MVP Race: Who’s in 3rd Place?

When the conversation of best player in the NBA is brought up, it’s usually a debate over Kevin Durant, the 7 foot, 240 pound, scoring phenom and Lebron James, the 6’8 athletic monster and four-time reigning MVP. And this season like the many that came before it will be no different. The MVP will be either Kevin Durant, or Lebron James.

Kevin Durant is averaging career highs in points (32.2) and assists (5.6) a game. With Russell Westbrook struggling with knee injuries, Kevin Durant has often had the entire team to carry by himself, and that has led to two 50-point games, eleven 40+ point games, three triple-doubles and an Oklahoma City Thunder record of 52-19 good for 2nd in the Western Conference. In comparison to previous great individual seasons, Kevin Durant is currently on a streak of 36 games in a row where he’s averaged 25 points or more – he’s four short of Michael Jordan. He’s the first player since the 1988-89 season to average 32 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists per game – the last to do it was Michael Jordan. To further the comparison with Jordan, Kevin Durant is the first player since MJ’s 1991-1992 season to average 30+ points, 5+ assists and 5+ rebounds a game while shooting 50% or higher from the field. His most unbelievable performance?

             

For Lebron James, he has led his Miami Heat team to a record of 48-21. Individually, he has stayed consistent in terms of his excellence. He has averaged 26.8 points, 6.4 assists, and 6.9 rebounds a game, while somehow managing to shoot 57% from the field on 17 shots per game. He’s 4th in the league in field goal percentage and has the 2nd highest PER in the league, behind only Kevin Durant. Don’t forget about his 61 point performance that broke his personal career high and franchise high against Charlotte.

Now KD probably deserves the MVP and will get it if one of two things happen. See the MVP voting will be determined by one ‘X’ factor shall we say. Both Lebron and Kevin Durant have strong cases for MVP, but KD will seal it if voters get tired of giving it to Lebron again – voting fatigue, they say. Now KD might not win it, because in voters’ eyes, they have the opportunity to create a legacy for Lebron by awarding him his 5th MVP, it catapults Lebron even further into the greatest player ever debate. We’ll see…

Although this 3rd candidate is irrelevant when it comes to crowning MVP, it’s still an interesting question to ask nonetheless. This player has to not only have had an outstanding individual season, invaluable to their team, and be on a playoff contending team. So that eliminates someone like Carmelo Anthony. Even though he’s had another amazing season averaging 28 points and 8 rebounds, his team has been more than disappointing. Blame it on injuries, other guys not stepping up, but I think to be an MVP your team has to be one of the best in the league – at least top 4 in its respective conference. If it were based simply on individual seasons then Kevin Love would have at least two MVP’s by now.

The 3rd candidate in my opinion is a competition between Joakim Noah, Al Jefferson, Blake Griffin and Lamarcus Aldridge.

Joakim Noah: 12.4 points, 5.1 assists, 11.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 1.2 steals, 48% FG

Without Derrick Rose for another season Joakim Noah stepped up as leader of the team. As one of the most passionate players in the league, he united Chicago and kept the team together. Then mid-way through the season, Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland and once again Joakim Noah had to step up. In a paper league, where wins were granted based on heightened skill on paper, the Bulls probably wouldn’t even make those playoffs. However, it’s a combination of coaching, defensive intensity and energy that has allowed the Bulls to continue to play at a high level. Joakim Noah has led the Bulls to a 40-31 record, good for 3rd in the Eastern Conference. Before Luol Deng was traded the Bulls were 14-18 and Joakim Noah was averaging 10.2 points, 3.4 assists and 9.8 rebounds. After the trade, when people thought the Bulls would start losing or tanking to put themselves in a better position for this season’s draft and next seasons Derrick Rose return, they did the opposite. Led by Joakim Noah, the Bulls are 26-13 and Joakim Noah is averaging 13.3 points, 6.1 assists and 11.7 rebounds. Yeah, you might say the increase in production is a result of losing your leading scorer, but that’s not always the result when a player needs to step up. Joakim Noah took no time in carrying the Bulls to the playoffs and now they are competing for the 3rd seed.

Al Jefferson: 21.4 points, 2.2 assists, 10.4 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, 0.9 steals, 50% FG

In 2012 the Charlotte Bobcats were the worst team in NBA history, winning only 7 games. In 2013 with the improvement of Kemba Walker and additions like Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, they improved to 21 wins. This season that win total has already been exceeded and the Bobcats are sitting 1.5 games out of the 6th seed in the East with a record of 35-37. They haven’t eclipsed .500 but in the shitty Eastern Conference they will most likely make the playoffs. Without Al Jefferson, they wouldn’t even be close. He gives them one of the best low scoring presences in the league and consistently puts pressure on opposing defenses, attracting double teams and attention down low opening the floor up for his teammates. He also provides the team with a veteran presence. On a team with an average age of 26, Al Jefferson’s experience has been valuable in helping the team stay consistent and helping the younger guys maintain confidence throughout the long season.

Blake Griffin: 24.4 points, 3.8 assists, 9.7 rebounds, 53% FG

Blake Griffin is averaging a career high in points and has finally come into his own as a superstar in the league. He’s been criticized for only being a dunker or an athlete but this season he has improved his shooting from the field and the free throw line. He’s averaging a career high 70% from the free throw line and a career high 58% true shooting percentage. The Clippers are 50-22 on the season, good for 3rd in the Western Conference. Along with Chris Paul, he has led the Clippers to the 2nd highest offensive efficiency in the league and the most points scored per game with 107.5 a game. Although the Clippers were considered threats in the West, they weren’t really taken seriously as true contenders. Now with Blake Griffin’s improved low post game and shooting percentages, he has enabled the Clippers to play in the half-court. They had struggles playing in the half-court when the playoffs came around, but now he’s become a complete offensive player and the Clippers have no problem playing a slower paced game.

Lamarcus Aldridge: 23.4 points, 2.7 assists, 11.1 rebounds, 46% FG

With career highs in points per game and rebounds per game, Lamarcus Aldridge has elevated his game and helped the Blazers contend in the West. They have cooled down recently, but the Blazers started the season 13-2, which included an 11 game winning streak in November. Remember that last season, the Blazers were 33-49 and missed out on the playoffs completely, only making the 11th seed. This season with improvements from his supporting crew of Nicolas Batum and Damian Lillard, and the addition of Robin Lopez down low, Aldridge has carried the team to a 45-27 record good for 5th in the West. He and Damian Lillard have developed one of the strongest pick n pop relationships in the league and with Lamarcus Aldridge commanding so much attention in the low-post area, the floor is spread for the rest of the perimeter players.

Who to choose? Well, for me I take Joakim Noah. For the Bulls to be 40-31 without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng is crazy. Joakim Noah has been the emotional leader of the team and has led through increased production as well. Although his individual statistics aren’t as flashy as the other contenders for 3rd in the MVP race, he is a walking triple double and one of the strongest defensive players in the NBA. His increased production after Luol Deng left also shows his commitment to put the team on his back. If we’re talking about a guy who has not only been exceptional individually but has been the most valuable guy to his team, then 3rd place in MVP voting has to go to Joakim Noah.

 

 

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