Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - We can all agree that the name on this
season's Maurice Podoloff Trophy will either belong to Kevin Durant or LeBron
Whichever of the two you like, you can't be wrong. Both are having MVP seasons
and almost any rational NBA thinker can see either side of the argument.
(For the record, I still like Durant, based almost exclusively on how well the
Oklahoma City Thunder, led by Durant, played in Russell Westbrook's absence.)
But who should finish third? After all, that's the unknown. As compelling as
the Durant vs. LeBron battle will be, and the hunch is that Durant still has an
edge, that's a two-man race. The battle for third is more encompassing.
First, personal preference in interpretation matters. For example, I believe
an MVP has to come from a good team because how can a player be the most
valuable to a team that has no success? If the yardstick is "where would team
X be without player Y," what's the difference if team X isn't anywhere?
That disqualifies statistical freaks like Kevin Love of the Minnesota
Timberwolves or Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks or even Al Jefferson
of the Charlotte Bobcats. All have sensational numbers, but don't belong in
(Side note: At what point does Love have to make the playoffs before he's
considered a superstar? He has two guys scoring over 18 points per game with
him and yet it's another missed postseason. Love is grand, but tick tock ...)
Chris Paul is always a contender, but he missed too much time for the Los
Angeles Clippers with his shoulder injury. He's out.
The Houston Rockets have been sensational this season, but how do you separate
Dwight Howard, who has taken them to a different level, and James Harden, who
is their best player? Teams with two stars, one of them can be an MVP
contender, but these two are just on the outskirts.
Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge is a nice story, but just doesn't stir up MVP
feelings. Plus, he has Damian Lillard as well.
Goran Dragic may have to settle for the Most Improved Player award, but it
would be nice if the Phoenix Suns point guard figured into the top 10 of
That leaves three players with my best chances at the third-place finish -
Paul George of the Indiana Pacers, Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls and Blake
Griffin of the Clippers.
George is the best player on the best team. Don't underestimate that when it
comes to voting. In the James/Durant era, it's not enough, but MVPs have won
for fulfilling that major criteria.
At 22.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, coupled with being one
of the best defensive players in the league, George has a solid resume. Problem
is, the Pacers' success is a product of system, defense and veteran leadership.
George is the biggest part of all three factors, but the whole is greater than
the parts in Indiana.
Noah has been incredible, and became the first center to get three triple-
doubles in less than a month since David Robinson registered three in February
When Derrick Rose went down, everyone thought the Bulls were done. When they
traded Luol Deng for Andrew Bynum, who never saw a minute in a Chicago
uniform, everyone thought the Bulls were done. Noah, and head coach Tom
Thibodeau wouldn't allow it. (Read more here - http://tinyurl.com/ca6jmnp.)
What Noah has done is infuse a franchise with his will. His style and approach
are infectious and the Bulls have responded by getting within an eyelash of
the third seed in the East.
People were talking of Chicago tanking once Rose and Deng were memories. Noah
has impacted both sides of the floor and not just kept the Bulls afloat but
improved them in the standings. To do so with the two biggest pieces elsewhere
is remarkable and the very characteristic one should look for in an MVP.
Noah's problem is that this improvement the Bulls have shown can get them to
the third seed in the East, tops. That will get them a thrashing at the hands
of either the Pacers or Heat in the second round and a record maybe 10 games
What Griffin has done for the Clippers is vault them into legitimate
contention for an NBA title and that's why he should finish third.
If Westbrook's absence is my biggest rationale in favoring Durant over James
for the award, that same criteria should apply for the bronze medal.
Paul missed 18 games with his shoulder ailment. The Clippers were 12-6 with
him dressed more like Cliff Paul and Griffin was the reason why. During the
18-game stretch, Griffin averaged 27.5 ppg, which is almost three points higher
than his season average.
The very fact his scoring improved showed Griffin was willing and able to
shoulder the load. And Griffin didn't slow down once CP3 returned. Griffin
won Western Conference Player of the Month honors for February with averages
of 30.0 points and 10.7 rebounds. Paul came back on Feb. 9.
It's like Griffin finally realized how good he was and decided to maintain his
status at the top of the Clippers' throne. Paul is still the best player, but
Griffin's ascension to the level he's at now makes the Clippers a fully-formed
championship contender. Teams need more than one superstar to win.
And Griffin hasn't just done the heavy lifting when Paul was out. J.J. Redick
has been shelved with a back issue and Jamal Crawford, the team's second-
leading scorer, has been out for a week. Jared Dudley has been a bust. Matt
Barnes isn't a great scorer, but he looks like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar compared to
(Side note: Jordan's boost in confidence, defense and rebounding has been
vital for this team, especially as thin up front as they are. Give Doc Rivers
credit for that.)
What makes Griffin's season even more impressive, and different from the
Durant/Westbrook situation, is that Durant continued to be the Thunder's best
player with his Robin injured. He just took up the slack of two by doing a
little more play-making.
Griffin became Batman. That's nothing to sneeze at. Again, Paul is still the
best Clipper, but Griffin knew that the fate of L.A.'s season rested on his
shoulders and he accepted the fact he had to do more. That's a lot to ask of
someone, especially someone who has been criticized as frequently as Griffin,
who is still only 24.
Once I called him the most overrated player in the league. My basis for that
was that there was no improvement in his game. It was dunks and athleticism.
Watch the Clippers now and that's not the case. He is a multi-faceted
offensive weapon, an always solid rebounder and improved defender.
His own teammates slammed Griffin for basically backing down and being a
pushover. One doesn't need to fight to be a tough guy, but Griffin probably
needs to show a little more moxie or risk the wrath of opponents who will look
for any advantage.
The Clippers are 43-20 and in position to reach as high as the third seed in
the West. Rivers is a war-time consigliere (credit "The West Wing"), but this
team would be nowhere without Griffin.
It's time to appreciate Griffin for what he is, not ask why it took him so
long to get there. What he is, is a legitimate superstar now, not just a freak
dunker, and the man who should finish just behind Durant and James in the MVP
- James complaining about playing in sleeves carries water in that it might
make the league examine getting rid of them. Fashion-wise, they are horrid, but
players practice and play pick-up games in sleeves, so in that sense, James'
complaints are poppycock.
- Phil Jackson won't be coaching the New York Knicks next season. He may join
the team in an advisor role, but it's hard to see him guiding a roster he bad-
mouthed before the season. Plus, I think Jackson is done coaching. His body
took a beating in his career and he doesn't have much left to prove. Well,
other than being able to take over a downtrodden franchise, not one on the
doorstep of a title, but other than that, zippo.
- Are the Philadelphia 76ers an embarrassment for the NBA? Yes. Are they doing
anything so egregious the league should intervene? No way. This is the system
the NBA has. Losing games enhances your chances at the No. 1 pick. It doesn't
guarantee it. Getting the No. 1 pick is the quickest way to rebuild and when
free agents won't come, it's the best way.
- My top-10 MVP ballot would go: 1. Durant; 2. James; 3. Griffin; 4. Noah; 5.
George; 6. Harden; 7. Howard; 8. Paul; 9. Love; and 10. Dragic
- Movie moment - Thought the Oscars were pretty solid. Ellen's pizza joke
dragged on longer than my junior year of college, but the speeches were solid.
"Nebraska" looks hilarious. "12 Years a Slave" does not look hilarious.
- TV moment - I'm going to go my entire life without watching any USA Network
original programming. Just an observation, not a defamation of the network.
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