Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
The best example of this is, of course, Derrick Rose’s MVP last year. By almost any statistical measure, Dwight Howard and LeBron James had better seasons and were more valuable to their teams. Sure, there are considerations by which Rose looks better: he was the only elite player on his team, his defense markedly improved, he helped facilitate the transition from a terrible coach in Del Negro to a great one in Thibodeau.
But none of these is the reason he won. He won because he’s young, and exciting. He won because at the beginning of the year, he asked “Why not me?” and then had a breakout season, and the idea of fulfilling that narrative tickled sportswriters pink. He won because a Rose MVP let sportswriters write about his mom and his brothers, and compare him to Jordan. He won because COUNT THE WINZZZ (a relative of the classic COUNT THE RINGZZZ argument). He won, fundamentally, because him winning made a good story.
Here’s the twist: Rose’s narrative doesn’t work this year. The Bulls fell short against the Heat, and many people (including Rose) put that loss on Number One’s broad shoulders. More saliently for this discussion, LeBron, one of rose’s chief rivals for the MVP, shut him down in the playoffs. Sportswriters love to talk about a hypothetical streetball game, one-on-one to 11. Derrick got a chance to play that game in the ECF, and he lost.
Even if the Bulls are the best team in the league again this year, they’ve reached the point where the regular season can’t prove anything. Derrick is already elite, and it’s unlikely that he can take another leap forward. The narrative is no longer about the plucky newcomer, the cocky kid; instead, he’s just another star in the NBA constellation. LeBron won back-to-back MVPs because he was unquestionably the best player in the league. Nash won back-to-back MVPs because the league was down during the mid-2000’s. Rose doesn’t have any of this going for him. There’s no chance he repeats this year.
With all that said, let’s look at some of the players who do have the narratives to win this year.
Hit the jump for the rest of Wesley’s piece…
Durant’s narrative path to the MVP is surprisingly tricky. He leads the league in scoring year after year, but has yet to become a titan in the way that LeBron or Kobe has. His narrative is substantially hurt by the presence of Russell Westbrook; a secondary star always makes the MVP more difficult (see O’Neil, Shaquille). His consistency also hurts him: Durant has routinely been one of the best five players in the league, but he’s never been clearly the best. In fact, a lot of the scuttlebutt around him has been about his inability to get himself open, and his need to get stronger.
Durant is clearly a great player, but I’m beginning to doubt that he will ever win an MVP. He’ll need to have a scoring year so good that it distinguishes him from other pure scorers (Melo et al), and he’ll need to clearly be better than Westbrook (or make Westbrook disappear) while still winning a ton of games. That’s a tall order, and if I could bet it, I would put down some money that Durant never gets an MVP.
2. Kobe Bryant
Oh, Kobe. The narrative here is easy: The old champ still has it! In a cagey, veteran move, Kobe went to Germany to get some sketchy, if not actually illegal, surgery, and now he’s better than ever! He’s a winner! He refuses to concede anything! COUNT THE RINGZZZ!
Seriously, as much as I can’t stand the guy, Bryant’s “come-back” season could make for some very good copy, especially if he manages to drag the Lakers to a high seed in the West and leads the league in scoring. There will be a lot of ink shed about his toughness, both physical and mental, given all of his accumulated injuries and the divorce he’s going through. Plus, a vote for Bryant isn’t just a chance to lionize a veteran: it’s also a chance to repudiate number one on our list.
1. LeBron James
Everything that turned the narrative against him last year plays perfectly into his hands this year. After being humiliated in the Finals last year, he’s humbled himself, stopped trying to be a villain and worked towards rehabilitating his image with charity work and more openness about his private life. He proposed to his long-time girlfriend. He and Wade are working more fluidly together. He’s playing more point forward. Everything leads up to a “redemption” story, so Bob Ryan and Bill Plaschke can talk about how this supposedly selfish brat has finally “grown up,” how “all he cares about now is winning.”
To be clear: at this point in the year, LeBron is unquestionably the MVP. He’s playing out of his mind. But even if he had the exact same year as he did last year, the narrative now lines up with the statistics. Failing in the Finals last year humanized him: now when he destroys the league like he always does, sportswriters will let themselves cheer for him instead of deriding him.
The lesson, as always: narrative wins.
If you want to help Wesley COUNT those RINGZZZ, you can contact him on twitter @chalkwhite, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org