From the amount of attention that Kevin Durant has received since his Oklahoma City Thunder were ousted by the L.A. Lakers, I would have assumed his team had bowed out in overtime of Game 7 of the conference finals, rather than Game 6 of the first round.
Because of that one series, Durant has been crowned by some to be the odds on favorite to win next year's NBA MVP award, despite the fact that his scoring dropped from his season average of 30 PPG to 25 in that series, and he was harassed by Ron Artest into shooting an abysmal 35 percent.
Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have been largely dismissed as serious contenders for the award because, by playing together, their statistics will decline and neither player will stand out. This ignores the fact that James and Wade's impact on the game transcends merely stat sheets.
But while assessing the landscape of contenders in the running for the award, I can't help but think that next season, Dwayne Wade will win the award, and not Kevin Durant.
Here are just a few reasons why:
Wade's Team Will Assuredly See An Improvement in Wins; I'm Not So Sure That Can Be Said About The Thunder
The Miami Heat won 47 games last year and most NBA analysts project that they will win upwards of 60 games this year. The MVP voters love to vote for the best player on a team that has a dramatic season-to-season improvement.Think Allen Iverson in 2001 (they were 56-26 an improvement of seven wins from the previous year) and Wade's Heat should do that. The Thunder will be a good team next year, but I think they overachieved a bit and now that the expectations are higher and the pressure is more fierce, this team will be played much tougher than they were last season. It's not likely that Durant would win the MVP if his team takes a step back in any way, but I just don't see this as a 55+ win team either. Will the NBA reward him for taking an established 50-win team and leading it to 52 wins, especially when Wade's team may have over 60? I doubt it.
Dwyane Wade's Team Will Be the East's Top Seed, Durant's Team Will Not
Eleven of the last 13 NBA MVP's were on teams that had the best record in their conference, including the last four straight. For Durant to win the award, his team would presumably need to be at least a top two seed. Any lower than two, and his chances begin to diminish. The Lakers will be the No. 1 seed in the West. That leaves the Thunder competing against up-and-coming teams like Portland and Houston, not to mention the ever dangerous Spurs for the No. 2 seed. Can Durant fight off these clubs, and gain that second seed? I have more confidence in Wade's ability to secure one of the top seeds in the East than Durant's ability to win a top record in the West.
The East is Considered Tougher, So Wade Will Get More Credit For His Team's Success
Yeah, I can hear detractors through the screen now: "But he has LeBron James, so his team is expected to be good." But the East has clearly emerged as a tougher conference, and if Wade's team dominates the league's best teams, it has to go a long way in the minds of MVP voters.
Wade Has Never Won the Award Before Despite Several Strong Seasons, While Durant is Just Getting Started
I totally disagree with Kenny Smith. At this point in their careers, Durant IS NOT better than Dwyane Wade, and next season will be the opportunity to finally give Wade long overdue recognition for his accomplishments. In 2009, he may have been the NBA MVP had it not been for his team's poor record. Wade averaged 30.2 points per game, 7.5 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 2.2 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game that year. It was truly one of the best seasons any player has had in recent memory. I think the voters will finally give the award to one of the three best players in the game.
Durant Has Yet To Establish The Type of All-Around Game That Wade Already Has
Durant is a scorer, plain and simple, and the best way to decrease the impact of a scorer on a game is to make it tougher for him to score. When I watched the series against the Lakers, I was struck by how few adjustments Durant made in response to the way the defense was playing him.
The message seemed to be, "If you play tough and physical with the game's leading scorer, you not only shut him down, but you also cut the head off the team." In the playoffs against the Celtics, Wade's numbers actually INCREASED against Boston's defense. In fact, Wade is the only player whose FG percentage, and scoring rose against the tougher Celtics D (from 47 percent to 54 percent and from 26.6ppg to 32ppg) in the playoffs. LeBron, Dwight Howard, and Pau Gasol can't say that. Even Kobe saw his numbers drop in the finals against the Celtics (from 45 percent to 40 percent from 27ppg to 26ppg).
Wade knows how to have an impact on a game in ways that Durant has yet to quite figure out. The fact that he shot so poorly against a team's tough defense suggests that he is still years away from being the league's most valuable player right now.
Other Great Players Make MVPs and Durant Doesn't Have That Yet
Playing with other elite players tends to have a positive effect on the star player of the team who normally wins the award. Would Kobe Bryant have won the award in 2008 had it not been for the positive impact Pau Gasol had on his game and the overall success of the team? When David Robinson was paired with Dennis Rodman in 1995, the Admiral won his first and only MVP, and Rodman (at least during the season anyway) had a tremendous impact on David's game.
Durant doesn't have a player beside him capable of impacting his game the way James can impact Wade's game. Russell Westbrook is a good young player, but the way he struggled at times in the playoffs (in particular that ugly 4-13 game five when LA took control), is still a terrible outside shooter (22 percent from 3PT) and has not yet capable of elevate Durant's game the way Gasol did Kobe's.