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.
Two-Man MVP Race Enters Stretch Run
March 7 -- There is no rest for anyone trying to win MVP honors this season. That goes for guys in the bottom half of the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder. It applies particularly to the two men atop it.
LeBron James and Kevin Durant, interchangeable at the top depending on your leaning, have clearly separated themselves from the pack. They are locked in an MVP race that probably won't be decided until the tape, in mid-April. But for this week, they are essentially tied atop this week's Kia Race to the MVP Ladder.
Perhaps LeBron has the slightest of edges this week. If so, it's a razor-thin one. The bump is courtesy of his career-high and franchise-record 61 points in Miami's win over Charlotte Monday.
The fact that these two superstars have embraced the race, so to speak, in the midst of trying to lead their teams to the top of the standings makes the ride even better. As discussed earlier this week in the Blogtable, team success is what ultimately could give one guy the edge over the other.
Voters have always attached a huge amount of importance to team success for an MVP candidate. It's worked for LeBron four times in the past five years and certainly for the last man not named James to win the award (Chicago's Derrick Rose in 2010-11).
Some fans want to declare the race over, even with roughly six weeks of season left to play. Some pundits have suggested the same, insisting that Durant's ascent has put him in a position to secure what could be the first of multiple MVPs.
LeBron's supporters would argue that he's battling MVP fatigue (folks get tired of voting for the same player year after year, the same way they did Michael Jordan in his championship prime when both Charles Barkley and Karl Malone walked away with MVP trophies) and still excelling in ways that only he, and now Durant, can.
Our Jeff Caplan captured it best in the aftermath of LeBron's career-high night when he talked about the lethal efficiency of both players and how that has separated them from the rest of the MVP field this season:
Each season both players keep narrowing the gap between shots attempted and made.
K.D.'s take on his evolving mindset on efficiency:
"Last year, the year before last I started looking at it, but this year I don't care about it," Durant said. "I'm going to shoot my shots no matter what. Last year I was thinking about it in the back of mind, but now I don't care; letting it fly, man. If I'm open, shoot it; if I'm not, pass it. It's simple, just be aggressive. I'm not worried about my shooting percentage, just play the game."
James seems to be following a similar script. Throughout his 61, nothing he did looked forced, nor did his teammates force-feed him. Durant's huge scoring games have been equally organic. Think about this: Durant, averaging a career-best 5.6 assists a game, scored 42 points on opening night with one assist. In his next eight 40-point games he's had four assists, five twice, six, seven twice, nine and 10. James dropped five dimes Monday and six when he put 42 on the Mavs. He's averaging a team-high 6.4 assists a game.
Flash back just a month ago and remember the grief that Carmelo Anthony caught when he pasted the Bobcats for a Madison Square Garden-record 62 points — with zero assists.
What James did Monday night, what he did in OKC two weeks ago is what I meant when I wrote that night that the MVP race is on. Durant performed magic in the dead of winter as we marveled, and as James and the Heat waded through the weeds. Now, spring beckons and the King is gunning.
Often, it's what we witness last that leaves the greatest impression.
In this case, in this race, it's what we witness at the tape that could very well decide the winner of this year's MVP.
-- 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 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.