It’s the midway point of the season, which means we all have to determine arbitrary awards and crap at this time. I don’t know, but it’s what we do. Also, All-Star reserves were announced last night and Serge Ibaka evidently felt snubbed by not being selected tweeting, “#motivation.”
Was he snubbed? And who’s the midway MVP? And what about Russell Westbrook, was he snubbed too, by the system?
1. True or false: KD is the midseason MVP.
Royce Young, Daily Thunder: True. Everyone has their own criteria, but I define an MVP and a player having the best individual season with direct relation to the success of their team. I don’t think KD is wrenching away the best player in the world title away from LeBron, but it’s a whole lot closer than some want to act like. Not only is Durant having one of the greatest offensive seasons in NBA history, his value to the Thunder is maybe bigger than any other player in the league. His on/off net rating is a +12.5 (LeBron’s is +10.2) and he has the biggest raw plus/minus in the league, and it’s not close. Don’t dismiss Durant just for the simple fact he’s not LeBron. Judge him on what he’s doing right now, and what he means to the best team in the NBA.
Michael Kimball, Daily Thunder: False. The definition of MVP depends on who you’re talking to, but KD falls just short for two reasons. Reason No. 1 is that LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world. Reason No. 2 is that James is also more valuable to his team than Durant is. Look at the Thunder’s roster and the Heat’s roster, along with each team’s record and issues this season. If you take KD away from the Thunder, they’re probably still a top-four seed in the West or close to it.
If you take James off the Heat, they are probably in worse shape. They might still be top-four in their conference, but the top half of the East bracket and the top half of the West bracket are two different beasts. To say that LeBron is just a little bit better than KD and a little bit more valuable to his team is not exactly an insult to Durant — compare him to anyone else you want, and KD comes out on top. But you can’t just give KD the MVP because we’re tired of giving it to LeBron.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, HoopSpeak: True. Okay, I’ll just come out and say it. It’s not that it’s Durant’s turn; It’s that KD’s been playing just a little bit better than LeBron James so far. The main difference comes at the free throw line, where KD racks up 9.3 free throw attempts to LeBron’s 6.4. It’s helped Durant claim an absurd 65.7 true shooting percentage over the first half of a season in which he’s passing better than ever. I know that LeBron has Durant beat by a sliver in PER, but Durant makes up that difference in minutes played. Look, this is close, and I agonized over it. I still believe LeBron to be the best player in the world and I also would guess that KD’s ridiculous shooting percentages come down some over the second half. Right now though, in terms of pure production, I prefer Durant.
Young: False. Ibaka had a really strong case for a spot, but a lot of it rode on the shoulders that he’s playing for the Thunder. Typically teams with sterling records get a little more recognition All-Star Weekend, and while Ibaka’s numbers a improved and very solid, they aren’t exactly All-Star caliber. Some of the Western selections were curious (Zach Randolph, being the top one), but guys like Stephen Curry and Marc Gasol have much more reason to be upset. Ibaka’s in the snub line, but probably three or four deep. There are only 12 spots and it’s hard to make it. Kind of the point.
Kimball: True, now that the rosters are out. LaMarcus Aldridge, Zach Randolph and David Lee are on the team, but Ibaka, Marc Gasol and Steph Curry aren’t? That doesn’t make any sense. Aldridge, Randolph and Lee aren’t even the MVPs of their own team so far this year, so it’s strange that each of them made the roster over a more deserving teammate. If Gasol and Curry had made the roster at Ibaka’s expense, then I would say Ibaka wasn’t snubbed. But if I had the choice between Aldridge and Lee in particular or Ibaka, I’d take Ibaka every time, at least at this point in January 2013. Randolph is a little harder to kick out to make room for Ibaka, but still. The case can certainly be made that Ibaka is more deserving than the guys who are actually on the roster, even if there are two other outsiders (Gasol and Curry) who are even more deserving than him at this point.
Strauss: False. There were too many frontcourt players selected already and Serge Ibaka needs a few more minutes and a few more rebounds. I love Ibaka’s offensive progression so far, but the West is a tough cut. Perhaps it’s arguable if you attribute OKC’s defensive improvement with Ibaka’s, but I’m not sure I’m there. And now I’m arguing with myself. I’ll stop here.
3. True or false: If fans didn’t vote, Russell Westbrook should be an All-Star starter.
Young: True. Basically this is asking, “Should Westbrook be a starter over Kobe Bryant?” and to me, the answer is an emphatic yes. Kobe’s offensive season has been stunning, especially at his age of 34, but his defense has been embarrassing and the Lakers stink. Westbrook has taken another steady jump forward and has evolved into one of the top three most dynamic playmaker/scorers in the league.
Kimball: True, if the two best guards in a conference, regardless of nominal position, are your starters. Chris Paul and Westbrook are the two best guards in the Western Conference right now. If you prefer to start one point guard and one shooting guard, then Paul has to get the nod at the one, and then you can choose between Kobe Bryant and James Harden for the other spot. Paul is the best point guard in the world, and is working on a career that could leave him with a solid case for claiming the crown as the best point guard of all time.
So like KD should feel no shame at being considered second-best to LeBron, Westbrook shouldn’t feel too down about being not quite as good at his position as Paul. But if this question is a different way of asking whether Westbrook is one of the two best guards in the West as of this moment, then the answer is yes.
Strauss: False. Perhaps this question is better framed as, “If we had another month to decide this, would Kobe’s regression to the mean make Russ the logical starter?” Even if that happened, James Harden and Tony Parker have excellent arguments to take that spot. Westbrook is one of three roughly equally deserving dudes.