Kevin Durant Proving That NBA Fans Are Too Quick Anointing LeBron James MVP
But Durant exists, and so while the honor remains James' to lose, there's a strong chance he does just that—lose it.
Durant is playing some of the best basketball of his career, accolades that come in the midst of the first season of the James Harden-less era.
After the Oklahoma City Thunder began the season 1-2, Durant buckled down and it's been smooth sailing ever since. The Thunder are 14-2 since then, putting them at 15-4 on the year, just a half-game behind their pace from last season.
Durant, in the process of Oklahoma City's turnaround, is averaging 26.5 points to go along with a career-best 8.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game. He's shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from downtown, the highest clips of his career.
As if that weren't enough, Durant is also swatting away 1.6 shots and grabbing 1.6 steals per game, career highs as well.
How's that for a response to Harden's departure?
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By comparison, James is averaging 24.8 points, a career-best 9.1 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.2 steals per bout. He is also shooting 53 percent from the floor and a career-best 42.3 percent clip from behind the rainbow.
Looking at the surface numbers, it's impossible to discern which player is more valuable to his team. Delve deeper, however, and you draw some startling conclusions.
Thus far, the Miami Heat are posting plus-5.3 points per 48 minutes with James on the floor while the Thunder are at plus-14.1 with Durant.
Rummage even deeper and you'll also find that with LeBron on the court, the Heat post an offensive rating of 114.7 points per possession compared to 106.2 with him off, a difference of 8.5 points. For the Thunder, they're at 115.7 points per 100 possessions with Durant on the floor and 103.2 with him off, a difference of 12.5 points.
To call Durant the superior player based on that alone would be shortsighted and ignorant, but the offensive numbers don't lie, either. Clearly, Durant's team depends on him more, as their production borderline plummets with him on the bench.
Again, I understand that for many, this is not enough. After all, James is a more complete player. Where Durant means more to his team offensively, James means more to the Heat from a defensive perspective.
Or does he?
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With LeBron on the floor, Miami's opponents are posting an effective field-goal percentage of 49.6. When he's off the court, though, that figure remains unchanged; opponents are still posting an effective field-goal percentage of 49.6.
Such a constant mark is slightly startling, considering that James was a viable candidate for the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011-12.
What's more alarming, however, is the effect Durant has on Oklahoma City defensively. With him on the floor, opponents are being held to an effective field-goal rate of 46.2 percent. Off it, though? That number increases to 48.
A minor difference? Yes, but it's a difference all the same, something James himself cannot even lay claim to at this point.
But the astonishing defensive discoveries don't even stop there.
When James is on the court, opponents are scoring 108.5 points per 100 possessions. Once King James steps off the hardwood, though, that number decreases to 102.7.
That's correct, teams are actually scoring less against the Heat when LeBron is out of the game, a staggering reality, yet a fact nonetheless.
Traveling northwest to visit Oklahoma City, we see a completely different trend. With Durant on the floor, opponents are scoring at a rate of 100.8 points per possession. The moment Durant takes a seat, such a metric increases to 110.7, a difference of almost 10 points.
So what were we saying about James being more valuable to his team than Durant on the defensive side of the ball?
Apparently nothing, because it's not true.
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Durant has taken his game to new heights this season. He's scoring at a more efficient rate, being more aggressive on the glass and making an active effort to involve his teammates more. And the effect is undeniable.
The Thunder are significantly worse from a statistical standpoint when Durant is off the floor—on both ends of the ball.
Right now, James cannot say the same. Not only are the Thunder faring better with Durant on the floor than the Heat are with LeBron, but Miami has actually fared better defensively when James is out of sight. They're allowing fewer points, forcing more turnovers and even grabbing a greater percentage of rebounds.
None of that holds true in Oklahoma City, though. Durant has emerged as the ultimate two-way leader, someone who makes his team better in every facet of the game when he's on the court, someone who has thrived in the face adversity and allowed his team to do the same.
Someone who has proven more indispensable than any other player in the NBA, James included.
Isn't that what the MVP award is all about?
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Of course, I'll be one of the first to admit that there is still plenty of the season left to played, that James is still more than capable of reversing the mounting number of shocking realities to which we were just exposed.
If the season were to end today, who is the NBA's MVP?
I'll admit that, because it's true. He can turn this around; he can still win the MVP award this season.
But to say that he is already the league's MVP, to already bestow upon him the Maurice Podoloff trophy is premature.
And if we're truly honest, decreeing that he is destined to achieve such an honor once again is downright wrong.
Because if the season ended today, LeBron James wouldn't be guaranteed to win the league MVP award.
Kevin Durant has made sure of that.
All stats in this article are accurate as of Dec. 5, 2012.
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