Race to the MVP Ladder
The Race to the MVP Ladder is a weekly look at our favorite to walk away with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy (aka the NBA MVP award). The rankings are written by Sekou Smith of NBA.com's HangTime blog, Hang Time podcast and The Beat fame. If you have an issue with the Ladder, or have a question or comment for Sekou, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on Twitter.
OKC's Unmatched MVP Duo Shines
Dec. 13 -- The number of true MVP candidates in any given season is rarely more than three to five deep. We stick to 10 around here in order to best represent the long list of players who are performing at an elite level. But the true contenders for that Maurice Podoloff Trophy should be classified as simply a few good men.
Having two of those men on the same team on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder is a rarity. Indiana Pacers teammates Paul George and Roy Hibbert have done it this season, as the Houston Rockets' James Harden and Dwight Howard.
You can add Oklahoma City Thunder teammates Kevin Durant, holding down the No. 1 spot for the second consecutive week, and Russell Westbrook, who joins the party this week at No. 10, to that elite list.
No other team can match the whirlwind of energy and production this duo provides all over the court. More importantly, they are piling up wins -- over all comers, elite and otherwise.
We didn't even know if Westbrook could come back like this from the knee surgery that derailed his and the Thunder's championship plans last season. Instead, he's shown no signs of rust. He and Durant found an instant groove and the Thunder have been off the races basically since the season began. That's why Thunder coach Scott Brooks was willing to respond to an inquiry about his two stars being on that MVP short list this season.
"I think Russell impacts the game on both ends of the floor and in order to be a MVP candidate you have to do that," Brooks said. "You have to be a two-way player to be a part of that conversation. I don't think you can just be a scorer and expect to be considered the top player in the league. Russell does it with his activity on the basketball and his steals, Kevin does it with his ability to block shots and his rebounding. But they both defend and they are terrific players offensively."
There have been plenty of teammates throughout NBA history to embody those same traits. But only a handful have grown together over the course of their careers the way Durant and Westbrook have. OKC's duo has not only grown up and matured together, but they've done it without either one of them having to subjugate their individual games.
Westbrook was rung up repeatedly in the media for various transgressions during the Thunder's rise from a promising, young team four seasons ago all the way to their run to The 2012 Finals. It wasn't until he went down with a knee injury in the first round against Houston last year that the tone changed. The Thunder's struggles without him were obvious. The appreciation for his game, rough edges and all, was finally realized by his many critics.
"It was always the goal, when we first drafted Russell along with KD, was to have them develop into great players in this league," Brooks added. "They've done a great job every year in coming back and improving. We like what they are about, the effort they bring every night. And I don't discount it, but I think a lot of people take for granted the fact that guys come to work every day and do their jobs. They don't like to miss practice, let alone games. They are always there for their coaches and always their for their teammates. And that to me those are MVP caliber players."
They are MVP-caliber players and teammates who should both stay on the elite list for years to come.
-- Sekou Smith
Editor's note on player stats: Instead of going with points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals to measure each MVP candidate's numbers, we are instead going with PIE.
While we do not discredit traditional stats around these parts, PIE is one stat we think accurately reflects the overall value of a player.
What is PIE? It stands for Player Impact Estimate, and it's a new NBA-developed stat that measures a player's (or team's) overall impact on the games in which they've played.
PIE eliminates league- , season- or style-of-play bias, enabling comparison of a player and team across different eras. The PIE formula also includes the team's rate of success -- which some see as the ultimate measure.
We feel this is an accurate depiction of a player's overall value. But if you're looking for the traditional (and advanced numbers), they're just a click away, too.