympics after he was injured in a bar fight between Chris Brown and members of Drake's entourage.
Who would have thought that a melee between a notorious woman beater and one of the softest rappers in the hip-hop industry could potentially derail the career of one of the game's best point guards?
At times, Parker staked his claim to the title of the league's best point guard last season. He was a vital member of a Spurs team that surprisingly finished the regular season with the top seed in the Western Conference.
He was especially important during San Antonio's 20-game win streak which stretched from the end of the regular season all the way to the first two games of the Western Conference Finals.
With free agent forward Tim Duncan expected to be re-signed, the Spurs will continue to be among the league's elite. However, as Duncan starts to show his age more, San Antonio is rapidly becoming Parker's team.
With Chicago Bulls point guard and former MVP Derrick Rose possibly out for a large part of next season, the crown for the NBA's best point guard is a three-dog fight between Parker, Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo.
While Parker got the short end of the stick of the last fight he was involved in, he has the skill set and supporting cast to have a season that rivals Rose's 2010-11 MVP campaign.
Naturally, it depends on how he recovers from eye surgery, but there's a very real chance Parker steals the MVP in 2012-13.
8. Carmelo Anthony, SF, New York Knicks
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2011-12 Statistics: 22.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Played in 55 games.
Top 10 Finishes The Past Five Years: One. (sixth - 2009-10)
Carmelo Anthony is one of the game's best pure scorers and he also has the benefit of having the country's biggest media market behind him.
The Knicks responded better to interim coach Mike Woodson down the stretch than they did to former coach Mike D'Antoni. With Woodson now signed long term, the Knicks should be better next season and that can only boost the chances of their best player bringing the MVP to MSG.
There's another factor that could help 'Melo and the Knicks. With Derrick Rose out and Luol Deng on the trading block, the Bulls may falter next season. The same can be said about the Boston Celtics, who face tough decisions with Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett hitting free agency this summer. If the Magic trade Dwight Howard, the Knicks could find themselves in contention for a top three seed in the East.
The key will be whether Anthony can continue to progress under Woodson. Anthony butted heads with D'Antoni at times and didn't always see eye-to-eye with George Karl when both were together in Denver.
If he can lift the Knicks to new heights, though, Anthony will be in the running for the MVP. He's every bit as talented offensively as Kevin Durant, and his battles with LeBron James have been instant classics.
The fact that he plays in New York, where he'll always be in the national spotlight, can't hurt 'Melo's chances, either.
Anthony has to show he's ready to take the next step and show some maturity as the leader of a resurgent Knicks team. At 28, it's time for Anthony to grow up and take charge.
7. Kevin Love, PF, Minnesota Timberwolves
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2011-12 Statistics: 26 points and 13.3 rebounds per game. Played in 55 games.
Top 10 Finishes The Past Five Years: One (sixth - 2011-12)
Kevin Love is a double-double machine and one of the best rebounders in the NBA. He's the best player on a Timberwolves team that started to come on last season before point guard Ricky Rubio blew out his knee.
With Rubio back and Love continuing to develop, Love could make some noise next season as a viable MVP candidate.
It will depend a lot on the success of the Timberwolves. The Western Conference is notorious for its depth and Minnesota doesn't have much beyond Love and Rubio.
Could that duo be enough to sneak the T'Wolves into the playoffs next season? Possibly. However, it will take more than willing a young team to an eighth seed to get Love the MVP.
Lest we forget, Love didn't even finish in the top 12 in the MVP voting two years ago, when he averaged a ridiculous 15.2 rebounds per game and emerged onto the scene as a beast on the boards.
Love's scoring average has gone up every year since entering the league in 2008-09. Unfortunately, voters haven't been kind to big men when it comes to MVP votes over the years.
Sure, Dirk Nowitzki won in 2006-07 and Tim Duncan won it back-to-back in 2001-02 and 2002-03. However, Dirk was the best player on a Mavs team that won 67 games and Duncan is only the greatest power forward ever to live.
If Love can elevate this young Minnesota team to a 60-win season, it would be hard not to give him the trophy. That seems a bit far-fetched, though.
The other issue is Love's defense. Love isn't exactly Dikembe Mutombo on the defensive end. He's blocked more than 28 shots once in a single season, and that was back in his rookie year in 2008-09. Even then, Love only had 50 blocks.
Love is going to need a season of the ages to take this award, but he's only 23 and he's progressed exponentially over the years. He's a long shot to win it because of the overall lack of talent on his team, but he's good enough to at least have a chance.
6. Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
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2011-12 Statistics: 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds per game. Played in 66 games.
Top 10 Finishes The Past Five Years: One. (Tied for 10th - 2010-11)
With continued development in his game on both sides of the ball, Blake Griffin can take this league by storm.
He already captures national media attention on a nightly basis with his thunderous dunks and he'll continue to be a human highlight reel so long as he's paired with point guard Chris Paul.
The fact that Griffin managed to finish in the Top 10 for MVP voting in his rookie season is an impressive sign of things to come.
However, if Griffin is going to be the 2012-13 MVP, he has to dedicate this offseason to refining his offensive game and becoming more of a factor on the defensive side.
Griffin's offensive game is too reliant on put-backs, alley-oops and fast-break dunks. He needs to get better at the charity stripe, as he shot just 52 percent from the free throw line.
If Griffin can develop a baby hook or, even better, a mid-range jumper, it would add more versatility to his game and make him tougher to stop. By improving on his free-throw shooting, teams won't limit him by fouling him late in games.
Defensively, Griffin needs to put all that athleticism to good use and learn to swat some shots. Blake has 93 blocks combined in the past two seasons. That isn't exactly the kind of defensive presence you'd expect from a guy who can practically jump out of the gym.
The bright side for "The Blake Show" is the Clippers are a team on the rise and Griffin has plenty of time to develop as he's only 23.
Griffin has also managed to shake off the injury bug. After missing all of his initial rookie season, Griffin hasn't missed a regular season game since, playing in all 82 in 2010-11 and all 66 last year.
The improved chemistry between he and CP3 is going to be a Catch-22 for Griffin. While Paul will undoubtedly make Griffin better, it will be more likely that Paul gets the credit for the team's success as he's the team's leader.
The success of the team may end up having votes split between the two, which hurts the candidacies of both men. The only solution would be if Paul gets hurt or if Griffin's numbers dwarf Paul's to the point that voters only consider Griffin for the award.
With the Clippers getting much-needed playoff experience this past season, it will be interesting to see how Griffin and Co. use the experience to develop for next year.
5. Chris Paul, PG, Los Angeles Clippers
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2011-12 Statistics: 19.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists per game. Led the league in steals. Played in 60 games.
Top 10 Finishes The Past Five Years: Three. (Third in 2011-12, fifth in 2008-09, second in 2007-08).
It's amazing to me that Chris Paul hasn't won at least one MVP by now. It might be because he went under-appreciated during his time with the Hornets and guys on more successful teams trumped him all these years.
In my opinion, he should have won it in 2007-08, when he finished second behind Kobe Bryant. That year, Paul averaged 21.1 points, 11.6 assists and 2.7 steals a game for a Hornets team that won 56 games in the regular season and forced a Western Conference semi-finals series with the Spurs to seven games.
With Paul finally entrenched on a team with some contender buzz, the likelihood of CP3 snagging that elusive MVP trophy is much greater. Paul is a do-it-all talent who can dominate on both ends of the court.
He makes teammates around him better and is a skilled enough closer to know when to take over late in games. Defensively, he's one of the league's best pickpockets, as he's led the league in steals four times in his seven-year career.
For as great as he is, Paul's candidacy isn't without obstacles. First, Paul is part of a deep crop of elite point guards. The case can be made for at least five names as the league's best point guard from Rajon Rondo to Deron Williams to Tony Parker to Derrick Rose to Paul himself. It's hard for a guy to win MVP when voters aren't sure he's even the best at his own position.
Second, as with Griffin, it's tough for any guy on a team with two superstars to win an MVP unless he completely distances himself from his partner.
For LeBron to win the MVP this past season, he had to completely overshadow Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Paul has to do the same with Griffin, which will be tough because Griffin will be the biggest benefactor from Paul's crisp passing.
The other issue is Paul plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, a team that would have trouble garnering respect even if it didn't share the same building as the more-heralded Lakers.
For Paul to finally win the MVP, the Clippers would have to shed the "little brother" label when being compared to the Lakers, and CP3 would have to put on another masterful season like his 2007-08 campaign.
At 27 and with the best supporting cast he's had around him in years, Paul can certainly make a run at it. If the Clippers continue to climb the ladder and become among the league's elite next season, Paul will reap the benefits and add to his trophy case.
It will be something that is long overdue.
4. Dwight Howard, C, Orlando Magic
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2011-12 Statistics: 20.6 points, league-leading 14.5 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. Played in 54 games.
Top 10 Finishes The Past Five Seasons: Five. (seventh - 2011-12, second - 2010-11, fourth - 2009-10, fourth - 2008-09, fifth - 2008-09).
He's the best center in the league, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and a perennial contender for the NBA MVP. Making Dwight Howard's candidacy even more promising, there's a possibility he gets dealt to a championship contender before next season starts.
The looming uncertainty over Howard's future in Orlando may also be a disadvantage as well. Howard's flip-flopping last season as to whether he wanted to stay or leave the Magic really hurt his image last season.
Once perceived as one of the league's good guys, Howard was suddenly being accused of being a quitter and a coach killer who used his stature to get Stan Van Gundy fired.
That may be why Howard dropped to seventh in the MVP voting last season after finishing in the top five the previous four years. The other reason could be Howard's back injury, which required surgery but isn't expected to keep him from being ready for opening day.
The possibility of Howard leaving Orlando makes things interesting for his MVP chances. Houston is believed to be looking into acquiring picks they can ship to Orlando in exchange for the 26-year old big man.
However, NBA.com's David Aldridge reported Monday that Howard wouldn't stay with the Rockets past the upcoming season if traded there. That probably rules out Houston as a potential destination for D12.
Still, if a team like the Lakers or the Bulls were to trade for Howard, it would increase his profile and, thus, his chances of winning the MVP as well.
Even if Howard ends up staying with the Magic, he's a strong candidate for the MVP, provided he keeps the soap opera theatrics to a minimum.
Assuming he recovers well from back surgery, Howard will go back to being the league's most dominant post presence. He's a monster on the glass and he makes opponents think twice about coming into the lane with his shot-blocking.
As mentioned before, big men have struggled to win this, but Howard's the type of imposing figure that can change the fortune for the game's giants.
3. Rajon Rondo, PG, Boston Celtics
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2011-12 Statistics: 11.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, league-leading 11.8 assists and 1.7 steals per game. Played in 53 games.
Top 10 Finishes The Past Five Years: Two. (eighth - 2011-12, tied for 10th - 2010-11).
The Boston Celtics could be heading in a new direction next season, and that new direction will be led by point guard Rajon Rondo.
With the aging Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett free agents this summer, the team can choose to let both players walk with the idea of getting younger and building around their star point guard.
With Allen considering joining the Heat this summer and Garnett weighing retirement, the workload for Rondo could get bigger for the 26-year old. That might work in Rondo's benefit. With a larger role, Rondo could increase his regular season numbers.
In his six-year career, Rondo has never averaged more than 13.7 points per game in the regular season. He has, however, notched 20 triple-doubles in his career, which showcases his ability to do it all.
Rondo saves his best performances for the postseason, when it matters most. He increased his scoring average from 11.9 to 17.3 in this year's playoffs including an Eastern Conference Finals where he carried the team on his back against the Miami Heat before losing the series in seven games.
The great work in the postseason won't help his chances of winning the MVP in the regular season, though. Furthermore, if Allen and Garnett bolt, Boston's chances of contending diminish unless they are adequately replaced.
Another hurdle that stands in Rondo's way of winning the MVP is his poor shooting from behind the arc. Rondo shoots 24 percent from behind the arc for his career, which is horrible for a point guard heralded as one of the league's best.
We know Rondo can dominate a game and he's dangerous when he's allowed to drive to the hoop, but teams that force Rondo to shoot will sabotage the Celtics chances of winning just as much as they sabotage Rondo's MVP hopes.
If Rondo improves his shooting touch and can perform in the regular season like he does in the playoffs, he has a good shot at winning MVP as the catalyst for a cagey Celtics team.
2. Kobe Bryant, SG, Los Angeles Lakers
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2011-12 Statistics: 27.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game. Played in 58 games.
Top 10 Finishes The Past Five Years: Five (fourth - 2011-12, fourth - 2010-11, third - 2009-10, second - 2008-09, won MVP in 2007-08)
Last year was supposed to be the year that the odometer finally caught up to Kobe Bryant. With 1,323 games already under his belt (including playoffs) coming into this past season, "The Black Mamba" was supposed to show signs of slowing down.
Instead, Kobe increased his scoring output by almost two points per game from his 2010-11 average and willed a Lakers team that looked like it might fall apart in the post-Phil Jackson era back to the playoffs.
The Lakers may have suffered another second-round exit and it remains to be seen if there will be any changes to the roster, but one this is for certain: Kobe Bryant is still going strong.
The question is, for how long?
This past season pushed Kobe over 51,000 minutes played for his career and he's 19 games short of crossing the 1,400 games mark. At 34, the wear and tear is bound to catch up to him.
Bryant will always be a MVP candidate because, despite the mileage on his body, he remains one of the game's best players and one of the greatest ever to dribble a basketball.
The Lakers are also built to compete for a championship every year, even if they've faltered in the second round the past two seasons.
What holds Kobe back from being the favorite to win the MVP is two-fold. First, Kobe is now an elder statesman in what has become a young man's game. Kevin Durant in 23. LeBron James is 27. Chris Paul is 26. It seems unrealistic to think Kobe can continue to battle with the youngsters every night with very little tread left on the tires.
Second, Kobe is less concerned with MVP No. 2 as much as he is concerned about championship ring No. 6. A sixth ring ties him with Michael Jordan, the man Bryant has modeled his entire career after.
If tying His Airness means taking some extra breathers in the regular season and going on cruise control, so be it.
While another MVP might not be as high on his bucket list as others, Kobe is still as deadly as the reptile he chose to name his moniker after. Sixteen years in the league have given Bryant a solid grasp of what it takes to dominate, and only his own offensive recklessness can hold him back.
At this point in his career, there's nothing he can't do on the basketball court, especially when he's going for the jugular.
That kind of resume makes him a solid choice for the MVP every year. It's just a matter of whether "The Black Mamba" wants it as bad as other personal achievements on his to-do list.
1. LeBron James, SF, Miami Heat
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2011-12 Statistics: 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.9 steals. Played in 62 games.
Top 10 Finishes The Past Five Years: Five (third - 2010-11, fourth - 2007-08, Three-time MVP).
I still believe LeBron James deserved the MVP last year over Derrick Rose but four straight MVP awards would be a ridiculous achievement to comprehend.
Now that he's added "champion" to the list of things we can call him, LeBron James has finally shown that he's come full circle. If it wasn't hard enough to take the MVP award away from a man heralded for being a "regular season champion," it just got a bit more difficult now that King James finally gets it.
The scarier part is if James continues to improve. He's already a freakish athlete capable of being the first player to average a triple double since the great Oscar Robertson. He's already one of the game's best defenders.
He's already the best passing forward in the league. It would be just unfair if LeBron continues to mature and elevate his game. He's already conquered the haters who doubted his chances of ever winning a title.
What does he have in store for us next?
While the title of this piece is "Kevin Durant and 10 Players Who Will Compete For the 2013 NBA MVP", the truth of the matter is that the MVP race should be called "LeBron James and The Rest of the Field."
This past season, LeBron shored up all the weaknesses in his game. He became more of a closer down the stretch, even though he still needs work in that area. He's shown the willingness to take charge and be more aggressive when the team needs him to dominate and, most importantly, he's got that first championship out of the way.
If James ever develops a consistent post game, the rest of the league is going to be in big trouble. The only thing that stands in LeBron's way of a fourth MVP is the potential for injury and overconfidence. LeBron's ability to fill an entire stat sheet will always put him above the rest of the crowd.
However, that's the beauty of these MVP races. The dominance of James allows other great players to raise their game. In the end, the fans benefit because we get to watch the game's elite battle every night in an effort to keep up with one of game's rare talents in "King James."
Kevin Durant will continue to push himself to compete with LeBron. The same can be said about Derrick Rose, when he comes back from his torn ACL. The same can be said about Chris Paul or Dwight Howard. The same can be said about Kobe Bryant, if he truly wants another MVP to his name.
The names may never change at the top, but the competition continues to get closer and closer.