Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
KD or LeBron for MVP? State your case.
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Right now, Kevin Durant. That doesn’t mean I don’t think LeBron James still is the best player in the NBA. But that’s not what the MVP necessarily honors. It’s a mix of general greatness, a sense of who had the “best” season and a weighing of several messy intangibles like relative strength of teammates and a guess at a team’s fate if the MVP candidate weren’t, y’know, ever born. I saw night in, night out what Derrick Rose did with Chicago in 2011 and had no doubt he was that season’s MVP, same as I’ve had no trouble voting LeBron No. 1 the past two years. Same goes for Durant. Now where is my right-now ballot?
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I still believe James is the best all-around player in the game and is the first player anyone would or should pick to start a team. However, I think the MVP award is based on the individual season — a player’s performance, his team’s performance and how much heavy lifting he’s done. So with Russell Westbrook having been sidelined for so long, Durant gets the nod for his scoring binge and otherworldly play that has kept the Thunder at the top of the Western Conference standings right on the heels of the Pacers for best record in the NBA.
Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: KD. People are forgetting the undue flak Kevin Durant took after OKC lost to Memphis in the second round without Russell Westbrook. No one’s doubting his ability to carry the club now. His numbers are otherworldly. He’s taking over games late. Instead of sliding down the West standings, the Thunder have not only taken over the top spot, they’ve added a bit of cushion with wins over Golden State, Houston, Portland and San Antonio — all without Westbrook. This is nothing negative toward the great LeBron, who’s doing a ton of his damage without the in-and-out Dwyane Wade. But Durant’s performances (West Player of the Month for November, December and surely January, too) and the Thunder’s stellar record swings the MVP vote at the end of January to KD’s corner.
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: KD. LeBron is still the best player in the world, better than Durant on defense and more versatile on offense, but Durant carrying the Thunder when they were vulnerable without Russell Westbrook has been an incredible display. It doesn’t matter that opponents can focus more on stopping him compared to when Westbrook was in the lineup. It doesn’t matter that Durant could have chosen to conserve energy around mid-season, knowing he will need to be this good down the stretch and through the playoffs if OKC is to make another Finals run. He has been MVP great.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: At this point, it’s Durant. With Russell Westbrook having missed about half their games, Durant has had to carry the Thunder more than he ever has. James has been the slightly more efficient scorer this season, but Durant is using a couple of more possessions per game. And dare I say that Durant’s defense has been, at least, on par with James’. LeBron is still the best player in the world and the clear MVP when he’s fully engaged, but that hasn’t been the case this season.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: You would ask us this one before they face off for the first of two meetings during this regular season (tonight in Miami at 7:30 ET on ESPN). I think it’s safe to say that as of this date, KD has created the kind of statistical and in-game separation needed to make his own rock solid case for MVP. And let me be clear, a vote for KD is not a vote against LeBron but simply a nod to the fact that Kevin Durant has taken his game to another level this season. It doesn’t mean that Durant has overtaken LeBron as the best basketball player on the planet (which I think is a much different argument than who is having the best and most outstanding season of any player in the NBA). Bottom line, Durant is doing any and everything an elite player could do under a unique set of circumstances, without Russell Westbrook in uniform, to elevate his team to a similarly elite level. The fact that he’s currently landing on historic touchstones that put him in a category with LeBron, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nate Archibald and Oscar Robertson only solidifies his case in my eyes.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Is the season ending today? Because I won’t pick an MVP based on an incomplete performance. But if you’re forcing me to choose now — and I suppose you are you angry Blogtable — it’s really hard to choose against Kevin Durant. Even with Westbrook missing half of OKC’s games so far, KD has the Thunder rolling, with the best record in the Western Conference. And while defensively he isn’t as dominant nor versatile as James, offensively Durant is really just transcendent right now. I still think LeBron James is the best player in the NBA, but nobody has been more valuable to his team this season than Kevin Durant has been so far.
Aldo Miguel Aviñante, NBA Philippines: Kevin Durant. KD is playing on another level right now. Everybody expected OKC to fall down a bit with the injury to Westbrook, but they haven’t missed a beat because of Durant’s stellar play. Scoring is easy when you’re an NBA All-Star, there are guys like Jerry Stackhouse, Tracy McGrady and even Ricky Davis who can score in bunches, but to focus on scoring while delivering the wins — that is what separates an All-Star from becoming the MVP.
Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: My money is on KD. The amazing month of January he’s having is just the confirmation of how good he has been this season. He has completed his transformation from pure scorer to all-around player, his assists per game have never been so high and he’s basically taking care of business for the Westbrook-less Thunder. LeBron is still the best player on the planet, but KD this season is playing way better than he is.
XiBin Yang, NBA China: Maybe LeBron is still the league’s Most Dominant Player, but to me, it looks like LeBron doesn’t quite have the same fire he did last year, in this, his quest for a fourth straight trip to The Finals. Meanwhile, with Westbrook out for so long, Durant’s carried the Thunder on his shoulders, keeping his team at the summit of the West Conference. With a stronger ambition, Durant is playing hard, producing fantastic statistics. He deserves a MVP award.
Iñako Díaz-Guerra, NBA España: Durant. Without Westbrook, he is OKC’s offense. He’s an unstoppable scoring machine and is better in the little things that ever before. He is amazing to watch everyday — and, remember: he can’t take a night off every now and then in the way that a member of the Heat’s Big 3 could. LeBron is the best player in the world, but KD is closing the gap. He deserves the MVP.