The Oklahoma City Thunder are a team loaded with stars. Because of this, a lot of people before the season predicted that some of their more notable players would finish the season with some hardware. Specifically, I’m referring to the star of the show, Kevin Durant, and his MVP candidacy. However, there’s been a few breakout players so far this year, such as Reggie Jackson looking strong for the Sixth Man of the Year award, and Steven Adams coming out of nowhere to contend for Rookie of the Year honors. Let’s look at these three players’ seasons, how they look so far in terms of winning awards, and what they need to do to increase the likelihood of taking home the prize.
Kevin Durant – MVP
This should come as no surprise to anyone that Durant is at the top of the MVP conversation. He’s certainly played like an MVP candidate this year as well by leading the league in scoring with 28.4 points a game. It’s also become notable his effect on the Thunder as a whole. Without him, the Thunder would be an offensive mess. He’s done an artful job, especially this year, in calming their sometimes dangerously aggressive offense and turning it into a cohesive unit.
Thus far, he’s earning his second-highest PER of his career, at 27.4, and has improved both his rebounding and foul shot attempts. However, he’s yet to have a signature, MVP moment. There was the game against Minnesota where he dropped 32-10-12-4-4, but that was on a Sunday night against a poor team and didn’t create too much of a national stir. The problem with Durant’s style of play is that he puts up 30+ points so casually and so frequently that it’s no longer a big deal when he does it. Therefore, he’s going to need a game or two in the future where people are just taken aback by his greatness. I would say that Christmas Day, in Madison Square Garden, is the perfect venue for that, but the Knicks are trash. That’s a major bummer for Durant, because that would be the perfect opportunity for him to prove his dominance as a scorer.
Right now, Durant is probably around third or fourth place in MVP voting, behind some combination of LeBron James, Paul George and LaMarcus Aldridge. And honestly, he will have to become a superhuman to surpass all of those guys. I think MVP is unlikely at this point, but he’s in excellent shape for the scoring title. While it’s not the ultimate prize, it’s a nice consolation trophy to recognize his excellence.
Reggie Jackson – Sixth Man
As I’ve chronicled here before, Reggie Jackson has emerged on the national NBA scene as one of the best bench players in the league. His role this year has slowly increased, to where he’s now averaging around 30 minutes a game. He’s putting up 17.3 points a game and has undergone a palpable increase in confidence. He’s getting minutes in crunch time now, and Scott Brooks now sees him as a viable, go-t0 scoring option.
Will that correlate into some postseason accolades? I think Jackson has a better shot to take something home than Durant does at least. There really hasn’t been anyone who’s proved that they are a runaway candidate for this award. Jamal Crawford of the Clippers will always compete for this award, and Markeiff Morris of the Phoenix Suns has emerged from out of nowhere to come off the bench for the surprising wonderful Suns. But Jackson has a better opportunity than most to take hold of this award, especially because of his team’s national prominence. If they continue winning, Jackson will be taking home the prize.
Steven Adams – Rookie of the Year
Before I get into the nitty gritty details of his “candidacy,” I want to preface this by saying that Steven Adams has been a revelation for this year’s Oklahoma City Thunder squad. He’s appeared in every single game so far this year and has taken some major pressure off the Thunder’s frontcourt issues. This has allowed Kendrick Perkins to see a smaller role and has opened up some nicer opportunities for Serge Ibaka. Because he seemed so raw and not ready for the pro game before the season started, Thunder fans are happy with Steven Adams just the way he is.
But the rookie class of 2014 has proved to be quite competent, led by a quintuplet of guards. Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke, Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore all look like future studs in this league. Since they play a generally sexier position, they have the spotlight and will win the awards. It’s most likely going to come down to Carter-Williams and Oladipo, which is a damn shame for ol’ Stevie. But Adams has had a fantastic year, no matter what the awards committee says.
No one saw this coming, but it sure seems like Reggie Jackson is the Thunder’s best hope for some sort of postseason accolades. While Durant certainly would love an MVP, he and his team are focused on the only hardware that really matters: a championship.