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Kevin Durant averages 29.7 points a game, second behind Carmelo Anthony.
Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Durant's game is MVP-like, but OKC has to pick up the pace

By Steve Aschburner, for
Posted Feb 5 2010 12:34PM

Dazzling Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder would have a better chance of claiming his profession's highest individual honor if he worked in street clothes.

If only Durant led the Thunder from the sideline, in low-cut Cole Haans rather than those swooshy sneakers, in a coat and tie rather than his blue-and-orange skivvies. As it stands, his head coach, Scott Brooks, has a better chance of taking home personal hardware than does his precocious superstar.

That would be the Coach of the Year award, which has a much different tradition -- and frankly, a significantly lower threshold for those who win it -- than the Most Valuable Player award.

Indulge The Race here as it strives to make a larger point about the more stringent standards applied to MVP candidates vs. COY candidates. (By the way,The Race is skeptical that the "COY" acronym, used mostly in NBA inner circles, ever is going to catch on. When's the last time we heard an impassioned crowd chanting, ``C-O-Y! C-O-Y!'' as Brooks or Gregg Popovich or Phil Jackson made a pivotal late-game substitution?)

The fact is, serious MVP candidates typically have to win more than serious COY candidates, even though the latter are the ones who tote won-lost records around throughout their careers. And are hired and fired according to them. Consider:

• The last 27 MVPs have been awarded to players whose teams won at least 50 games (or were on pace to do so, since Utah's 37-13 in the 1999 lockout season was the equivalent of 61-21 when Karl Malone won the Podoloff). Count back that far in COYs and you'll find six that were presented to coaches whose teams won between 41-49 games.

• Only seven times has an MVP come from a team that didn't win (or project to win) at least 50. That has happened 16 times with the COY. And get this: The coaches didn't have an award of their own until 1963, seven years after the NBA officially began honoring its top player. By percentages then, MVPs have failed to lead their teams to 50 victories just 13 percent of the time (7 of 54). But 34 percent (16 of 47) of COYs have fallen short.

• For the record, the MVP twice has been awarded to a player from a losing team. A long, long time ago: Bob Pettit's St. Louis Hawks went 33-39 when he won the inaugural one in 1955-56. And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got the fourth of his six MVPs with the 40-42 Lakers in 1975-76. That did at least acknowledge a 10-game improvement for Los Angeles. Count the swoon by the Milwaukee team Abdul-Jabbar had just left via trade -- the Bucks dropped from 59 victories to 38 in their first year without him -- and it revealed even more about the big guy's value.

Only one COY winner finished under water: Johnny (Red) Kerr guided the expansion Chicago Bulls to a 33-48 mark in their debut 1966-67 season. Seven of the league's 10 teams at the time had more victories that year, including Alex Hannum's 68-13 mark with Philadelphia 76ers' championship team that is considered one of the NBA's all-time best. But this was just five years into COY balloting, Hannum had won three years earlier for his work in San Francisco (48-32) and no one had repeated yet.

What does all this mean? It means that Durant's Thunder club had better pick up the pace if it wants him to crash the MVP party over Cleveland's LeBron James and L.A.'s Kobe Bryant. The Thunder greeted Friday with a 28-21 record, a .571 winning percentage that pro-rates out to 47-35 for the full season.

That might be good enough for a COY. But it rarely is good enough for an MVP.

Other players on whom The Race is keeping a watchful eye are in similar or even worse situations. We'll note those as we go. As for Miami's Dwyane Wade, The Race is giving him a one-week hiatus from this list in a nod to this MVP history. Before Heat fans, T-Mobile users, Chicago residents and other Wade watchers go ballistic, clogging up The Race's e-mailbox or voice mail line, they all should know that The Race has a Marquette degree hanging in its board room, or as we like to think of it, the star chamber.

So this isn't a case of (stupid expression alert) "hating.'' It's just a realistic and symbolic shrug, a concession that Wade needs to hoist the Heat (24-26) back above .500 -- however Herculean that feat might be -- to be a truly legit MVP candidate.

1. LeBron James, Cavs
Last Week's Rank - 1
James has the Cavaliers at 40-11, the league's best record, so reaching traditional MVP territory, victories-wise, is a no-brainer. The Race was pleased to see LBJ shooting fewer 3-pointers and way more 15-footers (21 FTA) vs. Miami Thursday.

2. Kobe Bryant, Lakers
Last Week's Rank - 2
Bryant helped the Lakers to a big win on the road and he was good for yet another "Kobe did it again!" moment with his late (and impeccably defended-by-Ray Allen) game-winner at Boston.

3. Kevin Durant, Thunder
Last Week's Rank - 3
The last time anyone strung together 23 consecutive games scoring 25 points or more -- which Durant has done, the youngest guy ever to do so -- was Philadelphia's Allen Iverson in 2000-01. Iverson was named MVP that season after leading the 76ers to a 56-26 record. Durant's OKC club would need to finish 28-5 to match that. The Race is just sayin' ...

4. Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets
Last Week's Rank - --
The Race overreacted to Anthony's sprained lef ankle last week. But 'Melo last played on Jan. 23 and is expected to miss at least seven, maybe eight or even nine games -- he practiced Thursday but his explosiveness was said to be lacking. It's impossible to quibble with Anthony's production or Denver's results, but if this were to drag on or become chronic, well, see No. 10 below.

5. Dwight Howard, Magic
Last Week's Rank - 6
Ten consecutive double-doubles, 30 blocks in his last six games and an 8-1 mark for the Magic over their past nine nudges the Orlando strongman up a notch.

6. Tim Duncan, Spurs
Last Week's Rank - 4
Duncan drops two spots since The Race's last report. Why? The Spurs went 2-2 and, applying the criteria cited at the top, San Antonio at 28-20 (.583) is on pace for a 48-34 finish. Just south of the desirable 50-victory mark for MVP winners.

7. Dirk Nowitzki, Mavs
Last Week's Rank - 7
The Mavericks track a stat that shows Nowtizki outscoring the other team's power forward by 10 points or more on 30 occasions this season. At that position, others who have posted that 10-plus socring advantage include Chris Bosh (23 times), Amar'e Stoudemire (19), Zach Randolph (16) and David West (15). But The Race isn't genuflecting, since a recurring 10-point premium shouldn't be too much to expect for MVP candidates.

8. Chris Bosh, Raptors
Last Week's Rank - 5
Same math, same problem. Bosh, for all his talent, had the Raptors just four games above .500 (27-23) as The Race closed its book on the week. That projects to 44-38, which would be a lesser record than 1982 MVP winner Moses Malone's Houston team (46-36). So we implore Bosh to give his team mo', mo', mo'.

Last Week's Rank - 9
The Race always gets hung up on Nash because he seems more instrumental, even inseparable, from the way Phoenix plays than almost anyone else in the league. That said, the Suns are on pace to win 48 games. And that's worse than Utah with Deron Williams, Boston with Rajon Rondo and Atlanta with Joe Johnson, among the guys ready to claim this spot and climb higher.

10. Chris Paul, Hornets
Last Week's Rank - --
Consider this a hearty farewell -- or at least "see ya later!" -- to the New Orleans point guard, a symbolic vote before he slips out of The Race. Paul's knee surgery Thursday could sideline him for the next six weeks, and MVP voters rarely overlook that when it comes time to honor guys who managed to stay healthy for all or most of the grind. It's too bad that his nod as the Western Conference's player of January, on top of All-Star status that he'll enjoy in casual clothes, likely will be Paul's last individual acclaim for a while. Then again, the Hornets project to 44-38 at the moment.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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