By: Rajan Nanavati
Given that you’ve more than likely read the title to this piece, let’s start with the obvious point: the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award isn’t synonymous with, or given to, the NBA’s best player. After all, it’s been five years since LeBron James last won the award, and almost virtually no one is going to disagree with the fact that he’s the best basketball player alive right now.
Rather, as other NBA analysts and fans have correctly stated: the MVP award is given to the player who shapes the narrative of his team’s performance within his conference, puts together a statistically noteworthy season, and has a compelling narrative to which media members and fans can point when justifying said selection.
So while guys like Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and Giannis Antetokounmpo are all very likely to be worthy candidates this season, there’s one player who has the ability to check off all three of the above-stated criterion in a way that any of those three guys – or the other predicted favorites – probably can’t.
And that would be Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics.
For starters, Irving is going to be the marquee (and best) player for a team that – barring injury – is a virtual lock to win 60 games this year, especially in the watered-down Eastern Conference. If the Celtics don’t run away with the top seed in the East, it’ll be a colossal upset.
Moreover, Irving is going to immediately come in and help shore up one of the few areas of “weakness” the Celtics had last year, and that was total scoring output; their 104.0 points per game last year was 10th-best in the East. In other words, the Celtics will give the green light for scoring to one of the most breathtaking gifted offensive players in the entire league. If you don’t think that matters, then consider the fact that the last three MVP’s were James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Stephen Curry.
After finishing his abbreviated 2017-2018 season averaging 24.4 points per game last year (putting him at 8th place in the NBA), there’s plenty of reason to believe that number could go up. He’ll be more comfortable in Boston with another year under his belt there, and his opponents simply can’t devote the majority of their resources to stopping him, because he has the best supporting cast in the NBA, this side of the Golden Gate bridge.
And maybe most importantly, there’s a story to tell if – or when – Irving wins the MVP award. There’s an ironic symmetry to Irving wanting to escape from LeBron James’ shadow in Cleveland, only to see James head out west and effectively cede control of the Eastern Conference to Irving. There’s the story of Irving coming back from injury and potentially leading the Celtics over that next hump of getting the top seed in the East (and making themselves the favorite to win the conference). He is intelligent, well-spoken, and generally likeable. And to top it all off, his recent statement about re-signing with the Celtics after his contract is over this season will engender a lot of positive sentiment for him.
There are already reports that Irving is back to his near-superstar form, as he puts the finishing touches on his rehab for the knee injury that ended his season.
If that’s the case, he’ll be must-see appointment viewing this season, which will only help to get more and more people on board with the idea that he could be the player we’re all talking about most when this season concludes.