Blake Griffin and MVP belong in the same sentence.
The Los Angeles Clippers All-Star power forward might not deserve to win the award and join Derrick Rose as one of two players to dethrone LeBron James in the last half-decade, but he definitely belongs in the conversation.
And as I'll explain in a bit, there's a massive distinction between those two ideas.
During the 2013-14 season, Griffin has been the driving force behind the success of the Clippers. He's been a dominant offensive player, and his scoring has gone a long way toward spurring them into the No. 3 spot in the Western Conference standings.
However, the increasingly overwhelming amount of evidence is still being met with some resistance. The question of whether or not Griffin belongs in this conversation still stubbornly persists, even if it shouldn't.
Let's end that once and for all.
What is the MVP Conversation?
At this stage of the 2013-14 season, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are clearly ahead of the field. The latter should be considered the prohibitive favorite thanks to his continued dominance, even with Russell Westbrook back in the Oklahoma City Thunder and stealing control of the rock, but the former is still a member of that elite two-man class.
Is that where the conversation ends?
According to Griffin himself, it might be. Here's a breakdown of what happened after the LAC power forward failed to lead his team to victory against the surging Denver Nuggets, via Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:
Do you feel you are at an MVP status based on your recent accomplishments and performances for the Clippers?
"Naw, I think the MVP race is a two-man race," Griffin responded.
There's a difference between the MVP race and the MVP conversation, though.
That's crucial here.
The race only includes the front-runners. Any player who is eliminated from contention—either officially, like Derrick Rose or Kobe Bryant, or for all intents and purposes, like Carmelo Anthony, due to the futility of the New York Knicks' season—is no longer part of the race
Because of that, Griffin is completely right.
Durant and LeBron are the only two players left in the MVP race because they're the only ones with a chance of actually winning the award. If both players tore their ACLs tomorrow, leaving their teams in a sudden lurch, one of the two would still win MVP. There's such a large gap between them and the rest of the field that nothing else is possible.
But the conversation? That's a different story.
Just think about how the NBA MVP is determined. Ballots are filled out, and players receive points in the following manner:
- 10 points for a first-place vote
- Seven points for a second-place vote
- Five points for a third-place vote
- Three points for a fourth-place vote
- One point for a fifth-place vote
That means that five spots comprise an MVP ballot. So in my book—and this is admittedly a subjective distinction, though it's a central part of the overall thesis—the MVP conversation revolves around the players who should be featured in one of those five spots.
Even if we're talking about a guy who should finish No. 5, he's part of the conversation.
LeBron and Durant are the only runners left in the all-important race, but the conversations extends well beyond them. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive.
Griffin's Value to the Clippers
Now, I could sit here and spend plenty of time regaling you with tales about Griffin's dramatic improvement during the 2013-14 campaign. I could go over his improvement on defense, his work in the post and his overall ability to create his own shot.
But that's not the point of the MVP award.
The amount of improvement is completely and utterly irrelevant. There's even a separate award for that: Most Improved Player.
All that matters is the value provided by the player in question. If LeBron was the most valuable player in the NBA, it wouldn't matter one iota if he'd regressed from his performance in 2012-13, as that's not in any way the intention of the award.
Even still, Griffin deserves to be in the conversation.
Just think about what he did while Chris Paul was out, which ranged from the first game after a Jan. 3 contest with the Dallas Mavericks until his return in a Feb. 9 blowout victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. During that 18-game stretch, the power forward was nothing short of dominant.
He steered LAC to a 12-6 record, one that helped the Clippers keep pace in the brutally difficult Western Conference. Only four teams in the West have won at least two-thirds of their games, so that was a rate conducive to remaining in the hunt for home-court advantage.
Griffin also averaged mind-boggling numbers.
Over those 18 games, he posted 27.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists per contest, and he shot 55.4 percent from the field and 69.2 percent at the charity stripe. Not only was he the unquestioned leader of the Clippers' offense, but he thrived in that role.
Essentially, Blake spent that month spitting on the notion that he was a product of CP3's dominance, something I—along with many, many others—was definitely guilty of assuming. He proved once and for all that he was a superstar, not a supporting piece who needed the setups from other talented players in order to thrive.
But it's not like Griffin's candidacy is dependent on just a single 18-game stretch. He's been the driving force behind this team's success throughout the year.
Perhaps the most telling piece of evidence is the Clippers' offensive strategy since Paul has returned to the lineup. Including that first game back (the blowout of the Sixers) Griffin has still averaged 25.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per outing while shooting 52 percent from the field.
Those numbers are only slightly down from the sans-CP3 stage of the season, which is understandable. Of course the best point guard in basketball returning to the lineup is going to shake things up and lessen a star player's involvement.
But even with Paul running the show, the offense uses Griffin as a hub, whether he's set up on the elbow or the block. He touches the ball on almost every possession, and his decision-making is often the impetus behind the point-scoring efforts.
You don’t want Chris handling the ball every possession, all game. I don’t know how you’d physically go through a game, a year and definitely the playoffs like that. I think it’s important there is more than one facilitator on your team.
Basically, Rivers is recognizing the fact that Los Angeles is scoring an additional 7.4 points per 100 possessions when Blake is on the court. And it doesn't hurt that the defense is also holding opponents to 0.1 fewer points over the same span, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Griffin is sixth in points per game throughout the entire Association, trailing only Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love and James Harden. But he's also a top-10 player when it comes to player efficiency rating, usage percentage, offensive win shares, total win shares and win shares per 48 minutes.
Additionally, he and Durant are the only two players in the NBA who rank in the top dozen for both offensive and defensive win shares, once more according to Basketball-Reference.
Griffin has simply become an insanely valuable player, one who's dominating on offense and still making defensive contributions for the first time in his career. He's become the top contributor on one of the top teams in basketball.
How many other players can say that?
LeBron and Durant certainly can.
But the next tier, the one occupied by Griffin, only includes a few other names: Joakim Noah, Paul George and Stephen Curry. The latter two haven't done enough to be considered stronger candidates than Griffin, though. Curry hasn't led his team to nearly as many victories, and George's late-season slump has him plummeting down MVP leaderboards.
Noah's placement is debatable, but this isn't the time or place for a Noah vs. Griffin discussion. One doesn't have to be in the conversation at the expense of the other.
Then we have the guys who are from teams with multiple fringe MVP candidates: James Harden and Dwight Howard from the Houston Rockets, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors, LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers and Tim Duncan and Tony Parker from the San Antonio Spurs.
None of them belong ahead of Griffin.
Beyond that, there are the standouts from teams who wouldn't currently be in the playoffs if the season were to end abruptly: Carmelo Anthony, Goran Dragic, Kevin Love and Anthony Davis, none of whom should factor into the conversation more heavily than Blake.
That's a lot of names. Eighteen in fact, which is far too many for an MVP conversation.
Fortunately, that's nearly irrelevant here, because Griffin belongs in the No. 3 spot. Only Noah, George and Harden seem as though they have realistic shots at jumping him in the final voting, which means that he's firmly a part of the MVP discussion.
Leaving him out would just be foolish.