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Anti-LeBron bias must not cloud NBA MVP judgement

Roar Guru
19th April, 2012
5

I was reading Ryan O’Connell’s very well-written and thought out article regarding his MVP picks I thought I would address just one issue.

That is, if Durant wins the MVP we shouldn’t saddle the win with discussions around bias against LeBron.

I agree that it would be unfortunate. Durant has been sensational this season, is vital to the success of one of the best teams in the league and continues to grow as a player.

But the most unfortunate part would be because it would more than likely be true.

If at the end of this regular season we had an auction where you bid on each player’s on court performance for that 66 game span and you were guaranteed exactly that performance for another 66 games – LeBron’s season clears with the highest price.

Members of the media have already publicly stated that they will take into account last year’s finals – i.e. they will ignore the voting criteria.

Many have also said in the ‘I have a friend’ kind of way that certain voters (probably themselves) aren’t going to give first place votes to LeBron post ‘the decision’.

If this is the case, then any close run race between LeBron and Durant is already tainted.

Let me be clear on two things. First, I appreciate LeBron as a player but hate the narcissism of ‘the decision’. Second, this isn’t a knock on Durant, for starters I am a Thunder fan and think he’s an amazing player.

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He’s got the thunder into the position of favourites in the west and on track for a 47-win season. Make no mistake, he is the biggest reason they are in this position.

But when you line-up their on court contributions it doesn’t even really make sense to have the discussion?

For starters, Miami are also on track for 47 wins, but while Durant has had the services of Westbrook and Harden for close to 4000 minutes this year LeBron has only had Wade for around 1,500, and many of those at less than full strength.

Sure he also has Chris Bosh, but he’s been playing worse this season than Serge Ibaka before factoring their defence (Amnesty International’s question to ‘Free Chris Bosh’ is a discussion for another time).

I don’t really believe in the ‘MVP equals wins/quality of teammates’ argument as it forgets that coaching and system actually play a big part in delivering wins (see: the difference in 2011 Chicago and 2012 Chicago with and without their MVP, Derrick Rose) but just figured we head off that argument at the pass as rubbish.

The only area on the basketball court that Durant has been better than LeBron this season (or any other season) is putting the ball in the basket himself, and on this he is marginally better.

Lebron still has to be considered the better all around offensive player by virtue of essentially running the offense and creating opportunities for his teammates while turning the ball over less than Durant and grabbing more balls of the offensive glass.

But then you get to the knock down drag out number one reason. Defence. While LeBron and Durant are in the same conversation as offensive players they are worlds apart on the other end of the floor.

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It is actually one of the big things overlooked when discussing crunch time is how effectively LeBron plays on defence versus the more purely offense-based superstars that he is compared to.

For those that haven’t seen the two defend comparing on paper is hard due to the less recorded nature but synergy sports and +/- measures try to put give us at least a water colour forgery of the real picture.

Last year Synergy (who record every possession and break it down) said LeBron was apparently the second most effective one-on-one defender in the league, this year, with Dwight Howard mentally checking out, he’s reportedly moved into number one.

Durant, for all his improvement as a defender, has not moved into the league leaders in this conversation yet.

But it isn’t just his one on one defence, as teams have stopped trying to go one out against LeBron, his growth as a team defender has his team allow 3.5 points per 100 possessions more when he sits, while Durant’s Thunder manage to throw the shackles on the opponent for 3.1 points less when subbing Durant for a more capable defender.

I don’t see how when looking at their body of work how there is any discussion who has been the best player this year during the regular season when one in marginally better offensively and a whole world apart defensively?

There are only four reasons you can give Durant the MVP at this point:

– Not understanding that basketball isn’t just shooting there is defence, rebounding, ball security and passing involved,

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– That the finals last year are part of this year’s regular season,

– Durant is a better story as a first time MVP or,

– The most likely one, just flat out disliking what LeBron did with in the decision enough to destroy the credibility of the award.