Kevin Durant Is the Obvious Choice for Finals MVP
Okay, King James truthers, let me have it...
What?! Kevin Durant? He's a choke artist. He's never stepped up big in the biggest moments. He rode Curry's coattails to a Finals, and now you're telling me he's going to be named MVP, rather than The King.
My man LeBron has been to the Finals seven times, has three rings and three Finals MVPs. Durant has only been there once and won one game -- one! Finals MVP, get outta here.
You're not wrong. Durant is nowhere near as accomplished as James is in postseason play. But that's the past, and he's poised to compete with LBJ for MVP. At least that's what the odds tell us.
Today, Durant stands with James atop a host of players vying for MVP honors in an NBA Finals riddled with All-Star talent.
|Player||Odds (via Bovada)|
Even in ESPN's Finals forecast, 50% of experts give Durant the best shot at MVP. Meanwhile, Curry comes in at 28%, with James a way back at just 7%. The gap isn't as large in the accompanying fan panel survey (Durant, 43%; Curry, 26%; James, 21%), but the conclusion remains: the majority of people expect Durant, not James, to take home the Bill Russell Award.
Given James' track record (even Curry's, for that matter), the high expectations are somewhat surprising, but are they justified?
Oh, are they ever.
Over the course of their overlapping NBA tenures, Durant and James have faced off a total of 18 times in the regular season. In 14 of those games, James' teams have gotten the better of Durant's. But what about individual performances?
In terms of per-game output, Bron has KD beat in rebounds, assists and steals. However, Durant can say the same for points, turnovers and blocks, not to mention threes and free throws.
If you have the ability to look past team record, these head-to-head matchups haven't resulted in one player dominating the other. To the delight of NBA fans everywhere, it's been quite the opposite. Both players have risen to the occasion.
It's more of the same when the two get together in the postseason.
In the 2012 NBA Finals, James' Big Three Heat took on Oklahoma City's own youthful Big Three of Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. It took just five games for James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to dispose of OKC on the way to their first of two titles together.
Still, Durant managed more points, threes and blocks, as well as a better shooting percentage -- and he did so against the NBA's fourth-best scoring defense and fourth most-efficient defensive team.
Probability in His Corner
Unlike years past, the odds are no longer stacked against Durant's team.
Our algorithms here at numberFire tell us that probability is in his and the Warriors' favor. The numbers say the Dubs -- the NBA's best team -- would win 798.1 times out of 1,000 simulated playoff series matchups. And, of all scenarios, our model expects Golden State to win in five games on approximately 272.6 instances, marking the highest probability of any one possibility.
If the Warriors win the series as the numbers expect, James will likely not grab MVP honors -- after all, Jerry West is the only player to ever win Finals MVP on a losing team. On the other hand, West led the entire playoffs with 4.3 win shares, something James (3.3 win shares) is doing nearly 50 years later.
Reaching that same mark and achieving that same improbable feat are within the realm of possibility for LeBron, especially if the series goes at least five games. It's an outside shot, at best, but it is LeBron James we're talking about.
KD is having a heck of a playoffs himself, having tallied 1.8 win shares in 10 games (he missed two due to injury). But if we go yet a step further to account for Durant's two fewer contests, we see that Durant would be at more than 2.1 win shares.
When on the floor, KD has been an efficient assassin, averaging 25.2 points per game on 55.6% from the field, 41.7% from three and 87.1% from the free throw line. Our Game 1 projections (via numberFire Live) predict an even bigger and better performance from him.
|Game 1 Proj.||MP||PTS||FG%||3P%||FT%||TRB||AST||TOV||STL||BLK|
According to our performance rating system, a line like this would earn Durant a rating of 72 and MVP honors for the game. If this is to serve as a sign of what's to come, there's no reason to doubt Durant's legitimacy for Finals MVP.
The proof is in the pudding, don't you think?