James Harden (4 Shares)- 25.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.8 steals, 44% FG
If you’re trying to make a case for James Harden as MVP it’s not a very daunting task. All you need to do is touch on four simple points:
1: He’s got a badass beard/haircut combo that allows him to stand out more than any other player in the league. It’s really easy to get behind voting for someone that looks as cool as James Harden does.
2: His numbers are among the best in the league, which makes a lot of sense considering…
3: Harden holds more responsibility than just about anybody else in the NBA. Think about the burden that Harden carries on his shoulders on a nightly basis. Harden is as versatile of an offensive player as there is in the entire world; someone who can score from any spot on the floor, highlighted by the fact that he leads his three point happy team in makes from downtown, and leads the entire league in free throws attempted. On top of that Harden has displayed the ability to create shots for teammates like some of the best point guards in the league. It shouldn’t be breaking news that Harden has this unique set of skills. They were on display in Oklahoma City, just never in a featured role. What Harden has done this year, his first year of being The Man, has been incredible.
4: Harden has delivered a few performances this year that are without question the work of someone who deserves to be mentioned in the discussion for MVP. Harden started the season with back to back games of 37 and 45 points respectively; effectively serving as an Eff-You to Oklahoma City for trading him right before the season started because they didn’t want to have to pay him superstar. In mid-February Harden exacted some revenge against the Thunder directly when he dropped 46 points on his former team in a Rockets win. Do games like that automatically qualify Harden as an MVP candidate? No, but those kinds of standout, Eff-You, “we aren’t losing this game” games are often on the resume of MVP winners.
Kobe Bryant (4 Shares)- 27.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 46% FG
I hate this. I hate that this is the last time I get to write about Kobe Bryant for the rest of this season, and also most likely for the rest of the year 2013. You don’t want to see anyone suffer an injury as severe as a torn Achilles, but it stung even more that it was Kobe Bryant who went down. We won’t know for a while what kind of player Kobe will be when he comes back. But this injury, and the season that Kobe was having before it highlights what kind of legacy Kobe will ultimately be remembered for.
This season wasn’t Kobe’s most dominant and it definitely wasn’t his most successful. There were times when those 17 seasons of mileage were glaringly apparent. Pau Gasol was hurt, Steve Nash was hurt, Dwight Howard was never totally healthy, and the Lakers were an absolute mess. Overall, this season would be considered a disappointment for the Lakers. But for some reason, this season of Kobe’s will always stick out in my mind. That shouldn’t be the case. Kobe after all has been around since I was going into kindergarten. He’s won five NBA titles, two finals MVP’s, one regular season MVP and two scoring titles. But ten years from now, when I think about the 2012-13 regular season, I’m pretty sure that after LeBron James, Kobe Bryant will be the most memorable player of the season.
In the public eye, Kobe Bryant might never reach the level of Michael Jordan. The title of greatest Laker ever might stay with Magic Johnson. Maybe LeBron James’s legacy will end up surpassing Kobe’s. And say what you want about the somewhat corny nicknames, the vacillation between being scoring Kobe and distributing Kobe, the new interest in being a member of social media, and the Lakers struggles. Kobe Bryant played 78 games of some of the most awe-inspiring basketball I’ve seen in my lifetime, and that’s something I won’t soon forget. He’s redefined the phrase “will to win,” by playing through a myriad of injuries that would have most players sitting out for weeks at a time, because he had to in order to keep the banged-up and benchless Lakers in the playoff picture. He logged an insane amount of minutes (3,013 minutes this year) for a player of any age, let alone a 34 year old with roughly 52,000 minutes of competitive basketball on the odometer. The last seven games of Kobe’s season show perfectly what kind of player Kobe is. With the playoffs riding on the Lakers success over the last two weeks of the season, Kobe saved his most incredible player for last, leading the Lakers to a 6-1 record in his last 7 games, scoring 28.9 points per game, pulling down 7.3 rebounds, and dishing 8.4 assists in a ridiculous 45.5 minutes per game. Only when his Achilles tendon was torn off the bone did Kobe finally stop, but not before knocking down two free throws. That’s a bad man.
Carmelo Anthony (6 Shares)- 28.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 45% FG
The Knicks late season 12 game win streak established themselves as the only unofficial threat to the Heat in the Eastern Conference, and Carmelo’s offensive outburst during said streak was almost enough to bump him past Chris Paul on the ballot. Carmelo is the league’s leading scorer, an absolutely vital piece to the Knicks ability to play small ball—which by the way is their most successful offensive identity—and a player who is absolutely fearless when going toe to toe with LeBron and Wade. He firmly believes he is on that level of superstardom with them. Whether you want to believe he is or not (On Wade’s level, yes; On LeBron’s level… that’s laughable), that type of mentality is essential in beating Miami four out of seven games this spring. However, I can’t ignore some things that are, let’s say missing, in Carmelo’s game.
His defense is still far from “elite.” Has Carmelo ever made a notable game changing play on the defensive end of the floor? He still struggles to make teammates significantly better. Expanding off of that point, he still will force up shot after shot after shot even when those shots aren’t falling. I did some snooping around at I found something very interesting. Carmelo Anthony has taken at least 20 field goal attempts in 46 games; LeBron 26 games. In those 46 games that Anthony has taken at least 20 field goal attempts, he’s shot 45% and averaged 3.7 assists. Conversely, in 26 games with over 20 field goal attempts LeBron has shot 53% and averaged 8.2 assists.
Look, there can’t be any dispute that Carmelo Anthony is an incredibly talented scorer who when in a zone can get hotter than any player in the world. He definitely deserves his 6 MVP shares… maybe even more. But there also shouldn’t be any dispute that LeBron James is in a different stratosphere than Carmelo Anthony as an overall player. There will be at least one deceiving game in the Eastern Conference Finals when Carmelo scores 45 points and notches a whole 2 assists and uninformed people will want to try to make a case for Carmelo over LeBron. Please don’t fall for it.
Chris Paul (8 Shares)- 16.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists, 2.4 steals, 48% FG
The Undisputed Point Guard World Heavyweight Championship Belt still belongs to Chris Paul despite a growing crop of young point guards that can possibly be described as a golden age for the position. Seriously, take a look at the top fifteen point guards (In my humble opinion, and in no particular order) in the league:
Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry, Deron Williams, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Ty Lawson, John Wall, Mike Conley, Ricky Rubio, Goran Dragic, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Jennings, Greivis Vasquez.
That doesn’t even include injured stars like Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose; serviceable starters like Kyle Lowry, Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lin, Jose Calderon, Jeff Teague, George Hill, Kirk Hinrich, Mario Chalmers, Raymond Felton, Jameer Nelson, Isaiah Thomas, Mo Williams; quality backups such as Darren Collison, Andre Miller, Jarrett Jack, Eric Bledsoe, Steve Blake, Jerryd Bayless, Norris Cole, Reggie Jackson, Nate Robinson; or past their prime former superstars Jason Kidd and Steve Nash.
That’s a rather large group of very good point guards in the NBA, and Chris Paul has been a mainstay at the top of that list for the last 5 years or so. Paul is the complete point guard package; a willing distributor who makes the decision not to score 25 points a game (He could easily if he chose to), instead saving that extra scoring gear for late in games, where there are few as good as Paul at putting the final nail in the coffin down the stretch of a close game. He’s the best defensive point guard of his era and the most intimidating 6’0 tall player I’ve seen in my time watching the NBA. Chris Paul gives the Clippers, a franchise that has spent nearly all of its 43 year history in futility, a fighting chance at winning an NBA title just because he’s that damn good.
Kevin Durant (24 Shares)- 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 51% FG (Member of 50-40-90 Club)
Hypothetical question: Is this postseason a very crucial checkpoint in the career of Kevin Durant? Think about it. Durant rolled into the 2012 playoffs as the leading scorer in the NBA for the third straight season. After losing only one game in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Thunder were forced to rally from a 2-0 deficit in the Conference Finals on the shoulders of Durant, who performed brilliantly enough that I just about wrote off the next five to ten Finals appearances from the Western Conference to the Thunder. This set up the much anticipated matchup between the two best players in the game; Kevin Durant and LeBron James. As great as Durant was in the Finals (30.6 points on 55% shooting, and 6.0 rebounds), the Thunder came up short and Durant’s efforts were overshadowed by LeBron James’s.
Fast forward a few months down the road to the 2012-13 season, where Durant just got done putting together an MVP campaign that would be worthy of taking home the hardware in the majority of seasons past (In my opinion, he would’ve been the MVP winner in 2011 and 2012 with a season like this). Those numbers and shooting splits are off the charts impressive. Durant even seems to be playing with a bit of an edge this season. Just about everything is in place for Durant to be the torch holder in the NBA. Just about everything.
Once again, Kevin Durant will come up short when going head to head with LeBron James in the MVP voting, but a larger and much more important question is raised. Kevin Durant has spent the last twelve months being 2nd best to LeBron James. He was 2nd in the MVP voting last year. LeBron got the best of him in the NBA Finals. LeBron even closed out the Gold Medal game in the Olympics despite Durant’s 30 point performance. With another Heat/Thunder collision course on the horizon, Durant faces an early crossroads in his career: Will he again come up just a bit short against the world’s best player, or will he get past the only hurdle remaining between him and full blown superstardom?
DISCLAIMER: I’m not the type of person who thinks a player needs to win a title to validate their career. That sort of talk enraged me during the first decade of my LeBron James fandom. This is just the narrative that so many fans tend to rely on, and so many critics like to talk about. Durant is the 2nd best player in the NBA and it’s by a considerable margin. He’ll likely remain in at least the top 5 for the next eight years or so, end up one of the all-time leading scorers in league history, and a title won’t change that.
LeBron James (61 Shares)- 26.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 56% FG
I’m not going to say much about LeBron, because there isn’t really anything I can say that hasn’t been said before. All I want to say as I wrap this mammoth 3 part MVP piece up is this: In about two months’ time there is a very distinct possibility that we will be talking about LeBron James having the greatest calendar year of basketball in NBA history. Prepare yourselves to live in that world LeBron haters. Everyone else who can appreciate basketball at its finest, just sit back and enjoy.