It’s all but a foregone conclusion that LeBron James of the Miami Heat will win his fourth Most Valuable Player award when it is announced, or rather leaked to the media before it is actually announced.
James had a season for the ages, no question. But there were other players who were extremely valuable in 2012-13. So with that, a look at the 10 most valuable players of this season, counted down from No. 10 to No. 1.
10. Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs
Duncan was the NBA’s own Ponce de Leon in 2012-13, finding the fountain of youth and posting his best season in several years at the age of 36 (he actually turns 37 today, April 25, so happy birthday, Tim!). His 17.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game were his best totals since 2009-10. The 2.7 blocks he averaged were the most he’s had in almost a decade, since posting the same average in 2003-04. His playing time, 30.1 minutes a game, actually increased as well, also the highest workload he’s had since 2009-10.
Taking a look at his per-36-minute numbers is even more telling of the sort of revival Duncan experienced this season. Duncan averaged 21.3 points per 36 minutes, the most he’s had since 2004-05. The 11.9 rebounds were his best since 2007-08. The 3.2 blocks were a career high. He shot 50.2 percent from the floor and a career-best 81.7 percent from the free-throw line (he came into the season as a career 68.8 percent shooter from the stripe, so that’s a huge improvement).
Duncan was a big reason why the Spurs were able to win 58 games and secure the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
9. James Harden, Houston Rockets
Harden was traded just four days before the start of the regular season going to the Rockets along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward, with Jeremy Lamb, Kevin Martin, two future first-round draft picks and a future second-rounder going to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Houston gave Harden a max deal and then The Beard went out and earned it with a spectacular season.
How spectacular? The reigning Sixth Man of the Year went from supporting actor to the lead role in Houston and averaged a career-high 25.9 points per game (fifth in the league). His true shooting percentage (TS%) of 66.0 was second in the league as was his effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 58.2. Harden was third in the NBA with an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 125.4 and fourth with 12.8 win shares.
Beyond that, Harden helped a young Houston team reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009, leading the second-highest scoring team in the league (106 points per game).
8. Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat
Wade may be the second banana in Miami now, but he’s still a very high-quality banana. Wade averaged 21.2 points per game on a career-best 52.1 percent shooting from the floor and contributed five rebounds and 5.1 assists a night, even though his usage percentage (USG%) of 29.5 was the lowest since his rookie season.
Wade had a player efficiency rating (PER) of 24, good for seventh in the league, and contributed 9.6 win shares (eighth-best in the NBA). He also made his ninth straight All-Star Game appearance, finished in the top 10 in free-throw attempts (425) despite playing only 69 games and was sixth in the league with 1.9 steals a game.
So, yes, as far as second bananas go, Wade’s a pretty darn good one.
7. Brook Lopez, Brooklyn Nets
The Nets were hoping that Lopez could make it back to the form he showed during his first three seasons, when he posted a PER of 19.1 and gave the then-New Jersey Nets 17.4 points and 7.6 rebounds a game from 2008-09 through 2010-11.
Lopez was limited to just five games in the Nets’ final season in Jersey because of a foot injury that ultimately required surgery.
Lopez exceeded Brooklyn’s wildest dreams in 2012-13. He earned his first All-Star nod while shooting 52.1 percent from the floor, scoring 19.4 points per game and posting the fifth-best PER (24.7) in the league. He was also seventh in the league with 2.1 blocked shots per game and helped propel the Nets to their first playoff berth since 2007 (and Brooklyn’s first since 1956, when the Dodgers went to their final World Series before flying the coop for Los Angeles).
6. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook has been knocked often for shooting first and passing later, but the Thunder point guard averaged 7.4 assists and had his most efficient season ever, posting a career-high 23.9 PER in 2012-13.
Westbrook still had time to average 23.2 points per game, grab a career-high 5.2 rebounds a night and nab 1.8 steals a game, too, and his 11.6 win shares were the fifth-highest mark in the NBA.
He also made his third straight All-Star Game appearance and ranked seventh in the league with an assist percentage of 38.4. It’s not like Westbrook didn’t shoot … a lot. His 1,535 field-goal attempts were the second-most in the league, in part because he became much more of a volume shooter from 3-point range—his 300 attempts from behind the arc exceeded his previous career-high by more than 100.
5. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers made the playoffs by winning 28 of their final 40 games and Bryant was a huge reason why, even if it may have helped contribute to the torn Achilles’ tendon he suffered on the final Friday night of the regular season on April 12.
The 34-year-old Bryant averaged 38.6 minutes a game (second-most in the league) while leading a banged-up Laker team to its big second-half surge. Bryant scored 27.3 points a game and passed Wilt Chamberlain for fourth place on the all-time points list, finishing the season with 31,617.
For the year, Bryant was fourth in the league with 3,013 minutes, led the league with 1,595 field-goal attempts (the third year in a row he’s been the most voluminous shooter in the league) and his scoring average was the third highest in the NBA.
But Bryant became more of a facilitator, as well, averaging 6.0 assists a game, matching his career high set in 2004-05. He also snared 5.6 rebounds a game and shot 46.3 percent from the floor, his highest mark since 2008-09.
4. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Anthony won his first scoring title at 28.7 points per game, thanks in part to an absolutely ridiculous finishing kick. Melo averaged 36.9 points per game in eight April games, shooting 53.8 percent and grabbing 9.9 rebounds a game in the process. That run included three straight games of 40 or more points, including a 50-point explosion at Miami on April 2, and seven straight games of 30 or more.
Anthony improved as a long-range shooter, hitting a career-best 37.9 percent from 3-point range while taking a career-high 414 bombs. His 50.2 eFG% was his highest since 2007-08 and the second-best mark of his career, while he was unquestionably the Knicks’ first, second and third option, with a 35.6 percent usage rate (highest in the league and a career high).
His 24.8 PER was his best ever and ranked fourth in the NBA and he led New York to its first division title since 1993-94.
3. Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers won 50 games for the first time in franchise history. They won their first division title ever and, for the first time since leaving San Diego for Los Angeles in 1984, swept the Lakers.
Paul was a big reason why. He led the league with 2.4 steals a game and set the tone in Lob City with 9.7 assists a night, good for second in the league. His PER of 26.4 was the NBA’s third best and he was second in the league with an offensive rating of 127.
Just for good measure, he was the MVP of the All-Star Game, shot a career-high 88.5 percent from the free-throw line and led the league with a 46.5 assist percentage.
More than that, however, he’s made the Clippers legitimate in just two years—an amazing feat considering the franchise has spent most of its 43 seasons in Buffalo, San Diego and L.A. as a running punch line. Thanks to CP3, the joke is on the rest of the league now.
2. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder
Durant is famously tired of being second, as he shared with Sports Illustrated this week. But, alas, Durant is No. 2 in the MVP race this year, likely marking third time in the last four seasons he will be the runner-up for the award.
That’s not to say he didn’t have a terrific year. Durant narrowly missed his fourth straight scoring title, finishing 0.6 points per game behind Anthony this season at 28.1. He compiled one of the rarest feats in NBA history, a 50/40/90 season (51 percent field-goal shooting, 41.6 percent from 3-point range, 90.5 percent free-throw efficiency). Durant became just the sixth member of the 50/40/90 club, joining Steve Nash, Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller and Dirk Nowitzki.
Durant was second (sigh) in the league with a 28.3 PER, second (darn) in the league with 3,118 minutes, second (seriously?) with a 64.7 TS% and second (are you kidding me?) with 18.9 win shares.
However, Durant led the Thunder to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the franchise’s first time finishing with the conference’s best record since it was in Seattle in 1995-96.
1. LeBron James, Miami Heat
As if it was going to be anyone else.
James had a season for the ages in 2012-13. His 31.6 PER was not just the best in the NBA, it was the seventh-best in NBA history. His 19.3 win shares not only led the league, it was the second-highest mark of the 21st century, trailing only LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008-09.
But it’s what he did as a shooter that separated him from the pack. James shot a career-high 56.5 percent from the floor this season and also posted a career-best from long range, hitting 40.6 percent from 3-point range. He averaged 26.8 points, eight rebounds and 7.3 assists per game, which is getting into Oscar Robertson/all-time great territory.
It was as if the game just got easier for James this year, perhaps because he finally won that elusive ring in 2012.
In any event, there is no question that LeBron James was the most valuable player in the NBA in 2012-13.