Ranking the Biggest Threats to LeBron James Winning 2012-13 NBA MVP
After the season LeBron James just had, the reigning MVP has to be favored to take home the hardware again next year. But just like the Heat's upcoming title defense, it's not going to be easy.
Though James is an invaluable asset to Miami's blueprint, he's not alone.
There are other players who have rendered themselves indispensable to their respective teams—other players who have proven to be just as integral a cog in their franchise's machine.
While such company is thin, it's also prolific.
There may not be many players capable of impacting the game and their teams' immediate future the way that James does, but the ones that do are stars to keep your eyes on.
They're coming for you, LeBron.
8. Deron Williams, Brooklyn Nets
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The Nets are now loaded with talent they didn't have last season, but make no mistake—this team falls apart without Deron Williams.
Without Williams manning the point and attacking the rim, the plethora of open looks available to Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace won't be there; Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez become near non-factors on the pick-and-roll train; and Brooklyn's offense is reduced to ineffective isolations without him balancing aggressive scoring with deft selflessness.
It doesn't matter how many other household names surround Williams, not here anyway. The Nets need him to acclimate everyone—both new and old faces—to each other and ensure they're all on the same page.
While this team is built to win now, it's also built to implode; the lack of roster familiarity could prove detrimental to the team's cause if its well-being isn't put in the right hands.
Enter Williams' outstretched arms.
Any success the Nets experience the first year in Brooklyn will be owed directly to the efforts and leadership of one Deron Williams.
7. Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
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I know what you're thinking, and to answer your question, yes, I do enjoy the occasional cocktail.
But I'm not right now because Ricky Rubio is a legitimate threat to dethrone LeBron James as the league MVP.
I'm a huge fan of Kevin Love and what he can do on the basketball court, but after last season, it's clear who Minnesota's most valuable asset is.
Love may be paid more and put up gaudy stat lines that wouldn't be embarrassing when matched against James', but he simply doesn't impact the culture of his team the way The Chosen One does—the way Rubio does.
Last season, with Rubio in the lineup, the Timberwolves were 21-20 and battling for a playoff spot. Without him, Minnesota went 5-20 to close out the season.
Do you see a pattern forming?
I get that Love missed some time with injuries, I really do, but even when he's healthy, he doesn't have the type of impact Rubio has.
The Timberwolves aren't just good with Rubio driving and slashing; they're borderline playoff-worthy. Take him out of the equation, and Minnesota, even with Love, doesn't have a chance at clinching a postseason berth.
So, while Love is just as talented as Rubio, continues to improve and is of the utmost importance to the Timberwolves, he's simply not as crucial to their well-being as his Spanish teammate.
6. Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia 76ers
Photo via philaphans.com.
That's right—meet Andrew Bynum, a fresh new candidate for next year's MVP award.
Bynum is now the man in Philadelphia; the Sixers are his team, and he's now tasked with leading them toward the type of prosperity they never knew under Andre Iguodala.
If things go sour in Philadelphia, it's a different story. However, the Sixers are a completely different team with Bynum, their low-post anchor. No longer are they led by a declining swingman, but rather, they're a promising cast of role players now riding the coattails of the East's best center.
As such, any and all success this team has will be directly related to Bynum's overwhelming presence.
This holds especially true if they manage to kick the nasty habit of early playoff exits. If Bynum can lead Philadelphia back to a level of relevancy it hasn't experienced since the days of Allen Iverson—which he can, courtesy of a sound supporting cast and overpowering, two-way post presence—he's a hero, an icon, a miracle worker.
And most importantly, a bona fide candidate for the MVP award.
5. Steve Nash, Los Angeles Lakers
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It may be difficult to conceive a member of the Lakers' star-studded quartet contending for the league MVP, but I assure you it's possible.
With regards to Steve Nash anyway.
It's no secret Los Angeles' roster is now stacked, but a bunch of well-known names printed on a piece of paper means very little. What actually matters is how they fare on the court together.
That's one of the Lakers' biggest concerns heading into the season. They've stockpiled so much star power that there's a legitimate possibility it proves counterproductive. After all, it's hard to keep all those egos in check.
But if it does work out—and it will—Los Angeles will be indebted to Nash.
He's the one who is going to be tasked with putting the odds and ends of this prolific collection of talent together. He's the one who has to find a way to satisfy Kobe Bryant's appetite for isolation sets while ensuring he adjusts to playing off the ball. And he's the one who is going to have to balance the touches and movements of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.
In case you're wondering, that's not going to be easy to do. We just assume this newfound dynamic in Tinseltown is going to work, but in reality, there's a wealth of questions plaguing this powerhouse.
Luckily for the Lakers, the brilliant mind and basketball styling of Nash have the answers.
4. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs
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And you thought the Spurs were old last season.
San Antonio may be the epitome of consistency, but that very level of consistency would be nonexistent without Tony Parker calling the shots on offense.
I get that Tim Duncan is as fundamentally sound a big man as there is, and I get that the Spurs are lined with efficient sharpshooters. But do you think Duncan gets the ball to himself where he is most effective? Do Manu Ginobili and company attack the rim just to break down the defense and create plenty of drive-and-kicks?
Truth be told, yes, sometimes they do, but a majority of the time it's Parker leading the charge. He reads opposing defenses like they're a children's book, he has court vision that rivals the best in the league and he's one of the most crafty athletes at his position.
Simply put, the Spurs' improbable triumph over Father Time isn't a reality without Parker. He's the only member of San Antonio's Big Three currently in his prime and he's carrying his teammates in a way that not only makes him look good, but makes them look good as well.
At this point, you cannot put a price on how much Parker means to the Spurs' success; he's the irreplaceable backbone of a championship-caliber team.
That's pretty valuable.
3. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
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It was true last season, and it will once again hold true this season—Rajon Rondo holds the key to the Celtics' aspirations.
Boston remains as old as ever. Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee provide youthful presences in the backcourt, but the Celtics' two other most important players are far beyond the wrong side of 30.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce may be an integral part of the Celtics' immediate plans, but their ability to stay significantly effective hinges on Rondo breaking down defenses to create scoring opportunities for them.
On defense, he'll be tasked with manning the most elusive of opposing athletes, even providing relief to Pierce when he needs it. He'll also be expected to help shoulder the rebounding burden, as his quick feet allow him to double back and assist Garnett with a majority of the board-crashing.
On the one hand, you have a group of seasoned veterans—Jason Terry included—in need of a point guard to maximize their effectiveness. On the other, you have a small group of inexperienced youth who provide necessary exuberance but lack a closer's mentality.
And then you have Rondo, the guy who will be expected to bring all this together, all the while keeping the Celtics in play for a championship.
He's Boston's backbone, its orchestrator and—premature proclamations aside—its championship end-all.
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
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No surprises here.
Kevin Durant plays on a superstar powerhouse of his own and remains the most important piece to Oklahoma City's offensive attack, even more so than Russell Westbrook.
Not only is he its go-to guy down the stretch, but Durant is light years ahead of his peers in terms of efficiency; he can score at the rim often and remains one of the more viable jump shooters in the game.
As Westbrook has progressed as a player and athlete, some would argue Durant's importance to the Thunder has diminished. But it's quite the opposite.
Though the Thunder's point guard is a high-octane scorer, Durant is the one with a level head on his shoulders. Westbrook finds himself out of control, especially on offense, far too often, and the small forward provides a calming fixture for his team to turn to.
Without him, his instincts and his superior execution, Oklahoma City simply isn't a championship-caliber team.
1. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
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Chris Paul is important to the Clippers—like really important.
Without Paul, Los Angeles wouldn't even be a playoff team, let alone a championship contender. That's how much his presence elevates the Clippers' performance.
The point guard is not only the team's greatest playmaker, but he's the heart of the offense as well. Los Angeles doesn't boast a bevy of other playmakers—least of all Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan—and Paul is tasked with ensuring such players make an actual contribution.
As if that weren't enough, Paul is easily the Clippers' best perimeter defender. He uses his quick hands and feet to counteract elusiveness and force turnovers that lead to easy scoring opportunities in transition.
There's simply nothing he can't do, and there's no telling how far he can carry Griffin and company. He's the brains behind the entire operation, the foundation for any groundwork that is laid and, most importantly, the only athlete in the locker room capable of carrying this team on his back.
It is this very reality that has rendered him a threat to LeBron James' quest for a second straight MVP.
The biggest one of all, in fact.