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Debating the Spurs’ MVP

As the NBA season enters its final full week, writers across the country will begin to fill out their award ballots.  This morning, CBS’ Matt Moore was trying to figure out his MVP top five.  Moore has LeBron James and Kevin Durant, but after that it’s chaos.

Here, Jesse Blanchard and I debate the merits of Duncan and Parker as the Spurs' MVP.  Here's me on Duncan:

Two months ago, Duncan wasn’t even in the discussion about being the Spurs MVP much less a top league MVP contender in part because Tony Parker was on an absolute tear.  Now?  It’s so close I don’t think there’s a wrong answer.  March was Duncan’s best statistical month of the season as he averaged close to 21 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks a game while shooting 54 percent from the field.  A lot of that damage was done when Parker went down with his sprained ankle.  Meanwhile, Parker’s best month was February, when he averaged 26 points, eight assists and four rebounds a game.  Again, a large chunk of that production came when Duncan missed time with a knee injury.  Duncan and Parker have both been so important to the Spurs, stepping up when each had been struggling or injured.

The hardest part about trying to decide who is having the better season is that you can’t exactly compare stats since they play completely different positions.  In case you were wondering, Even going to advanced stats doesn’t help one guy’s case.  Duncan’s PER is 24.76 while Parker’s is 23.51.  Duncan’s offensive rating is 108.2, while Parker’s is 108.7.  Defensive rating? Duncan, 97.1, Parker 97.6 which means both have a net rating of 11.1.

I may just be a prisoner of the moment and a known Tim Duncan lover/Tony Parker disliker, but I think Duncan is having a slightly better season.  He’s anchored a Spurs defense that’s gone from league average over the last two seasons to top three this year.  Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green’s development and growing familiarity have also been big contributors to that improving defense, but without Duncan the whole thing falls apart.  He’s third in the league in blocks at 2.7 per game and his 1.54 blocks to personal foul ratio shows he’s the most efficient shot blocker and rim disruptor in the league.

Tony Parker’s January and February were some of the best two months of basketball I’ve seen any member of the Spurs play.  If you want to call Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sportshim the Spurs’ MVP, that’s fine, because he really has been magnificent all year long.  But Duncan’s overall excellence on both sides of the court all season long have stood out to me.  The Spurs are a different team this year from last for a variety of reasons, but I think the main reason is because of Duncan’s reemergence as an elite defender and hyper efficient scorer make him the Spurs’ MVP.

Here's Jesse on Parker:

Tim Duncan has been fantastic, no doubt. And if we're going between Duncan and Tony Parker for team MVP, we're really splitting hairs here. On so many levels Duncan sets the foundation for so much of what the San Antonio Spurs do. He is anchoring a Spurs defense that has remained comfortably in the top five in defensive efficiency all season with one of the greatest shot blocking seasons of his illustrious career as he nears the age of 37. His offensive efficiency has likewise bounced back to perhaps his best season since 2008.

But NBA championships are won on the brilliance of elite players, and all season long the one Spurs player who has proven capable of raising his game to top-five player levels in spurts is Parker. While Duncan anchors the defense, it has been Parker that has driven the offense to elite levels at times and allowed the Spurs the lineup flexibility to allow offensively limited players such as Danny Green and Tiago Splitter to thrive in their respective roles.

The dynamic is not unlike the championship Dallas Mavericks, who paired an elite offensive focal point with a transformative defensive anchor, with Duncan trading some of Tyson Chandler's ability to blow up pick and rolls with better offensive variance. Still, as brilliant as Duncan has been offensively, let's not pretend it's the same dominant offensive game that once propelled the Spurs to championships. His ability to score and facilitate from the elbows, while offering a number of smart cuts with a few face-up drives, has been essential to the Spurs success, but it's less likely to draw double teams and open up the floor for teammates in the same manner that Parker's dribble penetration now does.

Duncan still makes up so much of what the Spurs are, but it's Parker that separates the team from good to great, which has been the motto the team has carried all season long.

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