Why Kevin Durant Is Primed to Repeat as NBA MVP in 2014-15

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2014

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant left little doubt about who deserved 2014 MVP honors, claiming 119 of 125 first-place votes en route to a landslide victory.

He could be poised for a similarly dominant campaign in the season ahead.

The 25-year-old carried his team all the way to the front step of the NBA Finals, ultimately succumbing to the San Antonio Spurs in a six-game conference Finals series wherein power forward Serge Ibaka missed the first two games with a leg injury.

During the regular season, Durant averaged a remarkable 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. The point and assist figures represented career highs.

Adding to the iconic season, KD led the way for a Thunder team that only got 46 games out of sidekick extraordinaire Russell Westbrook, who was sidelined much of the season while recovering from a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Upon winning his first MVP, Durant reminded onlookers why he's one of the most beloved superstars in the game, offering a heartfelt acceptance speech that recognized each of his teammates—and, of course, his mom.

"You made us believe, you kept us off the streets, put clothes on our backs, put food on the table," Durant said of his mother in the speech, via ESPN.com. "You the real MVP."

In a more assertive tone, Durant added, "Everything in my life, I had to take it. They're not going to give it to you out of sympathy. I wouldn't want it any other way. This was another case, if I wanted to win the MVP, I had to go take it. I felt that this was the year I did that."

Though typically quiet on the outside, it's that inner determination that could very well pave the way for another memorable performance in 2014-15.

While his sights will undoubtedly be set on OKC's collective endeavor to win a championship, odds are the team's fortunes will largely depend on another dazzling showing from its most valuable player.

Of course, he'll have plenty of competition.

Four-time MVP LeBron James reasons to be chief among those giving Durant a run for his money. Widely regarded as the best all-around player on the planet, James will remain in the spotlight upon returning to the same Cleveland Cavaliers he abandoned in 2010.

The good news for Durant is James will have to share that spotlight with two very capable stars in point guard Kyrie Irving and forward Kevin Love, who—barring an unthinkable reversal—will be acquired by Cleveland from the Minnesota Timberwolves via trade.

Though James will almost certainly remain a pivotal and incredibly skilled contributor, his numbers could decline ever so slightly with two productive young stars at his side. Moreover, his playing time could dip from the 37.7 minutes he averaged last season in the event new head coach David Blatt attempts to preserve him for the postseason.

If anyone's durable enough to withstand the wear and tear of an 82-game season, it's certainly James. Even so, Cleveland is looking to win a title and likely has enough star power to spare its prized possession an especially rigorous workload.

Oklahoma City has no such luxury, even with Westbrook doing his share of the scoring and playmaking.

In turn, expect Durant to average at least 38.5 minutes for the seventh season in a row. As always, the team will lean on him heavily at both forward positions and can ill-afford to bench him for long stretches at a time.

That said, James won't be Durant's only obstacle.

Blake Griffin finished a distant third in 2014's MVP voting, but he could very plausibly close the gap with another strong statement. He averaged 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists last season while keeping his Los Angeles Clippers afloat despite point guard Chris Paul missing 20 games.

Then there are some dark-horse candidates, perhaps most notably Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry.

Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal notes that, "The likable baby-faced assassin has to be considered a serious candidate heading into 2014-15, if for no reason other than his ridiculous offensive numbers. Defense is still a work in progress, but he's playing for a good team and tends to capture attention with his long-range bombs."

Others including Houston Rockets guard James Harden and even former MVP Derrick Rose could enter the conversation as well. The former will have to improve upon woeful defensive habits, and the latter will have to stay healthy—but in both instances, the talent is there.

The problem for each of these superstars is that Durant's otherworldly numbers aren't going anywhere. 

Impressive as KD's across-the-board production was a season ago, he was also extremely efficient—converting on 50.3 percent of his field-goal attempts and 39.1 percent of the 6.1 three-pointers he averaged per game. That's incredible consistency, especially coming from a guy who does so much of his damage from the perimeter.

Additionally, MVP honors are at least in part a barometer of more collective success. To that end, Oklahoma City's grip on one of the Western Conference's top two seeds becomes yet another salient factor weighing in Durant's favor.

Less quantitative indicators further buttress Durant's case.

He's a mature, steady presence who often leads by example but has become increasingly demonstrative over the years. He plays with poise and considerable basketball IQ, establishing himself as one of the game's most dynamic offensive threats on account of decision-making that's every bit as lethal as his talent.

As a practical matter, it won't hurt that Durant has withdrawn from participation in Team USA's in this summer's FIBA World Cup. KD cited the mental and physical need to prepare for the NBA season ahead, demonstrating a commitment to a championship-oriented bottom line. That commitment could go a long way toward keeping OKC fresh.

In short, there's a reason Oklahoma City is consistently in the title hunt.

The same reason Kevin Durant probably hasn't seen his last MVP Award.


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