The MVP Race: Why It’s So Close and Who’ll Win It

April 12th: the day the NBA regular season ends and players give their final impressions over who should win the regular season Most Valuable Player award. This year is unlike other years before. There is no clear cut winner. The top candidates would be James Harden and Russell Westbrook, but the votes will be a lot closer than people think. There are plenty of players that deserve the honor to be called the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, but only one can win. The question is, who will?

This year there isn’t a runaway candidate or a guy people look at and say “that’s the MVP… without a doubt.” You can pick your MVP, but you know there’s a small part of you that think another player deserves the award too. The top candidates in my eyes include James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard in no order.

When I think of the term “Most Valuable Player,” I don’t think about stats or how many points they score or assists they average and such. Stats are nice, but there’s much more to the term “valuable” than just having good stats. When I think of an MVP, I think of a player that is the most valuable player on their team. Where would this players’ team be without them? Where would the Rockets be without James Harden? Where would the Thunder be without Russell Westbrook? Celtics without Isaiah? Cavs without the King? Spurs without Kawhi? This is what makes the race so close. All the players listed above are super valuable to their team. To be honest, I don’t think any of these teams could emulate the success they’re having right now without their MVP candidates. Each player has a different case over why they should be the MVP, which I will talk about below, but they all have similarities in saying that their teams wouldn’t be nearly as good as they are without them.

First, we start with “the Little Guy,” the “King in the Fourth,” Isaiah Thomas. Isaiah, also a legitimate candidate for Most Improved Player, is a true MVP candidate due to his team’s success and his more-than-impressive season. Putting up 29 points and 6 assists on the team that clinched the one seed in the Eastern Conference is more than enough to put his name on the ballot for MVP. He smashed Celtics’ records and came close to averaging the most points for a Celtic in history, all at 5’9″. Isaiah is a special player, one of a kind, actually. Not many people can do what he does, and I can tell you now that those people are taller than him. For a player that tends to look up at his opposition, he’s the one that ends up looking down at them.

LeBron James. The name alone deserves a spot on the ballot. LeBron put up a career high in assists and rebounds this season, all while putting up 26.4 points per game. The Cavs didn’t clinch the one seed, but that doesn’t matter too much for LeBron and company. The Cavaliers are still the team to beat in the East, yes that’s coming from a Celtics fan. This is simply because of LeBron. Would the Cavaliers be a playoff team without LeBron? Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving can probably bring the Cavs to the playoffs, but the game changes when LeBron’s on the court. He’s the best player in the world and will be until the day he retires. LeBron could’ve won the MVP award every single year he’s been in the league, but it doesn’t always work out that way. This year is no different. If all these other players didn’t have such amazing seasons, LeBron would be the clear cut MVP winner.

Kawhi Leonard, the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year, has now shifted into the MVP race. Coming into the league as a defensive-minded player, he’s now become one of the best all-around players in the entire league. In every year since he’s entered the league, his scoring average has continued to go up, while staying consistent with his defense. The San Antonio Spurs is Kawhi’s team now with Tim Duncan gone, and he’s starting to realize that. He’ll continue to lead the Spurs as a top team in not only the Western Conference but the entire league, for many years to come. He will win the MVP award one day, but I’m not sure if this is his year. I’m a huge fan of Kawhi and wish he could win the award because of how unique and talented of a player he is. One day he will, but he’ll continue to be the NBA’s most lowkey superstar.

Russell Westbrook has made his case for MVP for, oh I don’t know, averaging a triple-double this season! Not only did he average a triple double averaging over 30 points a game, but he also broke Oscar Robertson’s record for most triple-doubles recorded in a single NBA regular season. Russell Westbrook finally broke off from Kevin Durant and showed the world why he was never a sidekick. Russell Westbrook is in a world of his own and does things that an ordinary man shouldn’t be able to do. He led a mediocre team to the 6th seed in the Western Conference. Not only did he average a triple-double, but he was as clutch as can be. He averaged 10 fourth-quarter points per game, which led the league and averaged 11.6 fourth-quarter points since the All-Star break. He showed up in the clutch, and the chart below shows how clutch he was.

Not only did he average a triple-double, but he was as clutch as can be. He averaged 10 fourth-quarter points per game, which led the league, and averaged 11.6 fourth-quarter points since the All-Star break. He showed up in the clutch, and the chart below shows how clutch he was.

chart.jpgAccording to basketballreference.com and NBA.com

Like I said before, Westbrook is in a world of his own, but that world may not have the MVP award. He put up incredible stats, but it’s tough to decide if that’ll be enough to win the award.

James Harden has led a Rockets team that wasn’t projected to do jack this season to being a three seed in the Western Conference.  Like Westbrook, Harden led his team is points, rebounds, and assists. Believe it or not, Harden was only two rebounds shy from averaging a triple-double himself. What Mike D’Antoni, Eric Gordon, and James Harden have done to that team is astonishing. For a team that ranked in the middle of the pack in ESPN’s pre-season power rankings, they did alright. Their offense is considerably better than their defense, but their offense was good enough to have the third best net rating in the league. Before the addition of Lou Williams, all this team had was Harden, Gordon, Capela, and that’s really it. Would this team be the third seed without Harden? Yeah sure, and Saturday’s aren’t for the boys. Let’s get this straight: without James Harden, this team would’ve been nothing. James Harden was the Houston Rockets and absolutely put this team on his back. But so did Westbrook…

The MVP race will ultimately come down to James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Those other guys should get votes in but will be outmatched compared to those two. It’ll be a close call this year, but my gut feeling is telling me Russell Westbrook will end up coming out victorious. I think James Harden SHOULD win it, but Russell Westbrook had too good of a season to not win it. Sure, the Rockets had more wins than the Thunder, but only by eight games. Both teams would be nothing without their MVP candidates, that’s for sure, but how much separated would they be? Since the Rockets had more wins, and I believe had the worst group of players around their star, Harden should win. But Westbrook’s triple-double just makes him stand out more. We should find out in due time. Why not just have the Western Conference matchup between the Rockets and the Thunder in the playoffs be the deciding factor? I wish.

 

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