Before Kobe Bryant‘s post-Memphis adjustment (after the team meeting), I would have my top MVP candidates as such: (1) LeBron James (2) Chris Paul (3) Tony Parker (4) James Harden (5) Carmelo Anthony.
I’m sure – at the time – many had a similar list to mine, with some exceptions. In light of Kobe’s recent play and the Lakers currently in the 8th seed with the potential to steal the 7th (1 GB) or 6th (2 GB) seeds, some on Twitter have argued that Kobe win MVP or, at least, merits consideration. Laker legend Magic Johnson said – during the halftime show of the Lakers/Bulls game (March 10) - that Kobe is playing at an MVP level. Following that context, I will discuss why the Vino-powered Mamba is a legit MVP candidate and how he must help his case.
Now it is extremely important to acknowledge the competition for the MVP award – it’s steep. The only players I see as being a threat in front of Kobe are Kevin Durant and LeBron because CP3 has fallen out a favour a bit and Tony Parker is injured.
DURANT VS. KOBE
Let’s start with KD. KD is better as a pure shooter, but Kobe is far superior in defense and his overall offensive game is more developed. However, Russell Westbrook‘s impact on KD’s success (i.e. open shot opportunities, pressure reduction, etc.) - in my opinion – is terribly underrated. He is often portrayed as the villain and KD the angel, however, these past couple seasons of watching OKC closely have showed me how interdependent the Westbrook/KD duo. It is very different from the Kobe/Shaq duo where both players were clearly independent forces being joined together. Westbrook/KD are not independent forces put together, they’re two halfs of a great offensive explosion.
Example: what would happen if teams could actually key-in ENTIRELY on KD? Durant hasn’t developed a post game, he doesn’t have a complete point-forward skillset, he would have less open shot opportunities, he doesn’t have the handle of a Kobe or LeBron to split double teams as effectively. This would lead to many difficult isolation scenarios for KD who, though a better pure shooter, is not the ‘tough shot’ maker that the Lakers have in Kobe. So, in my opinion, it’s unlikely that he’d be as efficient (28 PER) or score as easily without Westbrook.
The same goes the other way, but I’m talking about KD because he’s recognized as a legit MVP candidate (Westbrook is always dismissed as the ‘villain’). This is not to take away from KD being the scoring leader (28.5 ppg), his team defense, and his efforts to add to his dimension game (4.7 apg/7.8 rpg), but Westbrook (23.4 ppg/ 7.7 apg/5.2 rpg) has improved as well. Both players have a ways to go in their development – there’s nothing wrong with that when they’re below 25 yrs old and played in college. My bias: both he and Westbrook share an equal and interlinked impact on OKC’s success. So for me, KD is not a clear cut MVP – if you think about value to his team relative to the other candidates and Kobe.
So Kobe is quite easily a 2nd place candidate and top 2 player. As of March 8 2013, he’s listed ahead of KD on NBA.com’s MVP power rankings.
LEBRON VS. KOBE
As for LeBron vs Kobe, both players are both the most valuable to their teams and carry their teams on an equal level which is unparalled in the NBA. LeBron is significantly more efficent (PER 31.4 > 23.7), but does that mean ‘better’ (i.e. Tony Parker 24.4 > 23.7)? That’s a question you hardly hear being asked. So it really depends on how much you value PER – the significant statiscal area where LeBron has an advantage over Kobe.
I see LeBron’s higher level of efficiency as an advantage over Kobe – not as something which makes him ‘undeniably’ better. That said, I’ll turn down phenomenal transition game and ‘super’ efficency for ’high’ efficency, diverse skillset, and mentally stronger player (for reasons best discussed in depth elsewhere for now).
Futhermore, Kobe’s recent play statistically disproves the notion that he is one-dimensional, but he’s always had the skillset to put up the all around numbers that LeBron does. In fact, Phil Jackson even said that he tried to get Kobe to play more like ‘LeBron’ – in regards to facilitating more than scoring. However, I beg to differ with Phil Jackson in this sense: his Laker teams needed the assassain in Kobe – who has had his fair share of great passing performances before (i.e. 30/7 in the ’09 finals).
Now, the D’Antoni coached Lakers NEED an all-around Kobe Bryant, so he’s delivering statistically. This shows that Kobe truly will do what he must in order to win. So to accept Kobe as better or even equal, it depends how you view the recent adjustments Kobe has made and the value one places on PER. However, I’m curious to know what Kobe’s PER during this adjustment period (after the 2nd game vs Grizzlies). I would suspect that it is higher than his overall PER of 23.7.
EDIT by Ross Pickering: according to NBA.com‘s “Efficiency Per Game” stats, Kobe has an EFF of 31.6 since the All-Star break. LeBron is just ahead with 32.3. In the month of March, Kobe is way ahead of the pack at 32.8 – the next closest is Durant with 29.0.
So Kobe, in terms of his individual play, is quite comparable to LeBron and may still be the best player in the game – contrary to popular opinion. However, the main point is: the Lakers now NEED all-around stats from Kobe and he is DOING IT – that should put him right up there with James.
That said, I would – right now – put LeBron James ahead. Here is why: winning matters. In the context of career achievement: the lack of mulitiple championships keeps LeBron down in the all-time top 5 and G.O.A.T conversation – rightfully so. This applies to MVP candidacy as well (which it should). The Heat have played better as a team and LeBron is the – unquestionable – leader of this team (though sometimes Wade and Bosh’s contributions are marginalized in publicity). Also, LeBron has been giving all-around stats his whole career. Kobe, aside from 2002/2003 season, is only doing this recently and in the latter half of the season. LeBron has the consistency over Kobe – which may very well make him unreachable. The burden of proof falls on Kobe Bryant – as it should. So, in my opinion, two things need to happen for Kobe to have a chance at first place votes or to be considered a legit example of an MVP snub (as he was in 05/06).
HOW KOBE CAN WIN MVP
MY conditions for Kobe to trump LeBron or have a legit argument against LeBron as MVP: (1) Lakers need to win 46-50 games (hopefully that lands a 6th seed). However, I think it is obviously unlikely that the Lakers will go 17-0 for 50, I see 47 wins on a 14-3 run as the highest the Lakers will go. Such a record rwould be higher than the w-l record of Kobe’s historic 05/06 season (45-37) when he was a 2nd place candidate and is still considered an MVP snub for losing to Nash. (2) Kobe must maintain his all-around statistics and high FG%. Under those conditions, Kobe is a great argument for MVP over LeBron. Let me explain why:
There are a few reasons. First, the emotionial/sympathetic logic: Kobe only has one MVP and got snubbed multiple times (2001, 2003, 2004, 2006), while LeBron has 3 MVPs. In other words, it’s okay for LeBron to be snubbed when Kobe has been several times. Kobe’s lone MVP does question the integrity of the MVP race. This may sway the voters – whether its objective logic or not. But then why snub LeBron for Kobe if you want to keep the integrity of the race? Well it wouldn’t be a ‘snub’ for LeBron because Kobe has a legit and unique case which my other reasons will solidify.
Second, Kobe is doing whatever his team needs him to do in order to win (i.e. getting Howard involved more, looking for teammates more than normal, etc.) with their backs against the wall in the midst of injuries, mulitiple coaching changes, and adversity (things stat sheets cannot show us). Also, he is looking good – so far – on his playoff guarantee and is delievering 33/7/7 since the guarantee.
Third, awarding to Kobe the 2013 MVP would be the best way to show appreciation to both the metaphysical (leadership and perserverance) and empirical (i.e. statistical) aspects of great leadership which an MVP should have. Only Kobe Bryant’s season is showing what a true NBA leader does in BOTH great times and – most important – in very bad times – whatever he must. An MVP - whether he is primarily a scorer, passer, rebounder or ‘all-around’ - should always be the undisputed leader of his team.
Overall, assuming the conditions I outlined are met, Kobe Bryant should win the MVP award for being the best leader.