The conventional wisdom is that LeBron James has already wrapped up the MVP award.
With Kobe Bryant being unable to compete at the level necessary to merit the award because of injuries, LeBron James had a clear path to grab the award for the second consecutive year after the Cavaliers demolished the Lakers for the second time in as many tries last month.
Then Cavs point guard Mo Williams went down with an injury along with Cavs guard Delonte West, who has not been playing. How does LeBron respond? By becoming the best playmaker in the league by averaging over 10 assists since Mo Williams went down.
Even more amazing, LeBron has taken over the NBA scoring lead in that same span. Lebron's PER this season is 31.64 and if he keeps it at that pace, it'll be a top five PER of all time. The only other players in the top five in PER? Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan.
That's how good LeBron James is this season. That the Cavs are the best team in the league record-wise and the fact that James is routinely considered, along with Kobe Bryant, to be the best player in the league only helps his case. Add all this to the fact that the Lakers have been playing superb without Kobe and it seems difficult to see anyone challenging LeBron James for MVP honors.
Enter Kevin Durant.
I'm going to put it out there. If the Oklahoma City Thunder win 50 games, my vote would go to Kevin Durant. The Oklahoma City Thunder are on pace for 48 wins right now, but John Hollinger's nifty ESPN playoff predictor has the Thunder winning 50 games by season end. Perhaps that didn't register. The Oklahoma City Thunder might win 50 games this season!
If it still hasn't registered, let me kindly put it in perspective. The Oklahoma City Thunder were supposed to be an embarrassment. Mediocre at best. Teams were supposed to look at the Thunder as a gimme win. If a team was in need of a pick-me-up, they would look to the Thunder as a sure victory. And who could blame them?
Last year, the Thunder only won 23 games all season. They've already surpassed last season's win total by seven wins. If the Thunder make it to 50 wins, then they would have improved by 27 wins. That's double the number of wins they had all last season—and they'd make the playoffs in the tough Western Conference.
No longer are teams going to Oklahoma with a smile on their face. They know what I know. Kevin Durant is a bad, bad man.
It may take a while for the world to notice, but Kevin Durant is a top-five player in the NBA. He is the reason why the Thunder are playing so well. Give credit to Scott Brooks for infusing this team with a defensive identity and Jeff Green for being a consistent stud, but it is Durant who is the floor general.
Durant's individual play is every bit worthy of MVP honors. He is second in the league in scoring pouring in 29.7 points per game (Lebron is No. 1 at 29.8) while pulling down 7.4 rebounds per contest. His shooting percentage is 48.5 percent which is exceptional given the amount of jumpers that he takes. He's top-five in PER and he's been worthy of second team defensive honors this season.
Compared to Lebron, Durant isn't nearly as dominant statistically. But he doesn't need to be. After winning 66 games last season, Hollinger's predictive model puts the Cavs finishing at 62 wins—four games worse. This is after adding considerable talent to the Cavs roster including Shaquille O'Neal and Anthony Parker.
LeBron, for all his stellar play, hasn't been as good individually as last season either with his PER down a notch this year. As good as LeBron has been and as good as the Cavs are, they are merely meeting expectations. Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder are exceeding expectations.
But here's what convinced me to put Kevin Durant over LeBron James if the Thunder win 50 games. LeBron plays in the Eastern Conference which is clearly inferior to the tough Western Conference. The Celtics haven't been nearly as good as expected and Orlando has been considerably worse than last year after losing Hedo Turkoglu to the Toronto Raptors.
Consider this: the Thunder are 16-6 against the Eastern Conference. That's almost a 73 percent win rate. If you put the Thunder in the East, where LeBron James plays, they'd win 55 games. And admit it, if the Thunder won 55 games, you'd have to give the award to Kevin Durant, wouldn't you? I can't in good conscience punish Durant for playing in a tougher conference.
Perhaps all this talk about individual play and wins is missing the point, though. Kevin Durant has also given Oklahoma City something to cheer about. A franchise that couldn't give tickets away a few years ago is selling out 90 percent of their home games. The team is going to make the playoffs for the first time since they moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City.
They are built for the future.
Just as LeBron put Cleveland on the map, Durant is doing the same for Oklahoma City. He's doing it in a tougher conference and massively exceeding expectations.
Next time I see Kevin, my only two words to him will be: MVP! MVP!
This article was originally published at http://thetransition3.wordpress.com/ , a blog about basketball that keeps three friends united.