AROUND THE HORN
We asked six writers who typically vote for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award to weigh in on this year's MVP race and what matters most to them when selecting a winner.
ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst: “If the vote were today, (Kevin) Durant would rather clearly be the choice, perhaps unanimously. Though this may seem obvious, it must be said that it is dangerous to call the MVP race before April, much less in January. With that out of the way, Durant has been on the verge for the last several years, there's no doubt he's a worthy candidate. He probably was ready to win it two years ago, but knocking out the champ is tough. In his favor isn't just how he's carried the Thunder without (Russell) Westbrook but also that (LeBron) James has slipped a little this season. A winner of four MVPs in five years, James has reached a category where he competes with himself from the past as much as his competitors and thus far — and I can't emphasize THUS FAR enough — James has not been on par with his previous seasons as Durant is exploding to one of the most remarkable hot streaks I've seen.”
ESPN's J.A. Adande: “I define Most Valuable Player as the individual who does the most to make his team elite — and by elite I mean high playoff seed/championship contender. To me, there's no value in putting up big numbers if your team is no good. I also don't like to play the ‘Where would the team be without him?' game. That's judging based on a hypothetical. I'm more concerned with where a team is WITH a player. If the numbers and the visuals show that he made the biggest impact on one of the best teams, he'll get my MVP vote.”
Bleacher Report's Howard Beck: “Kevin Durant is my pick right now, just slightly ahead of LeBron James. I also believe this will end up as one of the closest races ever. I base my pick on a combination of individual and team achievements, so the Thunder's record and Durant's blistering statistics all matter. He's got a 5-point lead on James in scoring, and a slight edge in PER. The fact that Durant is now single-handedly carrying the Thunder without Russell Westbrook is a major consideration. Durant is also playing in a much tougher conference than James.”
NBA.com's and TNT's David Aldridge: “Right now, I am leaning toward Durant. But it's a reluctant lean. LeBron has done nothing for me not to think he's still the best player in the game. Dude is shooting 58 percent from the floor. But I am swayed by KD, and not just because of the scoring. The assists are impressive, as is his proximity to the 190 club. Right now, the tipper for me is his efficiency and the Thunder's record in a demonstrably tougher conference. When I look at MVP at the end of the season, I look at a lot of things. No one factor is most important. Obviously wins matter, but you don't have to be a top-two or three team record wise to me. I look at whether the player is operating at his normal statistical levels or higher. Efficiency is a big stat, and I look at things like PER, points per field-goal attempt, etc. And then I try to extrapolate: how would the team play without him in that given season? Not all science. I'm a mastodon.”
ESPN.com's Marc Stein: “My MVP vote always goes to the guy having the best SEASON. The MVP, to me, was never intended to be a Best Player In The Game referendum. It's a reward, on this scorecard, for the standout combination of individual brilliance and team success over the 82 games in question. And by those measures, how can anyone but Kevin Durant be the MVP as we approach the 50-game mark? KD's surreal January numbers are straight out of a video game ... and he has the Thunder winning at a rate that they'd gladly take if Russ Westbrook were healthy. So I'm fairly certain that LeBron, if he had a vote and had to cast it today, would cast it for KD and admit that he has some catching up to do over the next 30-something games. The race is on.”
Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix: “I look at the usual stuff — statistics, advanced and otherwise, in concert with informal conversations with coaches and front office execs about who deserves the award — and I'm a big believer that team success should carry a lot of weight. That Kevin Durant has been able to keep Oklahoma City atop the Western Conference despite the extended absence of Russell Westbrook (and with another newcomer in Jeremy Lamb in the regular rotation) has had a significant impact on my hypothetical, midseason vote. The difficulty sometimes lies in separating the best player for the player having the best, most valuable season. To me, LeBron James continues to be the best player, a dominant force on both sides of the ball. But what Durant has done to elevate his team amid trying circumstances in an unforgiving conference makes him the guy, for now, having the best season.”