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 normally written by Sekou Smith of NBA.com's HangTime blog, Hang Time podcast and The Beat. 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.
No Doubt About This: KD Is The MVP
April 18 -- Magic Johnson didn't even need to see the stretch run play out.
The Hall of Famer and three-time MVP and Finals MVP made up his minds weeks ago, like so many others. Kevin Durant's work throughout the 2013-14 season ensured the Oklahoma City Thunder star of his entry into the elite club of players to earn the NBA's highest individual reward.
The suspense in this season's MVP race did seem to evaporate long before Wednesday's regular-season finish. Durant was so good from start to finish -- which he proved by going for 42 in the finale -- that it made it hard to imagine anyone else wrestling the MVP from him.
A magical season filled with one jaw-dropping performance after another secured Durant's place atop our list, too. He finishes the season No. 1 on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder, ahead of two-time defending champ LeBron James. Their spirited battle for top honors entertained us all.
And that's what makes Magic's premature crowning of KD even more interesting. Players talk all the time about being focused on the task at hand and not worrying about things like postseason awards. But we all know better.
It's no coincidence that Durant's March 21 virtuoso 51-point, 12-rebound, seven-assist effort in Toronto -- complete with the nothing-but-bottoms 3-pointer for the win in double overtime -- came just weeks after LeBron's 61-point explosion in a win over Charlotte on March 3.
"I think that summed up the entire season for both of those guys," said an Eastern Conference scout. "It was like that old commercial -- 'anything you can do, I can do better.' Even if KD and LeBron didn't want to say it, anyone watching them could tell that while they have team goals and they are trying to get their teams to the top, there was also a bit of bravado between the two best guys in the league and a desire to keep pace with each other.
"LeBron is still the standard, there's no doubt. He has the hardware to back everything else up. But KD was unbelievable this season ... just flat ridiculous."
The great ones are always measuring themselves against the other greats, past and present.
Michael Jordan (past) and James (present) are the two names that come up most often when Durant is the topic of discussion.
Durant stalked them both all season. He surpassed Jordan's record for consecutive games scoring 25 or more points, finishing with 41 ... the longest streak in the last 50 years (or basically the post-Wilt Chamberlain era). And he overtook LeBron this season in nearly every advanced statistical category that matters, including and most notably PIE and win shares.
Durant finished the season with his fourth scoring title (a career-high 32 points, by the way) while shooting 50.3 percent from the floor, 39.1 percent from 3-point range and 87.3 percent from the free throw line.
The improvement in other areas, however, is what set this season apart for Durant. The load he toted with Russell Westbrook out for so long sticks out. So does his 7.4 rpg, career-high 5.5 apg and clearly improved ballhandling, defensive awareness, strength and leadership.
Even LeBron, who has finished first ahead of Durant three times in the voting for MVP, conceded that Durant has been the most consistent, elite performer this season.
"He's the most consistent basketball player as far as the MVP this year," James said. "He's put up some great numbers."
LeBron, perhaps unintentionally, makes the most important point of all where this season's MVP chase is concerned. It's not an indictment of his own (spectacular in its own right) season, but a validation of Durant's ascension to true MVP level.
Simply put, it's KD's turn to reign supreme ...
-- Sekou Smith
The next five: Paul George, Indiana Pacers; Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks; Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers; Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves; Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
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 helps accurately reflect 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 games.
PIE eliminates league- , season- or style-of-play bias, enabling comparison of a player (or team) across different eras. The PIE formula also includes the team's rate of success -- which some see as the ultimate measure of a player's worth.
But if you're looking for the traditional (and advanced numbers), they're just a click away, too.