Here's what I wrote the morning after LeBron James scored a career- and Miami Heat-franchise-high 61 points to beat the Charlotte Bobcats and forcefully reinsert himself in the running for the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award — a trophy James has won four times, including each of the last two years, but one that many observers had suggested belonged to Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant this year: "The next six weeks, not the past four months, will determine who deserves the MVP, in what's likely to be the closest vote since Nash over Shaq in 2005."
Here's what James and Durant have done since I wrote that:
JAMES: 25.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.4 blocks and 3.7 turnovers in 38.9 minutes per game; 53.1 percent shooting from the floor, 35.4 percent from 3-point range and 76 percent from the foul line; a 10-10 team record over 20 games.
DURANT: 33.3 points, 6.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.6 blocks and 3.3 turnovers in 38.5 minutes per game; 50 percent shooting from the floor, 41.2 percent from 3-point range and 85.8 percent from the foul line; a 12-6 team record over 18 games.
Which is to say, y'know, pretty much more of the same.
Durant has been damn near unstoppable offensively for the entirety of the season, a sure bet to score at least 20 or 25 every single night, while taking on an increased role as both a scorer and facilitator amid the multiple knee-related absences of All-Star running buddy Russell Westbrook. He's also posting career highs in effective field goal percentage (which accounts for 3-pointers being worth more than 2-pointers), assist percentage (the share of his teammates' buckets on which he notches a direct assist) and Player Efficiency Rating (an admittedly imperfect, but still useful, stat), while using more Thunder possessions and turning the ball over less often than he has in three years. He's doing the same sorts of things he did before, but he's doing more of them, and he's doing them better.
James, too, has been damn near unstoppable offensively for the entirety of the season, shooting a career-high percentage from the floor and continuing to score at an elite clip while taking on an increased role as both a scorer and facilitator amid the multiple knee-related absences of All-Star running buddy Dwyane Wade. But while his field-goal percentage just keeps going up, his 3-point accuracy is down from last year's high water mark, his rebounding and assist percentages are down, his PER is down, his turnover rate is up and his defense has been measurably worse. He's using a slightly higher share of Heat possessions than he did last year, but he's doing so a bit less efficiently and effectively; he's doing the same sorts of things he did before, but he's doing slightly less of them, and he's doing them a little worse.
Add up the numbers, the eye test and the teams' records, both with and without their secondary perimeter stars, and with just under one week remaining in the 2013-14 regular season, it seems increasingly clear that Durant has a stronger case to be this year's MVP than James does. And while LeBron might not necessarily be ready to come out and say so — "We've heard LeBron James scoff at the idea that any team, in any circumstance, would want to be second," writes Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick, and much like Durant, you'd imagine he feels the same way about individuals, too — it sounds like LeBron has come around to the understanding that this year's Podoloff will most likely reside in Oklahoma City. From Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald:
According to James, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder has done the most to deserve the award.
All but conceding the race to Durant, James said on Wednesday in Memphis that "it would be great" if Durant won the award.
"I think K.D. has had one heck of a season, and if he was rewarded with the MVP, it would be great," James said. "It would be awesome for him, for his family. It would be a great thing for him. He has played MVP-type basketball."
James went on to say that Durant has been "the most consistent basketball player as far as MVP this year. He has put up some great numbers."
There's no doubt about that. Durant's on pace to become just the ninth player in NBA history to finish a season with a PER above 30, joining James, Wade, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Paul and David Robinson. He could become the fourth player ever to average at least 32-7-5 for a full season, joining Wilt, Jordan and Elgin Baylor. That's some pretty heady company for the 25-year-old — oh, man, he really is only 25, isn't he — sharpshooter.
He's having a sensational, historic, career-defining season; James, as amazing as he's been, just hasn't been on the same level as often and to as remarkable a degree this year. There's no shame in coming in second to this version of Kevin Durant, and James seems to acknowledge that ... when it comes to individual awards, at least. I'm guessing he won't be quite so complimentary and gracious should the Thunder and Heat meet in the NBA finals once again.
And now, for the last word (for the moment) in MVP commentary, we turn to Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka.
Sure, Serge might be just a teensy bit biased, but I'm inclined to agree with his perspective. C'mon, man.
Ibaka video via @cjzero.
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