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Kevin Durant and the NBA MVP Race

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Kevin Durant and LeBron James and considered the frontrunners for the MVP award. (AP Photo) Kevin Durant and LeBron James and considered the frontrunners for the MVP award. (AP Photo)

Grant Belcher,

OKLAHOMA CITY – When breaking down the NBA MVP race, it's important to take note of the muddled definitions that have shaped the award over the years.

MVP obviously stands for "most valuable player," but the parameters surrounding that term don't clarify whether that is also supposed to mean simply the "best player" in the NBA.

A player might be the best player in the league, but there's always a chance his team would do just fine without him.

On the other hand, a different player might not be considered a top five player in the league, but his team would become the worst in the league if he were not there.

With those vague definitions in mind, here is a look at the top candidates for the MVP this season and how those definitions affect them.

The Case for LeBron James

Statistically, LeBron James is having one of the best seasons in NBA history. He averages 27 points, seven assistant and eight rebounds per game. He is also shooting 54 percent from the field and stealing the ball twice per game. A common way to combine all relevant statistics into one measurable stat is known as PER, or Player Efficiency Rating.

If James' current 31.02 PER rating stands, it will reach the top 10 list of best PER seasons ever. Ironically, James, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain would then occupy all 10 of those spots.

There is no doubt that James' numbers are staggering. And the majority of people outside the state of Oklahoma would still agree that James is currently the "best" player in the league, but is he the most valuable?

When James won his two MVPs in Cleveland, he was both the best player in the league and the most valuable. His supporting cast on the Cavs was next to nothing, and yet he was still able to take his team to incredible heights. The reality now is that James' current teammates, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, are fully capable of handling a team on their own. When one of Miami's "Big Three" goes down, it simply means more opportunities for the other two to step up and take over the game.

It's entirely reasonable to believe that if LeBron James was out for the season, there's a good chance the Miami Heat might still be the No. 2 seed in the weaker Eastern Conference.

So James' talent and numbers are undeniable, but his true overall "value" to the team might not be.

The Case for Kevin Durant

All season, Kevin Durant was right on LeBron James' heels in the MVP race, but some believe Sunday's big game might have flip-flopped them in the standings. The reality is, Kevin Durant simply dominated James in every aspect of the game when the Thunder faced the Heat recently.

Durant scored 28 points, pulled in nine rebounds and dished out eight assists. And he helped hold James to just 17 points and three rebounds in the same game. Round one to Durant.

It's not long before the Thunder travel to Miami for the rematch, and if Durant pulls off the same type of performance on both sides of the ball, it could cement his place as the frontrunner.

One thing critics of Durant said they wanted to see improve was Durant's defense, and there is a relevant stat currently floating around that might turn some heads. Statistically, Kevin Durant is the best on-ball defender in the league. When he is guarding a player one-on-one, that player scores the basketball just 38.7 percent of the time – a lower percentage than any other player allows.

Though it's not an end-all stat, it's certainly remarkable, especially considering the touted on-ball defensive ability of players such as James and the Bulls' Luol Deng.

Also, Kevin Durant's team currently has a better record overall than James'. Whether that should be a determining factor all goes back to the vague definitions of MVP. But as mentioned earlier, take James off the Heat and they might still be second best in the East. Take Durant off the Thunder and who knows exactly what happens. Teams would be able to focus entirely on stopping Russell Westbrook, because the offensive games of Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are so limited. It's tough to speculate but Oklahoma City could be simply a 7- or 8-seed in the playoffs without Durant.

Both Durant and James make valid arguments for MVP, but in reality a lot of it will come down to what voters think the definition of the league's MVP should be.

The Case for Other Candidates

Kevin Love, Minnesota – Love is an example of a guy who might not ever actually win an MVP award, but could be the most valuable player to his own particular team for many years. Which is completely unfair to Love, of course. Just because the Timberwolves are not a top-tier team, it's highly unlikely Love could win the award.

But the man averages 26 points and 14 rebounds, and he has to play the most minutes in the league because his team needs him to. Those stats just scream "most valuable player." If a player averaged 26 and 14 on one of the top four teams in the league, he would most likely be a lock for the award. And some would argue that the most valuable player needs to lead his team to a top record in order to win it, but think about where the Timberwolves were before Kevin Love came around.

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers – Until he retires, Bryant will pretty much be included somewhere in the 3-5 range of every year's MVP discussion. He leads the league in scoring this year, though it takes him 24 shots per game to do it. But Bryant suffers from the same drawback that James does when determining true "value." He's working with two other All-Stars every night, and you have to think that both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol would really develop overall in Bryant's absence.

Derrick Rose, Chicago – The previous year's MVP is always going to be in contention for the next year's award until he proves otherwise. Unfortunately for Derrick Rose this season, he kind of proved otherwise. Chicago has easily the best record in the league, which essentially entitles that particular team to an MVP candidate. But Rose has already missed 16 games this year due to injury. That much of an absence typically disqualifies a player for consideration. Not only that, but the Bulls have shown they are completely capable of winning without him, which takes away his "value" argument.

The 2012 NBA MVP award is voted on at the conclusion of the regular season by a panel of sportswriters and media covering the league around the country. The award is usually announced during the first round of the playoffs.

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