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Does Chris Paul or Kevin Durant Have Better Chance to Beat LeBron James for MVP?

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 3: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers and Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder look on at Staples Center on March 3, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2013 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham/Getty Images
Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 28, 2016

Are you tired of LeBron James winning MVP trophies? Is it giving you a case of the doldrums as you go about your daily business?

Regardless of your answer, MVP voters may be.

Voter fatigue is a real thing. How else can you explain Karl Malone beating out Michael Jordan back in 1997, or even Derrick Rose topping "The King" in 2011? 

The incumbent is always at a little bit of a disadvantage because there's a desire for fresh blood. And right now, there are two players with a great chance at beating out LeBron and holding up the Maurice Podoloff Trophy during the beginning of the 2014 playoffs.

One is Chris Paul, who's morphed from a point guard into a point god for the Los Angeles Clippers. As Eminem so eloquently put it, "Why be a king when you can be a god?"

And then there's Kevin Durant, who just keeps doing his thing for the Oklahoma City Thunder and has emerged as the early leader in the scoring race. I have no applicable Marshall Mathers quote to use here. 

Of course, there are other candidates. Paul George, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis have emerged as some early contenders, but we need to see more sustained production from them since no member of the trio is as established as either Durant or CP3. 

So, which of the two has a better chance to beat LeBron?

 

The Case for Paul

SACRAMENTO, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers in a game against the Sacramento Kings on November 1, 2013 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Right now, Chris Paul is the Los Angeles Clippers. 

While Blake Griffin is leading the team in scoring and DeAndre Jordan is finally breaking out and becoming the player LAC hoped he would be, CP3 is running the show. Not only has he been the most ball-dominant player on his own team, he's touching the rock more than anyone else in the NBA

According to NBA.com, these are the top five players in the league in terms of touches per game: 

  1. Chris Paul, 103.3
  2. John Wall, 99.3
  3. Kemba Walker, 93.4
  4. Kevin Love, 91.5
  5. Damian Lillard, 89.1

Two things should stand out: Paul's complete dominance over the rest of the league in this category, and Kevin Love's presence in the top five. This is obviously completely tangential, but you have to go all the way down to No. 18 in order to find another non-point guard. 

Wall actually passes CP3 if we look at the total time spent per game with control of the ball, but the two floor generals still stand out in a big way. The difference between Paul and Lillard (No. 3) is 0.6 minutes per game, as big as the gap between Lillard and Kyrie Irving (No. 7). 

Everything runs through Paul when he's on the court, so it's pretty easy to see where his value comes from. Without him, the Clippers aren't nearly as effective.

And that applies to both ends of the court, as you can see below, courtesy of NBA.com

Created with Infogr.am.

The difference on offense is particularly impressive, and that stems from Paul's ability to score 20 points per game while passing the ball better than anyone else in the Association. 

Not only are CP3 (12.4 assists per game) and Jeff Teague (10.1) the only two players in the league averaging double-digit dimes, Paul is also right up there near the lead for secondary assists. Only Nate Wolters and John Wall are generating more of what we formerly referred to as "hockey assists." 

Because of that, CP3 has a big lead when discussing points created by assists per game: 

  1. Chris Paul, 27.6
  2. John Wall, 24.3
  3. Jeff Teague, 23.3
  4. Ricky Rubio, 20.5
  5. Stephen Curry, 19.3

Between that and his 21.3 points per game—which come on 46.2 percent shooting from the field and a scorching 96.5 percent at the charity stripe—it's hard to doubt Paul's offensive dominance. But that's not the only thing helping him out in his MVP campaign.

He plays for the Clippers.

While anyone who has only started following the NBA during the last three years would think of LAC as one of the better organizations in basketball, people with at least a little working knowledge of the sport's history understand just how beleaguered this organization has been. 

SACRAMENTO, CA - NOVEMBER 1: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers in a game against the Sacramento Kings on November 1, 2013 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Since debuting as the Buffalo Braves in 1970-71, the franchise has made the playoffs just nine times and has never made it to the conference finals. Finishes at or near the bottom have been far more commonplace than competitive teams. 

Part of the MVP race involves narrative, and it's tough to beat Paul's. He has a chance to lead one of the league's worst historical franchises into the promised land, changing the way the team is perceived and firmly asserting it as the big brother in Los Angeles. 

That can't be overlooked, just as CP3 refuses to overlook any open teammate in a situation conducive to earning a bucket.

 

The Case for Durant

Nov 10, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) attempts a shot against the Washington Wizards during overtime at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

If Durant is going to get off the shneid and stop finishing second in the MVP race, he'll need to maintain the high level of production he has shown thus far this year.

So far, he's been absolutely dominant, with the exception of that one putrid performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves, when Corey Brewer, Derrick Williams and a host of help defenders helped shut him down.

Over his first six games of the 2013-14 season, Durant is averaging a league-high 30.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.7 steals and 0.7 blocks per game. He's also putting up efficient numbers, even if they ultimately fall shy of the 50/40/90 club that he joined last season. 

And Durant is already starting to heat up. 

With Russell Westbrook back in the lineup, he's been completely and utterly unstoppable. Below you can see how he fared with and without the dynamic point guard healthy and suiting up in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform: 

Infogr.am.

It's not just the per-game numbers that are going up. His percentages are as well. 

Since Westbrook returned from his offseason arthroscopic surgery, Durant has shot 52.1 percent from the field, 42.9 percent beyond the three-point arc and 88 percent at the charity stripe. Pretty darn close to that 50/40/90 club again. 

Durant has a chance to win MVP simply because A) it's his time and B) he's the second-best player in basketball. While Paul is doing everything he can to close the gap, the 25-year-old forward for the Thunder just keeps getting better and better. 

He's continuing to look solid as a facilitator, and his offensive game just won't stop improving. This season, he's starting to use the Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaway, and that would be yet another unstoppable move in his arsenal.  

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 03:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates against the Phoenix Suns on November 03, 2013 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

But what did I mean by the first part? It's his time? 

As mentioned in the Paul section, the MVP award is a narrative-based honor. The media inevitably picks a story and runs with it, as was the case for Derrick Rose when he became the only player in the last five years to win the award without "James" as his surname.

This could very well be the year for Durant. If he can keep the Thunder contending for the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference, it'll be hard to deny him.

For Durant to win MVP, he's going to have to do just that while putting up better numbers than LeBron. And hard as that is, he has the ability to do it. 

 

The Verdict

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 31: Chris Paul #3 of the Los Angeles Clippers exits the court after a game against the Golden State Warriors at STAPLES Center on October 31, 2013 at in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

If anyone is going to take down LeBron in the MVP race, it'll be Paul. There are a number of other dark-horse candidates—Paul George, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis seem to be the early favorites for that title—but CP3 is still the premier upset pick. 

Is he better than Durant? Nope. 

Is he going to have a better season than Durant? Probably not, though we have to at least give him a chance at rising up to the No. 2 spot in any rational person's ranking of players.

But that won't matter if CP3 is at least close to Durant in an overall evaluation of their seasons. He has the more prominent storyline to work with, and there's nothing dragging him down. 

If you go back and read the case for Durant, you'll notice that quite a bit of it is centered around how much better he's been since Russell Westbrook has returned to the lineup. That's a luxury that CP3 doesn't have, because he's quite clearly the best player on the Clippers.

Nov 10, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts to a play in action against the Washington Wizards during the third quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, that's not to say Durant isn't the best player on the Thunder; he is. But the disparity between him and his point guard is much less striking than the difference between CP3 and Blake Griffin. Paul just doesn't have as much upper-echelon help, even if he's working with a deeper roster. 

Durant is already working with a disadvantage.

The narrative that he needs Westbrook's help drawing attention from the defense is out there, and he's been exposed during last season's playoffs and the beginning of this regular season. That's a tough perception to bounce back from.

Plus, Paul has more to gain by leading the Clippers to a No. 1 or No. 2 seed than Durant does from doing the same with the Thunder. OKC is expected to be one of the elite teams in the Western Conference because it's been there before. The Thunder are incumbents, if you will. 

The same can't be said about the Clippers. Don't ask them to act like they've been there before, because they haven't.

If Paul leads them to the top, it'll be something new, and that always helps garner significant amounts of MVP votes.

Perhaps the Clippers wouldn't be the only new thing finishing on top in that case.

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