This has become a true conundrum over the course of the first few months of this 2013-14 NBA season: can LaMarcus Aldridge be considered a real MVP candidate?
It’s almost kind of crazy to think about. Aldridge has always been a good player, but never considered a great one until this year. At this point, many view him as the best power forward in the game, and it’s hard not to agree with that thought. He’s a better all-around player than the (somewhat) undeveloped Blake Griffin, the aged Tim Duncan, the completely non-defensive-minded Kevin Love or anyone else who you might throw on the list. But does that make him good enough to win the Kia MVP award?
It’s definitely going to be difficult, and not because he hasn’t been fantastic, he has. It has to do with his competition. Reigning MVP LeBron James is still having a stellar season, Kevin Durant has probably lunged to the top of the list for now because of his recent streak of being utterly ridiculous from the field and even guys like Stephen Curry, Love and Paul George have legitimate cases as the most valuable player.
So, how can Aldridge separate himself? Because right now, his numbers are in line with most of these players, and are actually better in some areas as he averages 24.7 points (fifth in the NBA), 11.6 rebounds (fifth), 2.9 assists and a block per game. Statistics like those definitely qualify him as a candidate, but can he realistically pull away from the likes of Durant and James?
The short answer: yes.
The long answer is that there is only one way in which he could put some space between them and himself. He needs to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to more wins than either of their teams during this season. And there is precedent already where a player can not have the indisputably best stat line and still win the MVP award, and it wasn’t too long ago that this happened.
In the 2010-11 season, Derrick Rose led his young Chicago Bulls team to an NBA-best 62-20 record. Because they were not expected to do that and he was unquestioningly the best player on the team, even though he didn’t have better numbers than several players (including James who had won the last two MVP awards, and would go on to win the next two), he earned the respect and admiration of much of the media for his inspired play and wound up winning the most valuable player award for that year.
Aldridge has a similar situation. While stats play a large role in the criteria of the award, it’s clear that the people responsible for voting for this honor include winning and leading one’s team as a major factor. Aldridge has good enough numbers to be on the short list, but what can win him the award is winning, and he certainly has the opportunity to do that.
And much like Rose and his situation back in 2010-11, there’s no denying that Aldridge plays the biggest role in his team’s success.
Just look at last night’s game against the Denver Nuggets as perhaps the best example of this all year. The Blazers wouldn’t have had even the slightest chance of coming back in that game, as the Nuggets had as much as a 15-point lead during the second half, without their All-Star.
Aldridge took it upon himself to bring them back and then, more importantly, close out the game for the 110-105 victory. He scored 30 of his career-high 44 points during the second half, and also scored the last 15 points of the game for his team. He also had several of his game-high 13 rebounds in key situations down the stretch, ones that he wouldn’t have been able to get earlier in his career because of the sheer physicality that some of them took to pull down. It’s clear that he’s developed not only his game, but his body in order to become the best power forward in basketball, and he even mentioned that during his post-game interview.
If he can lead the Blazers on a fantastic run to finish the season ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat in the standings — which he has an opportunity to do being down only a game to OKC and up a game on Miami — then there’s a real possibility that L.A. can win over the MVP voters.
While it won’t be easy, Aldridge has established himself as a true contender, and if things go his way over the course of the second half of the season, then don’t be surprised to see him walking away with the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.