2012 NBA MVP: Predicting Returning Candidates, Fallen Stars
Last year, the MVP case was almost made instantaneously.
Of course it would not be LeBron James. That was a story that had already been written plenty of times before and people hated the guy. After “The Decision,” he almost became He who shall not be named.
So, Derrick Rose, the unanimous winner of the MVP, stepped up to a podium to claim his award as the youngest ever winner of the regular season accolade and gave a tear-jerking speech about how great his mother had been to his development.
Now, a new year is upon us and there are awards that need to be shelled out, even in light of what will be a very meticulous, nit-picking shortened season. There is no room for error and there are already MVP-caliber players showing themselves and some that are taking huge steps back.
Returning Candidate: LeBron James, Miami Heat
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This is not because of some unaltered and unadulterated love for the Miami Heat, former Cleveland Cavalier star. This is not because of last season.
The way James has taken on the offseason as a way to stay in elite condition for the shortened season and his showing in the preseason matchup against Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic forces the belief that this year will be one for the books for Miami collectively.
Bringing in Shane Battier is something that will undoubtedly assist LeBron James defensively, because more times than not he was forced to use his naturally apt defense to shut down multiple offensive strikes last season. Battier brings cohesiveness to what was once a drama-filled situation in South Beach. That alone will improve everyone’s performance in all aspects, including points per game, ball movements and game plan.
James is already the ultimate basketball player athletically, but in the NBA Finals, the raw missing ingredient was the mental capacity to endure and succeed against a deeper squad. James is Miami’s X-Factor; that was proven in last season’s Finals.
Now, that their fatal flaw has been exposed, the pronounced change in his mental performance will push Miami ahead of all others consistently. He is the most valuable player on the best team in the league.
Fallen Star: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
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Even though Kobe Bryant has an overall better career record in huge moments than LeBron James, the MVP candidacy is solely based on the NOW.
What is each star contributing to his franchise NOW? What does he mean to the league NOW? How great is he NOW?
The answers of those questions will be changed as the LA Lakers franchise seems like it is on a downward spiral ever since Jim Buss has taken the reins of the organization. Taking away Lamar Odom, one of the Lakers’ best assets, and giving him to the same team who swept them last postseason shows how much the newly-instated Buss in charge feels about the present direction of the team.
Kobe Bryant will sadly be on the receiving end of every inch of criticism that the Lakers receive, as it appears it will be his sole responsibility to win their upcoming season.
The MVP award is about the individual, but a lot of times the environment has a huge impact on what level said individual is able to function. Bryant is just as confused about the direction of the franchise he has put so much sweat, blood and obscenities as the general public. That will not translate well into the regular season.
In the past, Bryant’s ability to play pissed has usually resulted well for his teammates. However, those combo-guard skills that he has been forced to exhibit may not be as well executed as they had been before. Derek Fisher is on his way out of the league, period. Andrew Bynum is unreasonably lacking in reaching and exceeding his potential.
Pau Gasol was weak in the last postseason, even with a spurt of confidence in the preseason game against the Clippers, and the Lakers do not have much to look forward to without bringing in Dwight Howard. Bryant is not even the most important player in LA anymore.
OK, maybe he is, but he most definitely does not play for the most intriguing team in LA anymore.
Returning MVP Candidate: Derrick Rose, Chicago Bulls
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Derrick Rose is relevant and will not be slipping from that stable position anytime soon. The addition of Richard Hamilton to the Bulls lineup should take some of the scoring pressure off of the returning MVP and allow him to focus on being the best point guard in the league.
The possibility is there, but the restrictions placed on his game last season because he could not go a game without being his team’s leading scorer were too readily available.
This season will also be great for him because as the world understands, his conditioning in the offseason is unscripted. Rose improved greatly from 2009 to 2010 and fans do not expect anything less than greatness in the upcoming season.
Shortened? So what? Rose’s athletic ability seems everlasting and will not be halted because of a hectic schedule that will include more than multiple back-to-backs across country and back.
Rose has also developed a post game in the offseason/lockout:
Bryant always has recognized this dynamic in Rose, which is why he pulled the 23-year-old aside at last July’s exhibition in the Philippines and offered him more pointers. Improve your post game. Find the areas on the floor where double-teaming is more difficult. Seek championships. Rose took Bryant’s advice to heart — and to the court. "I worked on my post-up game, my isolation game, working at the elbows, trying to get fouled and get into the lane and put pressure on the defense," Rose said. "I’m trying to do better than last year. That was a good season, but it’s last year. Only a championship will do."
No one appreciates Rose’s attitude more than fans who want that old NBA mentality back: Fix your game; don’t recruit; don’t assemble a super team; use what you have to the best of your ability to get what you want.
Rose takes full advantage of everyone his franchise provides him and without a question can succeed at great heights with the men he takes so much pride in leading.
Fallen Star: Dwight Howard, Orlando Magic/New Jersey Nets (reportedly)
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This is yet to be determined, but the scope on Dwight Howard is bolder and hotter than ever. Just like when LeBron James stepped out of Cleveland and shot over to the Miami Heat, Howard will be more criticized for what he does not do than what he is actually able to accomplish this season with or without the Orlando Magic.
After coming forth every other day about the requested trade still being on, Howard has officially propelled himself into the superstar persona, or at least what people consider it to be.
A huge reason as to why the lockout was held so deep into the preseason and the regular season was that stars were flexing their muscles a little too much for owners’ liking. Determining where they play was always supposed to lie as a responsibility slated for ownership and general managers, not the friendships and hidden phone conversations that players hold behind the scenes.
Howard is attempting to remove himself from a team that seems to be going nowhere with him, and with his demands comes a new air of accountability.
Last season, he was right behind Derrick Rose in the MVP race for two reasons.
- He averaged double-doubles and was the only man on his team who seemed to give a damn about the direction of the franchise continuously and ferociously.
- Everyone liked him because he was making the best case with a team stuck in mediocrity.
After a preseason showing that should be valued as a statement to Orlando’s front office to move him sooner than later, Howard is not that guy who is smiling even when everything around him is going wrong.
Hate to say it, but the way he is going about taking his future into his own hands, not keeping this quiet and cordial, will put an undue amount of pressure on his shoulders that he may not live up to.
One bad game or a few will cast him out of voters’ minds quicker than it ever would have before.
Returning MVP Candidate: Kevin Durant, OKC Thunder
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Kevin Durant is an old-school type of basketball player that is embraced by all audiences because his crave for leadership is backed up by his ever-developing game. Striving to perfect his low-post game is just one of the things that Durant is conquering in order to get his young OKC team under control.
The biggest task under his belt is maintaining chemistry with his main facilitator, Russell Westbrook.
The Durant-Westbrook combination is of vital importance to the success of the Thunder this season. The lapses in judgment Westbrook showed last season deep into the playoffs and even in the regular season will haunt OKC drastically with not much time to prove their point.
In the preseason matchup against the Dallas Mavericks—of course without Dirk Nowitzki—the Thunder showed development in the sense that Durant and Westbrook were far more in tune with each other than when their season ended.
The two-time scoring champion of the NBA will come back better and slightly bigger than ever. Getting a little more strength in his lanky frame and becoming more powerful around the rim will pay off in those key matchups against more stacked opponents when the postseason comes under way. His maturity is also a huge reason as to why the OKC Thunder will be the Western Conference’s No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
No matter happens around the league, Durant will always improve and he will always be the Thunder’s go-to guy with his focus solid on the players around him and leading them to the forefront of the league. Their youth has provided questions to how deep they can go against more veteran-stranded franchises, but Durant cancels all of those underlying issues out with the dedication he has to the game and the leadership capabilities that he has yet to reach.
Emerging Candidate: Blake Griffin, LA Clippers
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With the acquisition of Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups, the LA Clippers are officially back on the map before anything can truly be said or done in the regular season.
The ideal that held Blake Griffin from being considered for the MVP candidacy last season was that, even though his individual performances were eye-opening, the collective Clippers’ season record was below-average and unacceptable. The MVP of the league must at least be a part of a winning squad to be considered more valuable than anyone else in surrounding cities or beyond.
Now that the Clippers are stacked more than they previously had been with the addition of Caron Butler and the aforementioned veterans, Griffin has a great chance at ending this season on a higher note as one of the top five seeds coming out of the West.
It may be a bit premature to designate him the true leader of the team, but it will most definitely be amongst his primary efforts that the Clippers land in the postseason comfortably. It will be a test of his qualities through such a revamped roster and if he performs to the height of his potential, an admission into the MVP candidacy will be well deserved.