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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'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.

Got something to say about this week's Race to the MVP Ladder? Send us an e-mail or have your say in the Hang Time blog.


Durant's PIE: 20.7% | More Durant stats

Durant collected his fourth scoring title in just seven NBA seasons and averaged 30 or more points against 20 of the league's 30 teams. Let that sink in for a moment ... and then ask yourself if there is any doubt that earned his place atop this list. Not only did Durant take his game to another level this season, an extremely difficult task when you're already playing at an otherworldly elite level, he did it without his partner in basketball crime, Russell Westbrook, in uniform for nearly half the season. Durant put together a masterful all around season, averaging a career-high 32 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor, 39 percent from deep and 87 percent from the free throw line to go along with 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists ... MVP!

LeBron James : MIAMI HEAT

LeBron's PIE: 20.0% | More James stats

LeBron rested for the final two games of the season, a move that was long overdue for a player who toted an enormous load for a fourth straight season in Miami. Did he do enough to earn a fifth MVP? Plenty of folks would argue yes. Any guy who goes for 27.1 ppg on 57 percent shooting from the floor, 38 percent from deep, while adding 6.9 rebounds and 6.4 assists doesn't have to take a backseat to anyone ... except for this season. LeBron was one half of the most spirited MVP tug-of-war in recent years. He held up his end in the fashion you'd expect from the greatest player on the planet.

Blake Griffin : L.A. CLIPPERS

Griffin's PIE: 16.2% | More Griffin stats

Blake's season-long climb up the superstar food chain was arguably the most impressive performance of any player in the league, and that includes the two men who finished ahead of him here. In an environment where you're either getting better or worse daily, Griffin continued to rise with every outing. His scoring average jumped from 18 ppg to 24.1 ppg and his rebounds from 8.3 to 9.5. Most important, though, was his improvement at the free throw line (66 percent last season to 72 percent this season). Then there's the obvious change in his comfort level facing the basket and either putting the ball on the floor and/or facing up and shooting a mid-range jumper. He's the complete package now.


Noah's PIE: 15.6% | More stats

The premier big man in basketball this season, Noah's combination of skills, energy, effort and raw emotion served as the perfect elixir in Chicago after Derrick Rose was lost for another season. Noah had his best statistical season in points (12.6), rebounds (11.3), assists (5.4) and steals (1.2) while also averaging 1.5 bpg. Noah is the heart and soul of a top-four team in the East that, with injuries and attrition included, had no business achieving what it did this season. Any All-NBA ballot that does not have Noah listed as the first or second team center should be thrown out. Noah's greatest effect on the game wasn't measured in statistics. Oh, and he's also the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year honors.


Aldridge's PIE: 15.5% | More stats

Aldridge made the transition from All-Star to MVP candidate is one of the true surprise stories of the season. Not much was expected of his Trail Blazers, who were among the top teams in the entire league through the season's first three months. They stumbled after the All-Star break and when Aldridge went down with a back injury, but promptly resumed their impressive play when he returned. Aldridge asserted himself on the boards this season, averaging a career-high 11.1 rpg to go along with his career-high 23.2 ppg and career-high tying 2.6 apg. His length and ability to face up and stretch his game out to 19-feet makes him a matchup nightmare on most every night. The Houston Rockets will soon find this out in the first round of the playoffs.


Harden's PIE: 15.6% | More Harden stats

Is anyone still wondering if Harden is a No. 1 option on an elite team? You'd think not after the season he put together leading the Rockets to a top-four finish in the rugged West. Harden led the Rockets with a 25.4 ppg, a career-high 6.1 apg and 4.7 rpg. There isn't a shooting guard in the league who put together a better individual season under the circumstances. And Harden did so with the added pressure that came with the Rockets' hyped offseason acquisition of Dwight Howard. How the Rockets fare in the postseason, including that tough first round challenge against the Portland Trail Blazers, will be telling. But he's clearly earned his way onto any list of the top players in the league.


Jefferson's PIE: 17.0% | More Jefferson stats

Jefferson's impact on Charlotte is proof that the so-called experts need to take a step back when grading the free-agency moves of players in the summer. Most experts were convinced that Jefferson joining the Bobcats was no big deal. They couldn't have been more wrong. He led the Bobcats' resurgence by being the league's most dominant low-post scorer for much of this season. His work after his All-Star snubbing (24.5 ppg on 53 percent shooting, 11.4 rpg and 2.2 apg) was truly a revelation for a player who dominated the competition at his position consistently. Jefferson's improvement on defensive, courtesy of the scheme devised by first-year coach Steve Clifford, forced us all to look at Big Al in a totally different light. He's the anchor for a playoff team that few people saw coming.


Curry's PIE: 16.3% | More Curry stats

An argument could be made for Curry's inclusion on the All-NBA first team at one of the guard spots, ahead of a Who's Who of choices at the position. All he did was average career highs in points (24) and assists (8.5) while maintaining his position as one of the most diabolical shooters that the league has ever seen. Curry and his Splash Brothers partner, Klay Thompson, were every bit of the dynamic duo they were billed to be this season as scorers. Curry's work at the point, however, makes his role even more critical for the Warriors. The scariest part for the rest of the league is that Curry is just scratching the surface of the player he can become as he improves his decision making and defense. There isn't much more you could ask for him as an offensive weapon.


Duncan's PIE: 15.4% | More Duncan stats

Father Time won't claim the twilight of Duncan's career the way he has some of his future Hall of Fame peers. The Spurs' seemingly ageless wonder turned in yet another unbelievable season for a player who has been at this longer than many of the league's stars have been dribbling a basketball. Duncan, in his 17th season, averaged 15.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg and 3.0 apg while playing close to 30 minutes a night. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did a masterful job managing Duncan's minutes and making sure the backbone of the franchise will enter the playoffs rested and sharp enough to (hopefully) lead the Spurs on the franchise's first back-to-back Finals trips in team history. No one has been as consistently brilliant (and healthy) for this long since perhaps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Goran Dragic : PHOENIX SUNS

Dragic's PIE: 13.4% | More Dragic stats

Dragic and the Suns just narrowly missed the playoffs, but that doesn't mean "The Dragon" doesn't belong here. If he's not a lock for the Kia Most Improved Player award, he's certainly among the candidates for one of the six All-NBA guard spots. He averaged a career-high 20.3 ppg to go along with his 5.9 apg, 3.2 rpg and 1.4 spg and was spectacular with Eric Bledsoe in and out of the lineup all season. The Suns wouldn't have been in the playoff mix without Dragic's relentless work, which included staggering consistency (he averaged an identical 20.3 points on 50 percent or better shooting before and after the All-Star break) from a player who had previously not exhibited that.