5 NBA Stars Who Belong on 2014 MVP Ballot

Adam FromalNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 12, 2014

5 NBA Stars Who Belong on 2014 MVP Ballot

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    Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

    The MVP conversation should involve more than just two players. 

    Kevin Durant and LeBron James are—justifiably so—the front-runners and the only names that seem to come up when discussing who should win the 2014 edition of the NBA's premier individual award. But last time I checked, an MVP ballot had more than two spots on it. 

    In fact, it has five. 

    Yes, that means five players belong on the ballot, even if three of them are distant long-shot candidates to finish at No. 1. 

    For that reason, I'll be identifying three pieces of information for each of the five featured players in this article: MVP ceiling, MVP floor and my prediction as to where they actually finish on the ballot. For some players, that predicted finish may be equal to the ceiling; for others, it may be the same as the floor. 

    Regardless, your MVP conversation needs to feature at least five names, even if it centers around two.

Kevin Durant

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Top Projected Spot: No. 1

    Bottom Projected Spot: No. 2

    Prediction: No. 1

     

    In the introduction of the March 7 edition of the MVP Ladder, NBA.com wrote the following about the two leading candidates: 

    LeBron James and Kevin Durant, interchangeable at the top depending on your leaning, have clearly separated themselves from the pack. They are locked in an MVP race that probably won't be decided until the tape, in mid-April. But for this week, they are essentially tied atop this week's Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.

    I couldn't agree with that sentiment any more strongly, even if I do disagree with the site's decision to put LeBron in the No. 1 spot.  

    The league's two leading superstars are basically right next to each other in the MVP race, but Durant has simply been playing at a slightly higher level throughout the year. Even if his defense has taken a step back after the All-Star break, he's still playing all-around basketball while doing far more than leading the league in 40-point games. 

    And by leading the league, I mean that he's posted 11 of the NBA's 40-point outings during the 2013-14 campaign, per Basketball-Reference. Carmelo Anthony (five), Kevin Love (four), Stephen Curry (two), Blake Griffin (two), James Harden (two), Kyrie Irving (two) and LeBron (two) are the only other players with more than a single outing above the milestone. 

    Durant may have a tenuous lead in the race right now, but he's not in danger of slipping out of the top two. He and LeBron have that much of a head start.

LeBron James

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    Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

    Top Projected Spot: No. 1

    Bottom Projected Spot: No. 2

    Prediction: No. 2

     

    Does LeBron James deserve to rank No. 1 in the MVP race right now? 

    You could make an argument that he does, but his lackluster effort levels and sporadic desire to dominate regular-season games should have him at No. 2 on most ballots. 

    Is LeBron able to rise up to No. 1? 

    Ah, now that's a different question. 

    With a race this close, all it would take is a string of performances that make everyone drop his or her jaw. A few 40-point games or triple-doubles would do the trick, as would a dominant closing stretch. Narratives often determine who wins MVP, and no portion of the season is viewed as more important than the last handful of games, especially when a team is fighting for positioning. 

    Much as was the case with Durant, there's no chance of LeBron falling further than the second spot on the final NBA ballot. He's either going to win his third award in a row or finish as the runner-up to Durant. 

    There simply aren't any other options. 

    "I don't really get caught up in that," LeBron told Jenny Dial Creech of the Houston Chronicle before an outing with the Houston Rockets. "I just do my job, and the rest will fall into place."

    If he does indeed do his job, the MVP could certainly still be his. 

Blake Griffin

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    Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

    Top Projected Spot: No. 3

    Bottom Projected Spot: No. 5

    Prediction: No. 3

     

    Blake Griffin isn't going to ascend into the same class as Kevin Durant and LeBron James, even if the Los Angeles Clippers end up finishing with the best record in the NBA. Should that happen, a large portion of the credit will inevitably be handed out to Chris Paul, which inherently devalues Griffin. 

    But he should be the No. 3 player on most ballots right now, which is exactly where he could finish at the end of the season. And based on how well he's played during the first 65 games of his season, there's no chance he falls outside the top five. 

    Griffin's improvement has been one of the biggest storylines this year, as he's completed the transition from an overrated dunking machine to an all-around superstar finally making an impact in less-glamorous areas. 

    The power forward is dominating in the post, using his unorthodox spin moves to great success. It's ugly, but it works when he puts his back to the basket and scores via a Tasmanian Devil-esque twister or with his sweeping jump hook. 

    Griffin's jumper has also improved, and his comfort with the ball in his hands enables LAC to run much of its offense through him from the elbows. And under the tutelage of Doc Rivers, he's been a decent defensive player. 

    "But just as LeBron's post-All-Star surge brought him back into play, the Clippers' eight-game winning streak forces Griffin into the conversation," wrote ESPN.com's J.A. Adande heading into the Clippers' March 12 showdown with the Golden State Warriors. 

    Leaving him out of that conversation would be foolish at this point.

Joakim Noah

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    Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

    Top Projected Spot: No. 3

    Bottom Projected Spot: Off the ballot

    Prediction: No. 4

     

    If you've read a lot of my work, you know it's hard for me to write this next sentence. But let's throw all stats out of the window while discussing Joakim Noah's MVP candidacy. 

    The Chicago Bulls have moved up the rankings in the Eastern Conference, and they're now firmly in the midst of a battle with the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed and an easier first-round playoff matchup. This was a team many left for dead after losing Derrick Rose and trading Luol Deng, but Noah's unrelenting passion has pervaded every part of the Windy City. 

    He yells and screams to his heart's content. He hits the floor for every loose ball, even if there's only a tiny chance the inevitable floor burn turns into an extra possession. He leads the team on both offense and defense. 

    The long-haired center disavowed tanking earlier in the season, and he's proven once and for all that actions speak louder than words. 

    Without his rim-protecting—something that should have him firmly in the race for Defensive Player of the Year as well—and his versatile offense, Chicago might not even be a playoff team. 

    Noah doesn't record gaudy statistics, but looking only at the numbers you can find in a box score is just about the worst possible way of analyzing this standout center.

Paul George

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    Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport

    Top Projected Spot: No. 3

    Bottom Projected Spot: Off the ballot

    Prediction: No. 5

     

    When the Indiana Pacers were 16-1, the world was their oyster. Accordingly, Paul George seemed like a leading MVP candidate. 

    But now he's slipped to the point that he could fall completely out of the race, especially if his post-All-Star-break slump continues seeing him clang shots off the rim and play relatively uninspired defense. The Pacers may still sit at the top of the Eastern Conference, but that's only because the Miami Heat have struggled just as much as they have. 

    If you're looking for evidence that justifies George slipping down to No. 5 in the MVP race—though he could still rise back up the ranks with ease—look no further than his All-Star splits, courtesy of Basketball-Reference

     PointsReboundsAssistsFG%3P%DRtg+/-
    Pre-Break22.26.43.443.837.096+10.8
    Post-Break21.57.13.542.636.2104-2.2

    George has still been a great player, just not an MVP-caliber one. 

    Until everything starts clicking and he puts the 0-of-9 outing against the Charlotte Bobcats on the back burner, it's highly unlikely he finishes any higher than No. 5 on the final ballot. 

    Whatever the reason, George just seems off. He's averaging 13.5 points over the last four games and his 27-point performance against the Dallas Mavericks looks like more of a blip than his two-point stinker against the Charlotte Bobcats. The one-time Most Valuable Player candidate doesn't look very MVP-like now, but at least he and his team are on the same page.

    That's what Ben Watanabe wrote for NESN.com after the Pacers earned a narrow victory over the Boston Celtics to start getting off the schneid. 

    Only one word will suffice here. 

    Ouch.

The Other Candidates

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    Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

    The sharpshooter has submitted yet another fantastic offensive campaign, this time entering the closing stretch of the NBA season ranking No. 8 in points per game and No. 5 in assists per contest. But his turnover problems have cost his team late in some close games, and the Dubs need a late-season run in order to charge up the ranks of the Western Conference. 

    If Golden State keeps rolling along, Curry could work his way into the top five, but it's hard to see that continuing now that he's dealing with a strained quad that might lead to minutes restrictions.

     

    Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns

    Dragic should be the favorite for Most Improved Player, as he's done a fantastic job providing the Phoenix Suns with wins long after Eric Bledsoe left the lineup. His confidence is unmistakable, and it's manifested itself in some precocious offensive play. 

    But can an MVP candidate really come from a team that might not make the playoffs? 

     

    James Harden, Houston Rockets

    The bearded shooting guard has been absolutely dominant recently, lighting up scoreboards on a consistent basis. His perimeter shot is falling, and the rest of his offensive game is working to near perfection. 

    Of the four players featured on this slide, Harden is the closest to actually gaining entry in the top five. It's only the dominance of Dwight Howard that is devaluing his effort. 

     

    Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Go and read the final sentence of the Dragic section once more.

    Even if Love were averaging 30 points and 20 rebounds per game, it'd be awfully difficult to justify handing him the MVP while the 'Wolves are barely over .500 and still fighting an uphill battle to play even a single postseason game.