Basketball is a very individualistic sport. Sure, there are teams, and with the NBA season winding down people are wondering how seeding will shake out for the Playoffs. But far more people are talking about who will win the Most Valuable Player award. It’s like this every year, but it feels even moreso this season for some reason. That’s why instead of talking about which team could make it through the playoffs & win the NBA Championship, I’m going to discuss the top MVP candidates. It seems to matter at least as much as the Championship does, if not more.
29.2 Points Per Game, 8.1 Rebounds Per Game, 11.2 Assists Per Game
4.75 Real Plus-Minus, 14.76 RPM Wins (stats as of Friday afternoon)
Remember when Steve Nash played in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive system and won a couple of MVP awards because he made his teammates better? Harden has taken to that same system like a fish to water and has averaged more assists per game this season than all but two Steve Nash seasons. He wasn’t supposed to be a point guard. He’s never done it in his life. But that’s what D’Antoni has him doing this season and it’s been working like a charm for the Rockets. He leads the league in assists and is averaging career highs in points & rebounds as well. If not for another one of these candidates his triple-double count would seem completely ridiculous, and he’s mixed in some 50-point triple doubles as well because he can. His defensive numbers still hurt him, but he isn’t the complete non-entity on that side of the floor that he used to be. He’s missed one game all year and played more minutes than all but two players in the NBA. (Andrew Wiggins & Karl-Anthony Towns, because they’re in Minnesota and who else is going to play?) The Beard has taken the next step this season, and if he keeps this up he could be in the MVP conversation for years to come.
26.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 8.7 APG
7.52 RPM, 18.24 RPM Wins
Advanced statistics favor LeBron, and this season has been another carry job of an injury-ravaged team by him. He has career highs in rebounds & assists per game and hasn’t scored this many points per game since 2013-14. He’s not going to win this award though. Partially because of the competition, but there’s a lot of things working against LeBron this year. The resting talking point that will not die anytime soon has bubbled to the surface mostly because of him. He’s mainly been in the news this year due to resting, and due to whining & complaining about the lack of help from his team’s ownership that has bent over backwards to make him happy & the lack of respect from people in the media, including Charles Barkley. Voters don’t like people that whine & complain. Usually.
25.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.6 APG
6.15 RPM, 13.71 RPM Wins
The argument for Leonard is that he’s the best player on the San Antonio Spurs. He’s gotten better every year & is the reason why Gregg Popovich’s team hasn’t had any kind of a drop-off while the core players that led San Antonio to four NBA championships during Pop’s tenure as coach have gotten old and are either already retired or on the verge of saying goodbye. It’s one of those old school kind of arguments, which makes sense because that’s how the Spurs operate. It’s not good enough to carry the day this year against this group of talent. The numbers just aren’t there.
31.8 PPG, 10.7 RPG, 10.4 APG
6.20 RPM, 16.64 RPM Wins
41 triple doubles as I’m writing this. He’ll probably have 42 by the time Friday night’s Thunder game ends. A 6’3 guy averaging over ten rebounds per game. A man carrying a team on his back into the playoffs. You won’t hear Russell Westbrook complaining about his supporting cast. Honestly, I think he figures that the less they do, the better it is for him. He’s taken the challenge of life without Kevin Durant and is thriving like he never has before. He’s giving people a reason to watch the Thunder, something most people didn’t think was possible at the start of this season. The drama with Westbrook & Durant has been one of the main talking points of the season, and the reason to watch Warriors vs. Thunder games that have been pretty one-sided. He hasn’t missed a single game, and it’s amazing to me that he’s missed some minutes.
For me, the numbers are too much. Yes, the other candidates are on better teams. Voters that care about the team’s record and believe in the “best player on the best team” MVP motto will be more inclined to support them. But nobody has ever had the type of year that Russell Westbrook is having. The MVP vote is never as hard as people tell you it is, and it isn’t hard this year either.
That’s how it should go. The voters could mess it up, they do that sometimes, but it seems pretty obvious to me.