Kia Race To The MVP Ladder

Kia MVP Ladder: Dynamic duos making their mark as All-Stars and MVP favorites

The names on All-Star starters list reads like who's who of Kia MVP favorites

They are coming in pairs these days.

Superstars, All-Star teammates and yes, even Kia MVP candidates.

Four of the All-Star starters from the Western Conference, revealed Thursday, are teammates; captain Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant from Golden State and big men Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins from New Orleans.

And if not for an offseason trade, two All-Starters from the Eastern Conference, captain and Cleveland’s LeBron James and Boston’s Kyrie Irving, might have joined the double-up party.

Given the different position designations and the All-Star format, it’s not uncommon to see pairs of teammates on All-Star teams. That’s obviously been going on forever.

But it is certainly unique to see them in pairs in the MVP conversation, as they are in this week’s Kia Race to the MVP Ladder, where Durant and Curry come in at No. 1 and No. 3, Davis and Cousins make the top 15 and All-Star starter James Harden (No. 2) and Chris Paul do the same.

How in the world can two teammates both be in the top five or even in the mix for a most valuable player award? How could they not given the proliferation of “super teams” in recent years?

“Would they be in that mix if they were doing the same things on different teams? I think so,” an Eastern Conference executive said. “I think attitudes have changed in that regard with the way these guys have joined forces. I’m pretty sure KD and Russell [Westbrook] were both legitimate MVP guys when they played together, the same ways guys like Kobe [Bryant] and Shaquille O’Neal would have been in their primes when they played together. It’s not like this is something we’ve never seen before.”

Maybe not. But it does upset the conventional sensibilities of some who think that there can be only one MVP on a given team, therefore making it hard to wrap their mind around two guys on one team sharing the burden we’ve traditionally assigned to the single best player on a team.

Durant and Curry put that argument in a chokehold with their performances this season.

Durant, the reigning Finals MVP, is a dominant player on both ends of the floor and undeniably one of the most dynamic players in the game, the league leader in offensive rating who also ranks in the top five in points and blocks. That’s been on full display in the games the Warriors have played this season without Curry in the mix.

Meanwhile Curry, the two-time Kia MVP, elevates the Warriors to another galaxy offensively, checking in with the NBA’s top real plus-minus figure. Curry’s offensive rating would rank ahead of Durant’s and he’d be two spot ahead of him on the scoring list, if he had’t missed 15 games with injuries that have kept him from playing in the 70 percent of his team’s games needed to qualify for the official league leaders.

Sometimes … they simply come in pairs.

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The top five in the Week 14 edition of the 2017-18 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

1.Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Season stats: 26.2 points, 6.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists

Durant led Western Conference frontcourt players in the fan vote for next month’s All-Star Game and will join Stephen Curry in the starting unit for one of the two teams, to be chosen next week by captains LeBron James and Curry. LeBron has the first pick in the newly formatted All-Star player draft and would be wise to select Durant, whose ability to thrive alongside whatever elite talent surrounds him has been on full display this season for the Warriors. Even with his 3-point stroke abandoning him in a win over Chicago Wednesday, he was 0-for-5 from deep, Durant still left his mark on the Bulls with 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. That effort came on the heels of a 32-point, eight-assist, five-rebound, three-steal,one-block performance in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s shooting .586 from the floor, .500 from beyond the 3-point line, and averaging 28.4 points in his past five games.

2. James Harden, Houston Rockets

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Season stats: 31.7 points, 9.0 assists, 4.9 rebounds

Harden looked rusty, as expected, Thursday night against Minnesota, but that didn’t stop the M-V-P chants from the Toyota Center crowd glad to have their All-Star starting point guard back in the mix. It was Harden’s first game back after a seven-game injury (hamstring) absence. And he’s returning at the perfect time for the Rockets, who went 4-3 without him in the lineup. Saturday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors at Toyota Center pits the top two teams in the Western Conference standings against one another and should produce some serious fireworks from both sides. As well as the Rockets played without him, there’s no question that they are a completely different monster with Harden at his best. The Warriors know that better than anyone, after what Harden and the Rockets did to them on opening night at Oracle Arena.

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Season stats: 27.7 points, 6.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds

Curry and his Splash Brothers partner Klay Thompson gave everyone a reminder of how quickly the best shooting backcourt in league history can turn a competitive game into a rout. He scored 30 points (10-for-18 from the floor, 6-for-11 from deep) and Thompson 38 in the Warriors’ comeback win over the Bulls in Chicago Wednesday night. He followed that up Thursday by earning a captain’s spot as one of the top two vote-getters in the All-Star balloting opposite LeBron James, becoming the first Warriors player to be named a an All-Star starter in five consecutive seasons. The real challenge, however, comes Saturday night in Houston, where James Harden and Chris Paul will certainly be waiting to welcome the Splash Brothers to town in a showdown to see whose backcourt is most explosive on this night.

4. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Season stats: 25.2 points, 5.0 assists, 4.1 rebounds

The Raptors’ all-time leading scorer will start in the All-Star Game for the second straight season. He makes the team for the third straight season and for the fourth time overall in his career. The starting nod is well deserved. DeRozan is having an outstanding season in Dwane Casey’s new offense and is working on a 10-game stretch that has seen him average 28.8 point, 5.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds for a team that is 7-3 during that span. DeRozan played one of his best games of the season in Saturday’s home loss to the Golden State Warriors, finishing with 42 points (17-for-31 from the floor and 8-for-10 from the free throw line) while missing all four of his shots from beyond the 3-point line. The Raptors could use another effort like that tonight when the San Antonio Spurs show up at Air Canada Centre for their annual visit (7 ET, League Pass).

5. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Season stats: 24.1 points, 5.0 assists, 3.6 rebounds

Outside of his former teammate, LeBron James, Irving is the most seasoned All-Star among the starters from the Eastern Conference. He’s making his fifth All-Star appearance in seven seasons and has already earned All-Star MVP hardware (2014). The real drama will come in the player draft that LeBron, who has the first pick, and Stephen Curry will conduct. We won’t know the result until next week, but the basketball world will be on edge until then wondering if LeBron will choose Irving to join his team in Los Angeles next month. The Celtics are surely happy with their acquisition of Irving, who sat out Thursday’s loss to Philadelphia with a sore shoulder. Losers of both of their games since returning from last week’s win over the Sixers in London, the Celtics still have a cushion of two and a half games over Toronto for the top spot due to the work Irving and his crew have put in throughout the course of this season.

The next five:

6. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

7. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

8. Russel Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

9. Jimmy Butler, Minnesota Timberwolves

10. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs

And five more …: Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards; DeMarcus Cousins, New Orleans Pelicans; Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans; Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers; Chris Paul, Houston Rockets

Next up?

An inside look at Lou Williams from a Western Conference scout:

“He’s always been a guy who can get buckets with the best of them. There’s no doubt about that. And I don’t know what it is about the Clippers, Doc Rivers and his system and that sixth-man role that just works for guys like Jamal Crawford and Lou, but it’s an ideal spot for a player capable of scoring the way they do. Everywhere he’s been he’s always done the same thing, so this run he’s been on with the Clippers really isn’t shocking. What makes him so effective is that he doesn’t need sets to get going. He can come in cold and take advantage of you defensively because he can score from all over. He’s shooting what, 42 percent from (beyond the 3-point line) and scoring 30 a night and a averaging six (5.8) assists in their games this month. That’s big time in our league, I don’t care if you come off the bench or start.

“I’ve heard people talking about him being an All-Star for what he’s done for them and I don’t think it’s outside of the realm of possibility for the coaches to recognize and reward him for that. They’re not in the playoff mix right now if not for the way he’s stepped up and played for them and carried that scoring load the way he has. I know it’s not common for a bench guy to get that kind of recognition when there are starters who have to carry a much heavier load on their respective teams. It would be a nice story to see a veteran guy who has put in the time and accepted his role the way he has and really run with it the way he has, make the All-Star team. But I think he’s earned that consideration with his play more than anything. Think about it, here’s a guy 13 years in, having the best year of his career, averaging career highs in points and assists and shooting it better from deep than he ever has, that’s pretty damn sweet.”

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Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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