LeBron James: 10 Players Who Could Prevent Heat Forward from Repeating as MVP
LeBron James is the all-world master of basketball with nobody else on his level in the NBA—at least he was in this past season. Seriously, there isn't another player in the NBA who can play to his level on both sides of the floor.
For a while during the past season, he was on pace to have highest PER in NBA history, at nearly 33.00 at one point. Alas, LeBron hit a rut (ha, yea right) and fell all the way down to 30.74, good for a measly 10th-best all-time with just seasons from himself, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan ahead of him.
To put that in perspective, Kevin Durant had his highest PER this past season, and as a guy who is widely considered to be the second-best player in the NBA, you'd expect it to be pretty high, right? Well, he came in at 26.20, or 110th all-time.
Of course, PER isn't a sure-fire way to judge basketball players, but it is a good gauge of the top players in the league and who is trending upward and downward during a certain time period. LeBron is certainly trending upward.
So, in preparation for the USA's trip to the London Olympics, where LeBron will play alongside and against the best players in the world, let's take a look at the guys who have the best chance at unseating him as league MVP.
10. Steve Nash
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Steve Nash is going to be 39 years old by the end of next season, but he should also be a fringe MVP candidate, which is quite insane, in all honesty.
Nash is going to end up with another 10 assists per game, shooting right around 50 percent from the field, 40 from downtown and 90 from the line (and yet we never talk about him as the greatest shooter of all time?).
And you know what? It'll be a ho-hum season.
Sure, guys will look at his age and gasp at what he's doing, but for what Nash has done since leaving the Mavericks, there's nothing really surprising about it. The only difference now is that he'll be in the spotlight on a playoff team in Los Angeles.
Let us all just take a moment of silence to truly appreciate what Nash is doing at this point in his career.
OK, thanks for that, guys. Moving on.
9. Tony Parker
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Tony Parker is going to be the best player on a team that is going to be one of the three best in the Western Conference, which means he's got to get some MVP play, right?
Parker emerged last season as a semi-serious candidate for half the season, but fell off a bit as the season ended. He received most of his MVP votes based on huge games he would have, carrying a lifeless old Spurs teams to impossible victories at times. He deserved the recognition.
Is he going to be as good as he was last season? Probably around as good, but the top-tier talent is still going to be there, and it just doesn't seem that Parker is going to be able to crack the top five in voting again.
8. Dwight Howard
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The world hates Dwight Howard, but he's still the best center in the league, and it would feel a travesty to leave him off this list.
In a best-case scenario, Howard would start the season on a team that is not the Orlando Magic, allowing him to get into a rhythm, settle down and play basketball, but that might not happen.
It's hard to blame Orlando for wanting to get the best package for Howard, and if that means holding onto him until someone loses an extra asset or two, then so be it—it's not like Howard has done them any favors over the past year.
7. Kevin Love
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If patterns are to be believed, Kevin Love is going to average at least 32 points per game next season. He went from 11 points in his rookie year to 14, then up to 20 in his third year and 26 per game last season, so he should improve by another six points, right?
In all seriousness, however, Love should continue to pound out points and rebounds, hopefully improving on defense. And with guys who can knock down shots on the wing, Love's ball reversals won't end up in clanked shots, instead resulting in more assists.
Love is a stat machine, and with the Timberwolves poised to make the playoffs in the upcoming season, he should be able to get a lot of attention for some votes.
6. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Rest of the Miami Heat
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One of the most horrifyingly annoying caveats of the past decade or so has been the debate over what the Most Valuable Player award is and who it should be awarded to. Is it an award for the best player in the league, or for the guy who means the most to his team?
I've always found it to be a poorly-worded award that should just go to the best guy in the league. The best guy in the league should be most valued, shouldn't he?
My viewpoint aside, there are always those out there who look around the league and vote for the guy who means the most to his team. With LeBron playing alongside two All-Stars and a few other guys who play a good game, the argument that he doesn't mean the most to his team could come up.
And that is legitimate, I suppose.
5. Kobe Bryant
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Isn't it time to count Kobe Bryant out of the MVP race? Correct me if I'm wrong, but Kobe Bryant isn't in a coffin yet, is he?
It doesn't matter if he's 34 (or just about) and will be going into his 17th season in the NBA. Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant, and he'll be competing for the MVP award until his body tells him he can't do it anymore.
Is it still up in the air whether he'll be able to work well alongside Steve Nash? Sure, but I've got to give him the benefit of the doubt here. When's the last time you heard of anyone clashing with Nash?
4. Rajon Rondo
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This one had my mind bound up for a while, but it makes sense that Rajon Rondo gets love as a top-five MVP candidate.
Once Avery Bradley comes back from his shoulder surgery, it will allow Rondo to play the game that the two of them used to dominated opponents while Ray Allen was slowed down near the end of last season.
Instead of waiting for Allen to come off multiple screens, doing nothing but banging away at the top of the key, the offense is constantly moving when Bradley is in at shooting guard (and it could play quite the same way with Jason Terry). This means that Rondo has more time to set up a play and the team is more efficient, leading to more assists for Rondo.
Of course, it's always going to be a knock on him that he can't put down a jumper, so if he can manage to work on that before the season starts, it'll be a huge plus.
3. Deron Williams
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Don't look now, but Deron Williams has some teammates.
Remember when he was with Utah and actually had some guys to pass to who could knock down some jumpers? He was 1B to Chris Paul's 1A as the best point guard in the league, and arguments were everywhere concerning the two.
Hell, last season Williams was without Brook Lopez (a guy who has been knocked down over the past few weeks but is a legitimate offensive center) and was playing alongside the Pu Pu platter that they sent away for Joe Johnson, but he still ended up with nearly nine assists a game.
(Side bar: The last time Joe Johnson played with a great point guard, in Steve Nash, he shot 48 percent from deep. Be afraid, perimeter defenses, be very afraid.)
Now Williams gets to dish to Joe Johnson sitting in the corner waiting for an open three, Brook Lopez on the low block, MarShon Brooks cutting or popping and Gerald Wallace roaming around.
Oh, and the dude can score. Get ready for the Deron Williams renaissance—it's coming.
2. Chris Paul
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Chris Paul leads the pack of point guards who seem to be barreling along at the top of the league. It's been a while since so many elite point guards patrolled the floors in the NBA.
Paul is going to spend another season averaging at least nine assists per game, but it's likely that he could end up with even more than that, as the Clippers picked up Lamar Odom and Jamal Crawford, both confident veteran shooters capable of putting down shots when asked.
Aside from that, Paul will be the anchor of their backcourt defense and most likely lead the league in steals again (he beat out second-place Mike Conley 2.53 steals per game to 2.19, a huge margin), which is a number-friendly way of calling him one of the best defenders in the league.
Of course, Paul will get his points, plus he'll be playing in a highly visible region, which is something not to be overlooked.
1. Kevin Durant
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There are three things that make Kevin Durant the most dangerous threat to LeBron James' hopes at repeating as league MVP.
First, Durant is likely to end up winning the scoring title again, or at least coming within a point or two of it, which is always something that seems to garner MVP votes.
Second, he is the darling of the media (with good reason), which is another MVP-vote magnet, as votes sway if the media likes one guy more than another.
Third, Durant is widely believed to be the second-best player in the NBA, and there are constant debates over who is better, him or LeBron. It's an argument that, at times, favors Durant.
It's going to be a close run, especially if Durant can lock down some better defense. As it stands now, OKC's hero still has a lot of ground to cover to catch up to LeBron.
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