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Forget Kevin Durant, LeBron James or Derrick Rose, It’s Kobe Bryant for MVP

Kirk Jackson January 13, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 10:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center on January 10, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

We’re about 12 games into this condensed NBA season and there has been plenty of great games and moments so far.

The climatic back-and-forth game opening day between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls, the overtime thriller between the Los Clippers and the Miami Heat from a few nights ago and some other signature moments from some of the league’s premier superstars.

Although we are still in the infant stages of the season, some teams are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the league and are being led by great players.

And with that, of course, many common names have come to the forefront as far as the MVP discussion goes.

Kevin Durant, a popular choice, is a player who can seemingly score at will. Durant has a great work ethic and attitude that will most certainly guide him to steady improvements, eventual championships and other accolades within the upcoming years.

Durant is leading his team in scoring with 25.7 ppg, and after a 12-game mark, the Oklahoma City Thunder hold the top spot in the Western Conference, standing at 10-2.

The only thing you can argue is Russell Westbrook is just as valuable as Durant. Westbrook may not be as potent of a scorer, but defensively, he is better at his position than Durant is, and he holds a bigger responsibility, serving as the team’s facilitator.

Westbrook’s value will even increase with the recent injury to reserve point guard Eric Maynor, who will be out for the rest of the season.

DALLAS, TX - MAY 25:  Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder stand next to each other on the court in the fourth quarter while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals during the 2011 NBA

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Another popular choice is reigning MVP Derrick Rose. The Chicago Bulls are standing atop of the Eastern Conference at 10-2 and are off to their best start since ’96-97.

Even though Rose isn’t putting up the same numbers as last year, with 25.0 ppg and 7.7 assists   compared to 20.7 ppg and 8.6 assists, he is still playing at an extremely high level and has shown to be a difference-maker on his team.

The Bulls are pretty stacked this year, and anytime backup point guard John Lucas can lead the team in scoring in the absence of Rose and the team still pulls out a victory, you’re in good shape.

Many people at ESPN, such as Michael Smith from the show Numbers Never Lie, likes to throw out the name LeBron James for MVP of the league.

From a statistical standpoint, he can make a case because James always puts up spectacular numbers. This year, James is averaging 29.0 ppg, 7.5 assists and 8.5 rebounds.

Are they meaningful numbers? Some players play for stats, I’m not suggesting that’s the case with James, but don’t you feel sometimes at the end of the game that despite his great statistical output, he did not have an impact on the game?

Maybe I’m nitpicking, maybe I’m on to something.

But stats aren’t the entire story when it comes to defining the MVP. MVP stands for most valuable player, the most important player to a respective team. If you subtract James from the Heat, they’ll still have a really good team, a championship-caliber team.

Another thing that goes against James is I don’t think he is the best player on his own team. That distinction belongs to Dwayne Wade.

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat looks on during a break in the action against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on January 13, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Heat 117-104. NOTE TO USER: User expressly a

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Wade is a better on-ball defender, a better ball handler, he’s quicker, has a championship-winning pedigree, is a NBA Finals MVP and has the mentality to take over the game, especially in the fourth quarter.

That is not a knock on James, contrary to his struggles in the fourth quarter throughout his career and as of late.

I think he is held to an unfair standard. He has all-time talent, but he does not possess the will of a Michael Jordan, or a Kobe Bryant, or a Larry Bird. But that’s OK.

James doesn’t have to be clutch like those aforementioned greats; he is a great player in his own right. Therefore, he shouldn’t be held to their standards; he is in a lower-tier type of player. He also shouldn’t address himself as the “King,” either.

Speaking of Kobe, if you remove him from the Lakers, they’re DOOMED.

After a 12-game start, the Lakers are an impressive 8-4 and can easily be 10-2.

Most people probably slept on Bryant coming into this season, citing his age, the overall wear and tear on his body, his new coach, personal problems off the court and even the roster surrounding him (minus Chris Paul).

But apparently, the experimental knee procedure, the extended rest from the lockout and the embarrassment of being swept in last year’s playoffs have served as beneficiaries to Bryant. Being rated as the seventh best player in the league, according to espn.com, probably helped as well.

Bryant looks like a rejuvenated man on a mission, unleashing his tyrannical wrath on whoever that stands in his path.

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 29:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers gestures after making a basket and being fouled in the second half against the New York Knicks at Staples Center on December 29, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

He does not possess the same athleticism from his No. 8 afro days, and he has been injury prone as of late, but his toughness and competitive nature is second to none.

Bryant is playing with torn wrist ligaments he injured during the preseason, but that has not stopped him from performing at a high level.

With an arsenal of crafty moves ranging from the outside perimeter to the inside post area, over the last three games, Bryant is averaging 36.7 ppg. His last two games were back-to-back 48-point and 40-point efforts, respectively.

Kobe’s stats up to this point are a league-leading 30.3 ppg, 5.7 assists and 5.9 rebounds.

He has scored or assisted on over 42 percent of the team’s offense.

Even though there is an emergence at center with Andruw Bynum, he still does not play great consistently, and the Lakers will have to rely on the greatness of Bryant over the course of the season if they want to be successful.

Bryant does so much more than what the stats will indicate. Bryant brings toughness and a strong mentality to the forefront of this Lakers team. As the leader of this team, Bryant serves as a great coach on the court as well.

And unlike another MVP candidate, Bryant knows how to perform in the clutch. He doesn’t always succeed, but he embraces the challenge and accepts the consequences of failure. He is willing to put it all on the line every night he suits up.

The guy has to get a shot injection before every game (ouch) and his wrist swells up to the size of a circus balloon after every game.

If Kobe continues this pace at the age of 33, and if the Lakers finish a top four team in the Western Conference, he should be the MVP this season.


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