As the NBA’s season inches to a close, the MVP discussion has begun to heat up. This year’s MVP race is strikingly different from past years’ as there is still no clear favorite 69 games into an 82 game season. Just one season ago, Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors was unanimously named unanimous the MVP for the first time in NBA history. This year, however, four players are all equally qualified to be crowned MVP.
The best way to demonstrate how difficult it’s going to be for MVP voters to determine a winner is to look at season statistics. First, there is Russell Westbrook, the dynamic point/shooting guard hybrid for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Last year, Westbrook averaged about 24 points, eight rebounds, and 10 assists per games, all star numbers by all means. This year, with the departure of Kevin Durant, Westbrook has Oklahoma City’s fate into his own hands, and is averaging an astounding 31.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.3 assists per game. To put this feat into perspective, the last and only NBA player to average a triple-double was Oscar Robertson in the 1961-1962 season with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.4 assists per game. What seems to be hurting Westbrook, however, is the Thunder’s regular season record, as they sit at sixth place in the West at 40-29.
Next, we have James Harden. Harden currently plays for the Houston Rockets. Like Westbrook, he is a point/shooting guard hybrid. This season, Harden is averaging an impressive 29.2 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game, 1.9 rebounds/game away from also averaging a triple double. While Harden may not average as many points as Westbrook, his team is doing better, strengthening his case for MVP, as they sit comfortably as the third seed in the West behind the Warriors and the Spurs. This is where the debate becomes tricky as some believe that the overall team record should be taken into consideration while others do not.
Another contender for MVP is Kawhi Leonard. After an impressive performance in the 2014 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, in which Leonard was named Finals MVP, NBA reporters and players alike were primed for Leonard to emerge as a superstar. With the departure of Tim Duncan, Leonard has more than filled his void, averaging an impressive 26.1 points, 3.4 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game. However, what is most captivating about Kawhi’s game is not the number of times he can put the ball in the basket, but rather his ability to prevent other players from doing just that. His defensive abilities have certainly not gone unnoticed, as he has won the Defensive Player of the Year award for two consecutive years. Leonard’s defense coupled with the fact that the Spurs sit a mere two games back from first place in the West provide more than a compelling argument for Leonard to be MVP.
Last, but not least, we have LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. Last year, James had a legendary postseason performance, as he led every player on either team in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks, while helping the Cavaliers erase a 3-1 deficit in the finals (both firsts in all of NBA history). With this in mind, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that LeBron is relevant in this discussion. James is currently averaging 26.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game as the Cavs sit untouched atop the Eastern Conference standings. Also, only strengthening the argument for LeBron is the fact that according to Las Vegas, his team is considered most likely to take home the NBA title this year.
As of right now, the NBA MVP race is quite contentious and the trophy is very much still up for grabs. The best we can do for now is sit back and watch all four players make their case until the last games of the season in April.
PASKO’S TAKE: I think that Lebron James deserves to be MVP this season. His stat line is about equal with all other contenders and his team is predicted to take home another championship. Furthermore, his leadership qualities, while unquantifiable, are far superior to any other player mentioned.