Kevin Durant: Why the Oklahoma City Thunder Star Is Not the NBA MVP

Christopher GrahamCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2010

ATLANTA - JANUARY 18:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on January 18, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There is an insufferable habit among followers of the NBA to eschew logic in favor of the sexy story.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than the MVP hype machine.

Regardless of how painfully obvious it is that one player has run amok in the league and separated himself from his peers, we insist on pretending that the award is being contested.

Which brings us to the present situation, where people are actually defending the notion that Kevin Durant might be the MVP instead of LeBron James.

This idea is indefensible in every way, shape, and form. James has won NBA Player of the Month every month this season. No one has ever won the award every month of a season. He has carried his team to the best record in the NBA. Then there is the matter of statistical comparison.

LeBron: 30 PPG, 7.2 RPG, 8.5 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 50/35/78 percentages, 3.5 TO.

Durant: 29.6 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.0 BPG, 48/38/88 percentages, 3.5 TO.

Durant is a marginally better free throw shooter (plus-1.0 point per game) and three-point shooter (plus-0.5 points per game). LeBron creates more turnovers (plus-0.5 points per game)...and gets almost six more assists a game (plus-12-15 points per game?).

Think about that difference.

Do you know how many players in the NBA average at least 5.7 assists?

Fifteen. Total.

The difference between the two is so great that you cannot even say they play the same position. LeBron and Durant score at the same rate on the same number of shots, and in LeBron's spare time he also has to act as his team's main facilitator, while Durant defers those duties. Given that the two have become a wash defensively (which is a credit to Durant's work off the court), the verdict seems rather clear.

Not since Magic Johnson has a scorer had so much responsibility to distribute, and with due respect to Magic and Larry Bird, neither had as much asked of them as LeBron (that's a good thing).

Who else in the league would actually attempt to play the scoring wing and point guard positions and hope for even a modicum of success? Wade? He does it well, but not as well.

Kobe Bryant isn't half the passer LeBron is. Players like Arenas and Evans attempt the role, and their success (or lack thereof) is indicative of how futile the effort usually is.

None of this is meant as an attack on Durant. He is, to be sure, a phenomenal player, and the fact that he is so close to LeBron is so many statistical categories is a credit to his meteoric rise through the league.

His efforts on defense this season have become infectious, and his team has gone from being a laughing stock on that end of the floor (20th in the NBA in points per 100 possessions) to one of the best defensive teams in the league (sixth). Without a reliable second scorer, he is forced to carry his team's offense every night. Few players have more asked of them and deliver so consistently.

LeBron James, however, is one of those players. Unquestionably. Unfortunately, because we have become so used to his incredible gifts, we are inclined to look elsewhere for greatness. This is not the first time this has happened.

In 1987, Bird was coming off three straight MVPs and had a slightly better season statistically in '87 than he did in '86. Bird averaged four more points and three more rebounds than Magic, while Magic averaged five more assists. Bird was slightly better on defense.

The Lakers won six more games than Boston, but they played in the weaker conference. At the very least, the vote should have been close, right?

Magic got 65 first-place votes. Bird got one.

The result wasn't egregious so much as the process. Magic was going to get his lifetime achievement award, and nothing was going to stop it.

Far more blatant atrocities would follow. Karl Malone won the MVP in '97 over Jordan for no conceivable reason. Forget the statistics: Jordan's Bulls won five more games than the Jazz in a division that had four 50-game winners. The entire Western Conference had four.

Given that neither team's No. 2 player (John Stockton and Scottie Pippen, respectively) was chopped liver, I'm going to say that a direct comparison of team success was a good metric to trust. Jordan proved that in the Finals, just as he would the next year.

A more recent example is Steve Nash's 2005 MVP. People were no longer enamored with Shaquille O'Neal, and Nash was running the fun-and-gun Suns. Shaq averaged seven more points, seven more rebounds, two more blocks, and shot 60 percent from the field. He also played defense, something Nash wasn't exactly adept at.

Nash averaged a whopping eight more assists, but that was his only edge. When you factor in that Shaq's points-per-shot rate was 1.52 compared to 1.35 for Nash, and that Shaq's misses were likely to lead to additional chances for fouls, tip-ins, and rebounds, not to mention the upswing Miami took along with the downturn the Lakers endured, the answer to the MVP question was exceedingly clear.

And yet, Shaq lost.

These aren't the only examples of this behavior, but they illustrate my larger point: that we become enamored with what is new and fresh, as opposed to what is objectively most excellent.

The stories of Jordan, Shaq, and LeBron have been told, ad nauseam. We have measured their tangible qualities and turned their intangible qualities into whatever metaphors we see fit. There is little new ground to explore until LeBron wins a title, and because of that we have become jaded to his everyday excellence.

The NBA is a league that emphasizes potential. Durant is only beginning to realize his, and the possibility that his potential is somehow greater and more exciting that LeBron's entices us to behave irrationally. This is unfair, and in the case of the MVP, it creates a false belief that because something is newer it is somehow greater.

Durant should be appreciated for what he is: an excellent player of immense talent who has brought his team to his level and is only beginning to realize his potential.

We should appreciate LeBron for what he is: the once and future MVP.

We don't have to compare and confuse the two to enjoy them both.


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