Culture of Hoops

Who Can Unseat Kevin Durant as 2015 NBA MVP?

Image courtesy of aaronisnotcool/Flickr.

Image courtesy of aaronisnotcool/Flickr.

Brought to you our friends at Fantasy Basketball Money Leagues.

The 2015 NBA season is still some two months away, but favorites have already been installed to win the 2015 NBA title. Similarly, some names have already cropped up as the early favorites to be next season’s MVP.

Let’s break down the top names on that list of MVP candidates:

Rising with the Thunder

When the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant was closing in on Michael Jordan’s record of 40 straight games with at least 25 points scored, we knew we were witnessing something special. When he broke the record and finished the season as the fourth player in NBA history to average 32-7-5 in a single season, we all knew he would be the favorite to win MVP.

So when the ballots were cast, there was no doubt why Durant took home 119 out of a possible 125 first-place MVP votes to dethrone LeBron James as the NBA’s best.

Some say that Durant’s astronomical scoring numbers were the result of Russell Westbrook’s 36-game absence due to injury. However, Durant didn’t only have a career year in scoring, he also had the best assists average of his career.

Durant’s shot attempts did increase by 3.1 per game, but his .503 field goal percentage was just slightly lower than his career best of .510, which he achieved in 2012-13. Durant’s 2013-14 shooting efficiency of .560 was also the highest of his career, which means that he didn’t just take more shots, rather he stepped up big time in Westbrook’s absence to lead the Thunder to the NBA’s second-best record at 59-23 last season.

Already effective and efficient, Durant is also durable, having missed just six games over the past four seasons. With all these things going for him, it’s unimaginable that Durant will overheat next season, especially after he withdrew from playing for Team USA to rest and prepare for next season.

Even with a healthy Russell Westbrook beside him next season, Durant is still going to be the man to beat.

A King Out to Reclaim His Throne

The NBA’s four-time MVP is back with the Cleveland Cavaliers. However, this time around the expectations are much higher with the addition of Kevin Love.

LeBron James is known to be a player who always rises to the occasion. When he moved to South Beach, he promised NBA titles. Although he wasn’t able to win as many as he declared, James delivered the goods despite all the pressure around him and the Miami Heat. Forget the fact that they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, making the NBA Finals four consecutive times was a feat achieved only by the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics before his Heat did it last season.

People are saying that the arrival of Kevin Love and the presence of Kyrie Irving are bound to bring LeBron’s numbers down. That being said, LeBron James’ 2014-15 numbers are already “adjusted figures,” because the King has played the last four seasons with two other NBA All-Stars by his side in Miami. Yet he still won the MVP twice with the Heat and consistently produced All-NBA numbers during his four-year stay in Miami.

The fact that he is playing for his hometown once again will give him the extra motivation to top the greatness that we’ve already seen from him.

During the 2014-15 season James will not only have the support of the fans and the people of Ohio, he will have a team that has been assembled to win it all. James is in his basketball prime, and with the fate of his hometown in his hands he will no doubt have a season to remember.

The Blake Show Is On Air

Blake Griffin finished third in last year’s MVP race. Like Durant, who missed his tag team partner Russell Westbrook for some time due to injury last season, Griffin and the Los Angeles Clippers played 18 games without Chris Paul during a five-week stretch early in 2014.

During that period, Griffin proved that he isn’t just the dunking and rebounding athletic freak we know he is. Blake didn’t only up his scoring to 27 points per game during Paul’s absence, he also averaged 4.2 assists. As a team, the Clippers went 12-6 and scored at a blistering 112.3 points per 100 possessions. That was proof of Blake’s maturity as a player and as a team leader.

Griffin started his NBA career on the injured list. However since stepping on the NBA’s floor, he has missed just four games.

Last season, Griffin had career numbers in points, assists, free-throw percentage, and shot attempts. With a healthy Chris Paul running the show in Lob City, the Clippers are a legitimate threat to the Spurs and Thunder in the West.

The Clippers lost to the Thunder in the second round of the playoffs, but wasn’t that how they were supposed to finish considering they were third in the Western Conference behind the Spurs and the Thunder? Yes! The Clippers were third, and Griffin also finished third in MVP balloting.

That being said, third place isn’t good enough for this explosive power forward. At 25 years old, Griffin is nearing his prime. He’ll try to top that in the 2014-15.

Raising a Lot of Eyebrows

Sure, Goran Dragic was the NBA’s Most Improved Player. However the improvement of Anthony Davis wasn’t just in his statistics, it was in his status.

From being a prospect a year ago, Davis has suddenly become the next big thing waiting to happen. As a matter of fact, that wait could be over next season as many are expecting him to have a breakout year.

Anthony Davis is a type of player we haven’t seen before. If LeBron James revolutionized the small forward spot 10 years ago, Davis has reinvented the power forward spot. The lanky 21-year-old franchise player of the New Orleans Pelicans led the NBA in shot blocks at 2.8 per game and was tenth in rebounds at 10.0 per contest.

Davis was also an offensive monster, averaging 20.8 points per game while shooting .519 from the field and .791 from the foul line. Superlatives are not enough to measure the improvement of his game from his rookie season, and Davis has just begun to rise.

Considered as the most important player for Team USA in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Davis looks to showcase his unearthly talents on the world stage. With the pride of the nation at stake, Davis is set to make the tournament his coming out party, which could lead to an MVP 2014-15 season.

A Rose Without Thorns

Derrick Rose has been out so long that some people forgot how good he was in 2011 when won the NBA MVP. After major injuries to each knee over the last two seasons, D. Rose is back.

When Rose played for the US team in the 2010 World Championships, he used the opportunity as a springboard to that dream 2011 season. Judging by his performance and from the raves he’s getting from playing in Team USA’s games, the old D. Rose appears to be healthy. The proof of that is Mike Krzyzewski taking in Rose instead of the up and coming Damian Lillard.

While Lillard had a breakout 2013-14 season, a healthy Derrick Rose is a badass beast. In his last healthy season, Rose averaged 21.8 points and 7.9 assists per game. The Chicago Bulls were the No. 1 overall seed and were in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Rose’s value goes beyond statistics. His ability to lead and take matters into his own hands when needed is impressive.

Again, however, we go back to his health. Rose missed a couple of Team USA exhibition games to rest his knees. He says that he’s “a go” and if USAB would put the fate of the country on his brittle knees, there is no reason we should doubt his health.

A healthy Derrick Rose could spoil the KD versus LeBron MVP duel because the Bulls have upgraded their lineup into that of a title contender during the offseason. If the team goes deep in the playoffs next season, Rose could be a serious player for MVP.

Making a Splash

Stephen Curry knows how good of a player he is. In fact, he recently proclaimed that he is a better offensive player than LeBron James. Whether he meant that or not is not the issue. Being held in the same breath as LeBron James speaks volumes about Stephen Curry’s game.

Curry is undoubtedly the most dangerous three-point shooter in the game today. In fact, he may be the best pure shooter to ever pick up a basketball, perhaps even better than sweet-shooting Daddy Dell.

That being said, this young Curry isn’t just a three-point weapon. He owns one of the best handles in the game and is one of its best play makers as well. Curry wasn’t just the NBA’s seventh-best scorer at 24.0 points per game, he was also sixth in assists at 8.5 per game.

The Golden State Warriors have retained their young core which led them to the playoffs the past two seasons. If new coach Steve Kerr can push the right buttons and unleash the full potential of the Dubs, Curry could go all the way to the top with them.

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