We have been living in the LeBron James era. Ever
since the hype about a hot young 17-year-old had spread to such an
extent that LeBron’s high school games were being televised, his
spectre has loomed large over the NBA and its annual
Kobe Bryant was still the league’s leading star when LeBron entered the
league, and he has continued to remain relevant, notwithstanding recent
severe injuries and the Lakers’ slide down the rankings.
Time for change
Tim Duncan is another grizzled veteran who will
feature prominently in history’s retelling of the early 2000’s, while
Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki picked up MVP awards before LeBron finally
ascended to the top, picking up the first of his MVP trophies in 2009 and adding three more in the next four years.
It remains to be seen whether LeBron can remain a yearly factor in the
title race, and for how long. But Kevin Durant’s rapid rise to
legitimate contention for the title of “best player in the world” has
been a pleasant surprise for fans who want to see superstars.
Durant was the youngest ever scoring champion in 2010, and he has won
that award four times in his first seven years, with last year’s
average of 32.0 points per game the highest since Kobe’s 2005-06 season.
Still only 26, this year has been the first time Durant has missed
significant time with injury, and it’s hurting the Oklahoma City
Thunder badly. Not only are they scrapping desperately to make the
playoffs, but one of their rivals is also harbouring a genuine threat
to James’ and Durant’s status on top of the world.
One month away from his 22nd
birthday, Anthony Davis has made a massive impact on this NBA season.
As Durant sat the first month, and James toiled in Cleveland before
taking two weeks off in January, Davis has been lighting it up.
Davis averages a double-double, adding 10.3 rebounds per game to
24.5ppg, good for fifth in the league scoring rankings. He is also
leading the league in blocked shots for a New Orleans Pelicans squad
which surrounds him with some nice pieces, but that lacks a second star
to help lift them to higher contention.
The Pelicans will need to add wisely to their team, as Davis
is an absolute gem. New Orleans can’t afford to lose him long-term to
free agency due to a desire to compete for championships - it needs to
bring title contention to Davis.
That won’t come this year, and in truth it will take a remarkable
season from Davis to snare the eighth seed over Phoenix or Oklahoma
City in the West. Davis is giving it his all, as seen in thrilling
fashion when his buzzer-beating three-pointer sealed victory over the
It capped a 41-point performance for Davis that rendered moot Russell
Westbrook’s brilliant 48-point game, including three dramatic
game-tying free throws before Davis’ intervention.
The shot was incredible too, and it showed the
expansion in Davis’ repertoire as he emerges as one of the league’s
premier jump-shooters, along with his fantastic physique and ability to
A worthy winner?
Can Davis really be a candidate for the MVP award?
From a “best player” or “player of the season” perspective, he would
have to be considered, but the only comparable seasons recently would
be Michael Jordan in 1988-89 or Moses Malone in
1981-82. Both players collected the award despite their squads having
just the seventh-best records in the league, and often the MVP
conversation begins and ends with “who was the best player on the
league’s best team?”
The Atlanta Hawks have overtaken Golden State over
the last couple of weeks, but it's hard to identify the MVP of their
own team, let alone who could contend for the league's overall crown.
Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap all bring something different
to Atlanta's overall package, and all represented the Hawks at the
But none of them are among the league leaders in traditional stats,
whereas Steph Curry ranks among the top 10 in points and assists. He
faces competition from within his own squad, with Klay Thompson also
shining brightly for the Warriors, while the league's current scoring
leader James Harden will pick up extra recognition for keeping Houston
afloat despite Dwight Howard's injury problems.
It's hard to identify other competition for the top award, with teams
like Memphis and San Antonio thriving as sums of the collective parts
rather than due to one stellar individual. On the other coast, Kyle
Lowry and John Wall have helped to establish their teams at the top
table, although both Toronto and Washington have had some issues
Joining James, Durant and Harden among last year's
top five in the MVP voting were Blake Griffin and Joakim Noah, neither
of whom will contend this year. Griffin's teammate Chris Paul figured
in 2012 and 2013's best five, and he could rip off a run in the wake of
Griffin's elbow surgery, but the LA Clippers squad looks too thin for
Paul to do it alone.
Paul George emerged last year as a fully-fledged
star before dropping off in the second half of the season and then
suffering the horrendous injury to his leg. 2011 MVP Derrick Rose knows
all about how injuries can derail a career.
There's still time for Durant or Westbrook to stamp their authority on
the second half of the season and lead the Thunder on a run, and LeBron
has come back rejuvenated since his break to lead Cleveland up the
But if Davis can steer clear of injuries and doesn't drop off in the
second half of the season, his consistency throughout the campaign will
earn him extra recognition. And even if his stellar play is not enough
to lift the Pelicans into the playoffs this year, it will be
fascinating to see whether Davis can continue to develop, and how
dominant a figure he can become. We could be about to enter the Anthony