May 31, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) handles the ball against San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) during the first quarter in game six of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

NBA: An early look at the 2014-15 MVP candidates

Will Kevin Durant repeat? Will LeBron James take back the crown? Will a healthy Derrick Rose recapture the magic from 2010-11? Will another player emerge?

These are all questions swirling around as players, executives, media and fans gear up for the new season.

Oklahoma City’s superstar forward Kevin Durant won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award last season in a landslide with 119 first-place votes. The only other player to even receive any first-place nominations was four-time (and two-time defending) MVP LeBron James, who only received six.

James was clearly the runner-up by the votes, followed by the Clippers’ Blake Griffin and Bulls’ Joakim Noah.

It seems a player hasto be anelite scorer, passable defender and a dominant talentto be considered, and win, the Most Valuable Player award.

May 6, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant speaks after receiving the 2013-2014 MVP trophy at Thunder Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

May 6, 2014; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant speaks after receiving the 2013-2014 MVP trophy at Thunder Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

In his MVP season, Durant led the league in several offensive categories including: points per game (32.0), total points (2,593), field goal attempts (1688), field goals made (849), free throw attempts (805), free throws made (703) and offensive win shares (14.8). KD was also importantly third in both offensive rating (122.6) and true shooting percentage at 63.5 percent. Durant was clearly one of the best scorers.

Also Durant’s length and athleticism give him the ability to be a decent defender. He doesn’t need to be, and shouldn’t be, a lockdown defender, as his energy needs to be focused towards consistently scoring at a high level. Surprisingly, Durant is TENTH in defensive win-shares at 4.4, showing his value at that end of the court. That is why it is unlikely James Harden will ever win MVP. The passable defense of Durant is nearly twice as good as Harden’s defensive rating last season of 2.7.

Then there are the other all-encompassing metrics that are just the icing on the cake.

Last year, Durant led the league in win shares BY A LOT with 19.2 (next closest was James’ 15.9). He also led the league in win shares per 48 minutes with .295, besting Chris Paul’s .270.

Durant clearly was the most valuable and “best” player almost any way you define it. Now that we have a baseline, who will win the award in May?

Of course Durant could win it or Lebron could recapture the magic in Cleveland with his new teammates. They’ve done it most recently and are of course leading the pack. Let’s look at some other candidates.

Derrick Rose was the MVP in 2010-11. That year he was tied for fifth (with Kevin Durant actually) in total field goals made and was third in field goal attempts. He was ninth in free throws made and 11th in free throw attempts. He was eighth in assists and fourth in total points. He was seventh in points per game and ninth in player efficiency rating. Not great numbers right? Yes, but Rose was eighth in defensive win shares, sixth in offensive win shares, and fifth in overall win shares. It looks like James should have won that year, based on him leading many of the relevant categories, but it is an award where the media votes and the eye test matters. The media spoke.

Feb 1, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) and Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) stand side by side during the fourth quarter of a game at Madison Square Garden. The Heat defeated the Knicks 106-91. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 1, 2014; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony (7) and Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) stand side by side during the fourth quarter of a game at Madison Square Garden. The Heat defeated the Knicks 106-91. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In the MVP race, Blake Griffin seems to always be in the mix. He’s that third-place finisher in the rankings after the regular season, but has never broke through to win the award. Last season he was ninth in field goal attempts, fourth in field goals made, second in free throw attempts, fifth in free throws made and 12th in rebounds. Unfortunately, he was sixth in fouls. He ended up fifth in points, sixth in points per game, ninth in PER, 11th in offensive win shares, 14th in defensive win shares, 6th in total win shares and eighth in win shares per 48 minutes.

Carmelo Anthony really has slimmed down. If that has any bearing on him improving his 2013-14 numbers he could vault into MVP consideration. Melo was third in field goal attempts and second in field goals. He was ninth in free throw attempts, sixth in free throws made, second in points, second in points per game, seventh in PER, 10th in offensive win shares, not in the top 20 of defensive win shares, 13th in total win shares, and out of the top-20 in win shares per 48 minutes.

Those are some top contenders, but there are some honorable mentions. Paul George would be a candidate if he weren’t going to miss, at the least, most of the year. LaMarcus Aldridge could be a few years away as a dark horse. Kevin Love probably won’t win it, as he plays with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Playing with such good players will depress his great numbers.

The leading candidates for putting up an MVP season this upcoming season are Durant, James, Rose, Griffin and Anthony.

LeBron is actually OUT OF the top-20 in defensive win shares and with a bunch of new teammates, the chemistry issues will depress his stats, causing him to lose out on the MVP award in 2015. Rose is a long-shot. While he is in shape, he will still need to play himself into an elite talent once again. Oh, and also not get injured again.

Unless he steps it up, Griffin’s numbers over a whole year don’t seem good enough to be MVP level, so he probably won’t make it this season.

That just leaves Durant and Anthony. It all comes down to the New York Knicks win total. If the Knicks are in the playoffs, especially a top-four seed, he has a good chance to win it. If not it goes to Durant.

Tags: Blake Griffin Carmelo Anthony Derrick Rose Fetured Kevin Durant Lebron James NBA

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