LeBron James is the best player in the NBA. It’s indisputable. Yet when talking about who will wrap up next season’s MVP, I’m not sure that fact will really come into play. Lest we forget, the decision comes down to the ballot strokes of a number of fickle sportswriters and broadcasters; therefore after having effectively handed James the honor four of the last five seasons, the law of probability would suggest that said writers and casters will most likely make for themselves a distinct break from convention.
If my prediction rings true, though, who will win it? Who could? Most would say that if it isn’t LeBron, it’s Kevin Durant. The problem with such thinking however is, notwithstanding what will most likely be yet another outstanding season from their marquee star, I’m presuming the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to end up with a surprisingly uninspiring record. But then who else is there? Kobe Bryant? Too old and too injured. Carmelo Anthony? Too much of a one-trick pony. Dwight Howard? Cue my uproarious laughter.
Derrick Rose, again? Sadly, probably not.
While the auspices of Derrick Rose are many and varied—an all-world talent, an exceptional leader, an ideal and homegrown ambassador to his dear city of Chicago, all while being perhaps the most self-effacing athlete in professional sports—it isn’t likely he’ll bounce back from a whole year away from the game and return as a top MVP candidate. Nevertheless, next year it will be important to again consider both the impact and implication of his 2011 MVP season in order to determine who might be the next recipient of the award.
From the start of Rose’s rookie year, it was apparent not only how good he was, but how good he could be. The media, especially, seemed rife straightaway with its own self-satisfied estimations of the young guard’s excellence. Still, no one could have expected the astronomical leap he was to make between the 2009-10 season, when it took everything he had to help the Bulls just barely squeak into the playoffs with the eighth seed, and the next year, when he nearly single-handedly piloted the team (with the help of new head coach Tom Thibodeau) to the one-seed in the East and a stunning 62-20 record. With his odds perhaps boosted by the sheer pageantry of his remarkable game, Rose ran away with the MVP nod that year, averaging 25 points, 4 rebounds and nearly 8 assists. Moreover, upon winning, he was able also set an interesting precedent—one that in 2013-14, despite my belief that he probably won’t be in the running for the trophy, might bear significant relevance in the race for it.
In a landscape of LeBrons and Kobes and Nowitzkis and Duncans, at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, Rose was thought to be too young or too small to ever be regarded as a potential MVP of the league. Still, he won. And now, about to enter the 2013-14 season, I’m predicting the Derrick Rose factor will again become the crux. Voters are going to be forced to look at certain premier players who are not yet in their prime and who might not measure up in stature to the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Only two players fit that bill. Two players who, in their own way, seem to have a little of that D-Rose magic in them.
I’m talking about Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving.
I’ve been a fan of Curry since his illustrious days at Davidson College when, night in and night out, he ran roughshod over the NCAA, coming out of nowhere his junior year to lead the nation in scoring. I could see then that there was more to him than the likes of J.J. Redick or Jimmer Fredette—two players who appeared equally able to score at will during their collegiate careers. It wasn’t just that he was better than the other players on the floor at any given time—he wanted to win more than anyone else, too. Behind his doe eyes and all too callow face, it was easy to spot the tiger in him.
After two superb years out of the gate with the Golden State Warriors, followed by another hampered by injury, Curry absolutely broke out last year, averaging 23 points and 7 assists as the starting point guard. More extraordinary than his numbers, though, are the ostensible results of almost any eye-test performed during a Golden State game. His pacing, ball-handling and decision-making are already as close as they all can be to utterly pristine. He’s also arguably become the very best pure shooter in the league.
During Game 4 of last year’s playoff series against Denver, Curry did something I’d never have expected from anyone outside Larry Bird. Standing with the ball in the corner, he first gave just the very slightest shot fake, which successfully caused his defender to go sailing by. Then, sliding toward the baseline, he was able to fluidly step into a quick-release three. Good standard guard play, you might say, except the real feat was what transpired next. With the ball just barely beyond the tips of his fingers, instead of watching to see whether or not he’d scored, Curry spun casually around and started jogging back up the court—not missing the opportunity to offer the Nuggets bench his seal of approval by nodding their way. The shot fell, of course, and despite how quickly it all happened—his looking and his getting back on defense—I still remember thinking how it was truly one of the most astonishing moments I’d ever witnessed on hardwood.
Compared to Derrick Rose, Curry of course comes up wanting in both power and speed, yet his basketball acumen might be second to none. Those instincts, combined with the efficacy of his shot, the projected success of his team, and, most importantly, his leadership intangibles could very well write the recipe for finding him at the top of the ladder in the MVP race.
Then there’s Kyrie Irving. As of now, there’s less of a sample size by which to judge Irving than there is Curry. The third-year player didn’t even play a full season at Duke before entering the NBA. However, going again off both statistics and the plain old eye test, there’s every reason to suggest he might next year take that giant step toward being a legitimate MVP candidate.
In my opinion, Kyrie Irving is Isiah Thomas circa 1989, but an even better and more unselfish passer. We’ve already seen how easily he can break ankles (cough … Brandon Knight … cough). Beyond that, his stroke from just about anywhere is as sweet as anyone else’s in the league, save possibly for Steph Curry and Ray Allen. In fact, in five years, I bet most of the sports world will have long forgotten how, during the 2013 All-Star Weekend, Kyrie messed around and won himself a three-point shootout. By that point, we’ll all probably be so enamored with him in every other way, any achievements he’s had with money-balls will be recounted solely anecdotally.
Just to give some perspective—according to my appraisals of his game thus far, it’s my contention Irving will ultimately have a better, more renowned career than both Chris Paul and Derrick Rose, starting perhaps next year, when the young phenom could very possibly walk away the next MVP.
Actually, to take it even further, I’ll just go ahead and call it here and now.
In order, here’s how I see the voting for the 2014 MVP fleshing out:
5. Chris Paul
4. Kevin Durant
3. Steph Curry
2. LeBron James
1. Kyrie Irving
I have LeBron finishing second because, well, that’s about as low as he probably should finish. Otherwise, more than anything, this will be a race between two young dark horses in Steph Curry and Kyrie Irving. And while I have Irving likely finishing first this year, all signs point to these two competing for the spot of top dog in the league for years and years to come.