Who wins the MVP?
It was almost as if they were having their own “top that” contest every single night, and the league’s two best players completely hijacked the MVP race in the process. There’s a better chance of Michael Jordan coming back and leading the Charlotte Bobcats to the NBA title than anyone not named Durant or James winning the MVP award.
However, there will still be other players to earn MVP votes, even if they come in the form of third and fourth-place entries.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a couple of dark-horse MVP candidates as the playoffs heat up.
There wasn’t a better defensive player in the entire NBA this season than Joakim Noah in the league’s eyes.
Noah was named the Defensive Player of the Year, and Bomani Jones of ESPN shared with fans Noah’s entertaining family picture after the announcement:
this is one helluva family picture pic.twitter.com/ovHE9gkM4c— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) April 22, 2014
Noah averaged 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals a game for the Chicago Bulls and was a fantasy owner’s dream in the process. His passing as a center was better than some point guards, and he registered more triple-doubles this season than any other player in the league except Stephen Curry (they each got four) and Lance Stephenson (5).
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Noah’s game is the fact that he carried a Bulls squad that was devastated by yet another injury to Derrick Rose and the trade of Luol Deng in the middle of the season. It would have been easy for the Bulls to hang their heads, but Chicago finished with the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference largely because of Noah’s overall excellence.
Coach Tom Thibodeau talked about Noah’s value, via Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:
Each year I think he's gotten better and better. And I think that's a testament to his will and determination. And he's improved in many different areas -- everyone talks about the passing and his defense but offensively his scoring, his leadership, his professionalism (have grown).
Blake Griffin has always been one of the league’s most recognizable faces, but he turned from a commercial star to a legitimate NBA superstar this season when Chris Paul missed time with injury.
Griffin finished with nightly averages of 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.2 steals and helped carry the Los Angeles Clippers to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference in the process. He did enough to earn consideration on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Dwain Price’s MVP ballot:
Here's who I voted for MVP in the NBA: 1. Kevin Durant. 2. LeBron James 3. Tony Parker. 4. Blake Griffin 5. James Harden.— Dwain Price (@DwainPrice) April 18, 2014
It was clear just how valuable Griffin is to his team during the first two games of the Clippers’ playoff series with Golden State. The Warriors stole Game 1 largely because Griffin played less than 20 minutes with foul trouble, but Los Angeles dominated the second game when he was on the floor.
Griffin presents a serious matchup problem for the Warriors down low without Andrew Bogut, so expect Los Angeles to ultimately win the series.
Golden State will make the series competitive because of its three-point shooting, but Griffin will be too much to handle on the glass and on the block. He and Paul will lead the Clippers to the second round for a matchup against either the Oklahoma City Thunder or the Memphis Grizzlies.
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